Atari 2600 hardware mod

This week, much of the gaming world focused the release of GTA V from Rockstar Games. I found some spare time to get an old Atari system cleaned up and working by installing an atari 2600 composite output mod.

After 20+ years in a closet our well loved Atari 2600 was a little worse for wear. The console has accumulated grime and the reset switch is no-longer springy. Besides cleaning off the dust and replacing a faulty reset switch I wanted to improve the video output.

The stock Atari 2600 produces an RF modulated video/audio signal as output. On old TVs the RF signal connects to the antenna-in jack. On modern TVs it is often easier to hook up a composite video input. Eliminating the RF modulation should also improve the picture quality.

A few different hardware hacks that produce composite out from an Atari are described on various websites. The output board I selected is one of the better composite output circuit designs.

Parts list

Original console:

While dismantling I found the remains of a previous home-made repair – an elastic band to add springiness to the reset switch. The original spring seems to have gone missing over the years. While the console was dismantled I replaced the reset switch with a new old-stock part.

After installation:
atari 2600 composite output board installed

The video mod board is in the lower right with the rainbow ribbon cable going from the motherboard (inside the thick aluminium RF shield box) to the video mod then a second ribbon cable running up the right side to the composite and s-video output jacks. A couple of pieces of kapton tape hold the video mod board securely in place.

New ports:

Results

Photograph of Pole Position game on Atari 2600 heavy-sixer console before hardware modification. (Photograph of LCD TV screen.)
Pole Position on Atari 2600 before modification

Photograph of Pole Position game on Atari 2600 heavy-sixer console after hardware modification.
Pole Position on atari 2600 composite output after installing video mod board

Overall the mod is a resounding success. RF noise is eliminated, image colors have better saturation, and the console can be connected to standard composite input jacks thereby eliminating the need to re-tune the TV. Installing the video mod involved bypassing the RF modulator and removing the original coax cable.

Basic testing with Pole Position and Pac-Mac during reassembly showed normal operation. I’ll update this post when I’ve tested with other games.

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