Atari 2600 Flashback

I’m going to take you back to 1982. A young boy gets his dream game console the Atari 2600 and its awesome. All the arcade games you want without quarters. Hours and hour of 16-bit fun. Flash forward about 20 years and the boy now a man finds an Atari 2600 in a flea market, remembers the fun and purchases it. He plays it for a bit and puts it in storage. Flash forward again about 15 years the man has children and they find the Atari. They want to play it. Now the man has to dredge up the cables, switches and controllers needed to play. The oldest boy won’t settle for an emulator he has a thing for original tech. So this is my story of getting an old original 2600 back in playing shape.


I started by trying to find the controllers and power supply. I found an old Radio Shack converter switch. Remember? These things used a composite output. That made me chuckle and scratch my head as I thought about hooking it up to a modern flat screen. I found a joystick, a bunch of game cartridges and two paddle controllers. No power supply. No, problem I’ll just grab a power supply from something else. Oh, wait the Atari 2600 used a 9v 500ma supply with a 3.5mm connector. Not something that you find laying around. Time to hit MacGyver mode.


I scrounged around through my power supplies and found a 9v 1000ma supply. Not the same but theoretically the Atari should only draw the current it needs. Now I need a 3.5mm jack. I’ve had one lying around for years figuring I would need it someday. Someday is today. I also toyed with the idea of splicing it into a stereo ear bud cable. However, splicing two wires is easier than four. Plus the jack I have has holes ready to accept the lines. A little bit of wire stripping and some hot glue for insulation and I have something that resembles an Atari power supply.


Next, I need to figure out how to connect this thing to the TV. I’m dreading what type of converter I’ll need. A quick Google search takes me to the Atari Age website. Clearly, I’m not the only person doing this. They recommend connecting the switch box to the coax input on your TV. My coax has an antenna hooked up for local channels because we stream most of our TV. I don’t want to loose that. Then I remember it’s called a switchbox for a reason. You slide the switch back and forth from TV to Game to switch the input.   This stuff used to be second nature to me back in 1982. I hook everything up to the TV, plugin the power supply and turn on the power. Nada.

There isn’t a light on the 2600 so I’m not even sure the thing is working. I flip the witch on the converter back and forth but nothing. I even try the long shot of sticking the composite output into one of the RGB holes. I know, I was reaching there. Then I look at the Atari switches. One of them says channel 2-3. That rang a far away bell. I knew that meant something. I flip the switch. Nothing. Then I remembered, the Atari played on either channel 2 or 3. So I try to tune to channel 2. It’s got digital channels. How about channel 3? Nothing on channel 3 and modern TVs skip over channels without signal. I play around with the TV controls. I find a manual tuning option. I set it for channel 3 and after some fiddling I see 16-bit glory!

Now, at this point I’m happy to have it working but really feeling stupid for taking this long to get an analog system running. After that it’s remembering how actually play the games. The old reset switch and the game selector. After I get back into the swing of it I call the kids. They love it! So there we are playing our Atari 2600 on the big screen!! I still only have one joystick. Got a second on order. It was definitely worth the effort to get it working.




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