Silent Q

Azog's little slice of the world. Whee.

Atari 2600 composite video mod

Posted By on July 19, 2014

This has been sitting in my “to-do” list for a while, so I figured I’ll get off my lazy ass and take care of it.

This is an Atari 2600 video mod to display composite video, rather than the RF video. There is plenty of information on these mods, but I opted to pick up a kit from ebay. Other than the PCB, chances are I had everything in my junk pile, and I could have dead-bugged this but what the heck… I won’t link the ebay auction here, but if you’re interested, it was auction #300592126324.

Installation was fairly easy, if you’re comfortable with a soldering iron, but I decided to make a day job out of it, so this took me about 4 hours from start to finish. Here is what the 2600 board looked like before I started to work on it.

2600-original

If you’ve never disassembled a 2600 before, they’re pretty simple. The first step for this mod is to remove or disable the RF modulator, which is the silver box in the lower right. There is a transistor which also needs to be removed or disabled, but it’s hard to tell from this picture where it is.

The installation instructions just mention breaking off the pins, but I wanted the RF modulator out, so I desoldered it and the transistor.

2600-parts-removed

If you look at the zoomed picture, there is a missing transistor above the coil/choke to the right of the middle chip. As far as I understand the mod circuit, all we are doing is removing the RF modulator and adding a new transistor to amplify the original video, making it suitable to feed to a composite video input.

The mod kit is just a handful of parts. This is one of the easiest mods; there are other mods out there. I even think I recall an S-Video mod, but I opted for composite. It’s technically just a minor improvement over RF. So why composite over S-Video? The mod was obviously easier, and did not make a radical alteration to the Atari 2600.

2600-parts-kit

Follow the easy directions and in a short while, ready for testing. I’m very pleased with myself. This is one of those projects which required drilling holes and I actually made them uniform in spacing and alignment. The testing requires tweaking the color output, which is done via the large pot to the left of the middle chip. I used Pitfall.

2600-testing

Fixing a cold solder joint later, button everything back up, and all looks well.

2600-completed

I did have presence of mind to take a picture of Pitfall before the mod:

2600-pitfall-rf

And after:

2600-pitfall-composite

It might be hard to tell in the picture, but there is a noticeable improvement in video quality. Mostly is the lack of noise.

I had a moment of melancholia during this process. Not in the typical “old man” way of “Back in my day!”. I wonder what the Atari designers and engineers would think today, knowing that over 30 years later, there are still people who play these systems. While I’m sure none of them thought they’d crash-n-burn as hard and fast as they did, did they think they’d still be around 30 years after; did they think people would still be playing the venerable Atari 2600?

I’m still a gamer, even at my age, so I was thinking, what about systems like the Wii U, etc, which are so dependent upon an online infrastructure? If the companies stopped supporting these systems and games, would they still be playable 30 years from now? Not talking about MMOs, I’ve seem my fair share of MMO deaths. What about EA, as horrid as they are? Do they think beyond the next quarter shares reports? I doubt it. When it’s no longer profitable for them to maintain their games servers, they’ll shut them down, and the games will die. If a person engineers a private/pirate server to keep playing those games, the company would undoubtedly bring full legal action against them, if it were known.

Of course, the NES and SNES are still popular systems, with playable games, even now. Where will the games of today be 30 years from now? Will something like the original Xbox ever achieve the state of retro? I doubt it. Much of the online infrastructure was terminated years ago. Perhaps some of the games are still playable, but there is sure to be a lack of functionality without the backend support. Oh, and for the record, I don’t count “virtual console” games, even tho I own quite a few on my Wii U and 3DS. And that opinion is definitely the “old man” in me.

Not all progress is good.


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