Crossing my news feed a few days ago is something rather interesting to me – An Atari 2700 console that was found in a thrift store in California… for $30! Yeah, if you know the story of the 2700, it’s amazing to read about. If you don’t, well, let me explain it to you.
The Atari 2700 was, at its core, just an updated and “modernized” version of the Atari 2600, developed in the 1980-1981 time frame. Indeed, it was functionally the same old Atari VCS (2600) that everyone knows and loves, but it had a few upgrades – touch-sensitive buttons to select game modes and the like, LED indicator lights for those settings, standard 9-pin ports on the side for standard controllers, as well as additional paddle and driving controllers for other games The system had one major functional change from the typical Atari 2600 console – it was to be released with wireless controllers (which would be new at the time) but these were the major problem with the system.The console would also feature storage tray for these new controllers, and a cable wrap section for the video cable, just like the 5200 would feature in 1982.
These controllers were designed with a chip identifying one as a left controller, and one as a right controller, and that’s it. The controllers couldn’t be “swapped” or otherwise changed at all, and the prototypes designed had an obvious flaw in that any controller would work with any Atari 2700 console in a range of, oh, 1000 feet or more.
The flaw was never worked around, and it was decided to abandon the project. At least, that’s how the story goes. The Atari 2700 design ethos would live on in the design of the Atari 5200, the 7800, and the lesser known Atari 2800, released in the US as the Sears Video Arcade II.
I’ll talk more about this, and other consoles, in an upcoming console article series, but for now, let’s look at this unit – it wasn’t found with the wireless controllers, which is understandable considering I would think many of these might have been destroyed – the controllers never work when they are found, a side effect of the prototype nature of the console and the custom chips in the controllers. The console itself, beyond the radio receiver for the controllers, is the same as a standard console and as such, when used with normal controllers, it works just fine. That being said, this is a prototype console and only 12 or so were supposed to have been made – it would seem many of these were not destroyed, as would be normal practice, but Atari engineers seemed to keep the units, and as time has passed they have found their way into thrift stores, as this one did.
Again, I’ll focus more on the console in an upcoming article series. To end, I’ll just leave the links to the article regarding the thrift store find, and the Atari 2700 article on Wikipedia.