Icon’s new threat to gaming consoles
After a multi-decade absence from living rooms, one of the world's best-known console brands is set to make a return in November - but it won't be cheap.
Described by Atari as "a completely modern gaming and video computer system, blending the best of consoles and PCs to delight a whole new generation of gamers and creators," the company is setting itself high goals for the unit, claiming the Atari VCS is "set to invigorate the TV-centric gaming and home entertainment experience".
"Users will enjoy an ever-expanding Atari world of all-new games, classic and remastered favourites, streaming media and personal apps," a company statement said.
It's also $849 for the bundle with the console, wireless joystick and wireless controller, or $699 for just the console on its own - so clearly not aimed at the budget-conscious gamer.
The retro aesthetic is undeniable - particularly the wood panelling, which was one of the key visual features of the old Atari 2600, one of the most popular consoles in the world until the video game market crashed in the mid-1980s, allowing Nintendo and Sega to establish themselves as key players in the market.
Atari made an attempt to return to the console market in the early 1990s with the Atari Jaguar, which struggled to gain traction against the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and Sega Mega Drive.
While the new Atari VCS unit might look like it's been designed by someone still preoccupied with 1985, under the bonnet it's got an AMD processor and graphics card, Wi-Fi, USB support and the ability to install a Solid State Drive for faster storage.
The joystick keeps the traditional iconic appearance but is also wireless, with vibration and lighting effects, and there is a controller available which appears to take some of its design cues from the one accompanying the Xbox.
The unit comes with 100 classic Atari games including titles such as Asteroids and Missile Command, and is also internet connected too, with Atari mentioning the potential for future games for the platform.
There's also an overseas partnership with the Antstream retro gaming service (which works very much like Netflix for retro video games), but Antstream is not available in Australia so won't be a launch option for antipodean VCS customers at this stage.
Because the unit is essentially a PC, it can also run Windows 10 (and use a mouse and keyboard) which opens up a lot of potential opportunities for the VCS as an under-TV entertainment hub.
The Atari VCS is being distributed in Australia by Bluemouth Interactive. Managing director David Provan said it had been an honour and privilege to work with the Atari team to bring the unit to Australia.
"One of the most recognisable and authentic brands, not just in gaming but as a lifestyle brand itself, the Atari VCS will honour its past but will be ready for the future," he said.
"At a time when we are all looking for fresh and innovative ways to consume various forms of content (both new and old), the VCS combines nearly 50 years of entertainment into one stylish creation, opening up our lounge rooms to near infinite content possibilities from one device.
"Being a PC/console hybrid device allows for a stylish yet minimalistic icon to grace our lounge rooms, while offering the power, openness, and upgradeability that typically only comes with a big ugly PC. That for me is its 'X factor', and for that I'm very excited," Mr Provan said.
As intriguing as this all is, there's the inescapable fact the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles are also due out around November, and will likely cost somewhere in the same ballpark as the VCS - as well as offering next-generation graphics and performance.
The ability of the VCS to run computer software and use computer peripherals like a mouse and keyboard are certainly points in its favour, although it is hard not to wonder if the retro PC market is large enough to make this a success, particularly given its competition and the general economic uncertainty many people are facing at the moment.
On the other hand, it's certainly good to see a company bringing a different sort of home entertainment device to market - even if the launch timing and price might not seem ideal.
Originally published as Icon's new threat to gaming consoles