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Atari VCS


Atari Inc. had purchased an engineering think-tank in 1973 called Cyan Engineering to research next-generation video game systems, and had been working on a prototype known as "Stella" (named after one of the engineers' bicycles) for some time.

In August 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor released their own CPU-based system, the Video Entertainment System. Stella was still not ready for production, but it was clear that it needed to be before there were a number of "me too" products filling up the market – which had happened after they released Pong. Atari Inc. simply didn't have the cash flow to complete the system quickly, given that sales of their own Pong systems were cooling. Nolan Bushnell eventually turned to Warner Communications, and sold the company to them in 1976 for US$28 million on the promise that Stella would be produced as soon as possible.

Key to the eventual success of the machine was the hiring of Jay Miner, a chip designer who managed to squeeze an entire breadboard of equipment making up the TIA into a single chip. Once that was completed and debugged, the system was ready for shipping. By the time it was released in 1977, the development had cost about US$100 million.

The initial price was US$199 and shipped with two joysticks and Combat cartridge. In a move to compete directly with the Channel F, Atari Inc. named the machine the Video Computer System (or VCS for short), as the Channel F was at that point known as the VES, for Video Entertainment System. The VCS was also rebadged as the Sears Video Arcade and sold through Sears, Roebuck and Company stores. When Fairchild learned of Atari Inc.'s naming, they quickly changed the name of their system to become the Channel F. However, both systems were now in the midst of a vicious round of price-cutting: Pong clones made obsolete by these newer and more powerful machines sold off their boxes to discounters for ever-lower prices. Soon many of the clone companies were out of business, and both Fairchild and Atari Inc. were selling to a public that was completely burnt out on Pong. In 1977, Atari Inc. sold only 250,000 VCSs. For the first year of production, the VCS was manufactured in Sunnyvale, California. The consoles manufactured here had thick internal RF shielding & thick plastic molding around the sides & bottom. These added weight to the console, and being that all 6 switches were on the front, these consoles were nicknamed "Heavy Sixers". After this first year, production moved to Hong Kong, and the consoles manufactured there had thinner RF shielding & plastic molding. In 1978, only 550,000 units from a production run of 800,000 were sold, requiring further financial support from Warner to cover losses. This led directly to the disagreements that caused Atari Inc. founder Nolan Bushnell to leave the company in 1978.

Once the public realized it was possible to play video games other than Pong, and programmers learned how to push its hardware's capabilities, the VCS gained popularity. By this point, Fairchild had given up, thinking video games were a passed fad -- thereby handing the entire quickly growing market to Atari Inc. By 1979, the VCS was the best-selling Christmas gift (and console), mainly because of its exclusive content, and one million units were sold that year. The VCS was later rename to the Atari 2600 in the 80s.

Wikipedia contributors. Atari 2600. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. December 2, 2008, 19:33 UTC. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Atari_2600&oldid=255475241. Accessed December 6, 2008.


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