How To Connect An Atari To A New TV


I recently uncovered my parent’s old Atari gaming console digging through their garage. I thought a game of Pacman sounded great until I realized that the game console from the ’60s was not going to work with our new TV.

How to Connect an Atari to a New TV: All is not lost, you can still play the old Atari games on your new TV. You can connect the Atari to a new TV with a simple adaptor found online or at a local electronics store for less than $5. If that doesn’t work, you might even be able to do it through your DVD player.

I am not a very technologically savvy person, so I researched how to make this connection and am happy to share that information with you.

Connecting Atari to a New TV With Adaptor

You might have tried to connect your Atari to a new TV and immediately discovered a problem, the connecting cable on your game system and the holes on the back of your TV do not match.

Nowadays, we have inputs on our TV like HDMI or USB. The cable on the Atari is usually called an RCA cable. This usually is made of three different color-coded plugs that connect into the same colored jack on the back of your TV. The different cables carry audio and video signals from the Atari through the TV.

Depending on what type of TV you have, you might actually be able to fit the cable into a hole, but you’ll be out of luck once you try to turn the system on. That’s because the audio and video signals would be carried through on the same cable rather than different ones the way the Atari game system was originally designed to work. You have to separate the audio and video signals so you can get to gaming.

You’ll probably see one of two different connections on the back of your TV: coaxial or composite. Here’s a look at what you can expect to see with each one.

  • Coaxial: One input hole with a tiny hole in the middle
  • Composite: Usually two different colored input holes, one for audio and one for video.

A composite connection will give you much better audio and video but is a more complicated fix. You’ll actually have to modify the inside of your gaming system or find someone to solder different parts of the inside of your Atari. A coaxial connection, though, is very easy to work with.

The steps to connecting an Atari this way are quick and easy.

  1. Buy an adaptor
  2. Connect adaptor
  3. Set TV channel
  4. Start gaming

The first thing you’ll need is an adaptor called an F type female adaptor to RCA male coaxial cable audio adaptor. You can get this as a 2 pack on Amazon for right around $6. You can also check your local electronics store.

Once you have that, you connect the end without the little wire poking out of the middle to your Atari game system and the other end spins onto the coaxial input on the back of your TV. Now that everything is connected, turn your TV to the channel the game system is normally set. This might take a little work but is usually either channel 2, 3, or 4.

You might get away with not buying anything if you still have an old TV/Game switch box. It has to be the right one, though. Some have the coaxial output and some don’t.

If you don’t see the little circle with the wire sticking out, your’s doesn’t have the correct output. If that’s the case, you’ll need to buy a 300 to 75 Ohm transformer. Ohm is just a unit used to measure the electrical resistance between two points of a conductor. There’s a pack of two on Amazon for around $7.

The steps to connect your Atari with a switch box are also relatively simple.

  1. Buy or find a switch box
  2. Plug Atari into switchbox
  3. Connect switch box to TV
  4. Set to “game”
  5. Set TV channel

If you use the switch box, it works almost the same way as the coaxial adaptor. You just plug the game system’s RCA cable into the switch box and then insert the coaxial output (the circle with the wire sticking out) to the coaxial input on your TV. Once you have it connected, move the switch on the box to “game” or “computer”.

A quick note on the switch box. If you would rather go this route but don’t have one, you can find them on Amazon. It’s important, though, to make sure you buy a manual switch box not an automatic one. Since the Atari system is so old, the signal isn’t always strong enough to signal an automatic switch box to change to gaming mode.

Manual ones are a bit trickier to find since they’re older and will also cost more, but there’s one on Amazon.

Hopefully, one of these simple and affordable fixes allows you to connect your old Atari to your new TV in no time and start reliving your gaming days. If you don’t want to choose one of these options, there is another choice, but it may not be as affordable.

Connecting Atari to New TV Through DVD Player

If for some reason, your TV does not have a coaxial input, you’re not totally out of luck. For starters, this doesn’t happen very often. Even the newest TV’s usually have the coaxial input, but if yours doesn’t, keep reading.

You can also connect your Atari to your new TV through your DVD player and even your VHS player if you’re old school and still have one of those. Of course, if you don’t have a DVD or VHS player, you’ll have to buy one to use this method. This is obviously more than just buying a simple adaptor.

Connecting your Atari through the VHS or DVD player takes a few more steps, but is still doable even if you’re not tech-savvy.

  1. Find coaxial input on DVD or VHS player
  2. Choose a coaxial option (adaptor or switch box)
  3. Plug composite cords into composite inputs

Check the back of your DVD or VHS player to see if it has the coaxial input. If it does, you’re in luck. You can leave your DVD or VHS player connected to the TV just as it is and choose one of the options I talked about above (the adaptor or switch box).

Once you’ve made the coaxial connection, you can use the composite set up on the back of your DVD or VHS player to finish hooking up the Atari. Remember the composite set up is the different colored holes on the back that correspond to video and audio input.

Even if you don’t a DVD or VHS player, you can pick one up. There’s a DVD player on Amazon for around 35 bucks. A VHS player is a little trickier to find, but you might have luck at a thrift store. You can still use it even if it doesn’t play tapes because all you need are the inputs on the back.

The picture won’t be crystal clear if you use this method, but it will be enough to let you crush all the alien invaders in Space Invaders.

History of Atari

It may be all about PlayStation and Xbox now, but in the late 1970s, Atari was the gaming console everyone had to have. The makers of Atari basically made the video game industry what it is today.

A quick interesting fact about Atari, in today’s video gaming world, hundreds of developers work on each game. When Atari started, there wasn’t money or technology for that kind of production. Instead, one person developed the entire game. This meant developing the idea, writing the program, making the graphics and sound, etc.

Despite all the hard work from Atari’s designers, the company never credited its designers. This led to a couple of issues. One designer actually hid his name in the game. This is called an “Easter Egg.”

In another case, four designers left the company and created their own company. They made sure to highlight the creators of the games, even putting their names in advertising. They became a major competitor to Atari.

Here’s a quick look at the history of Atari.

  • 1972: created
  • 1972: Pong released
  • 1974: Over 8,000 Atari machines in use in bars, restaurants, etc
  • 1975: the Home version of Atari released
  • 1976: Sold to Warner Communications
  • 1977: Atari VCS (Atari 2600) released
  • 1979: Space Invaders game released, sparks new interest in Atari
  • 1982: Atari hits 10 million in annual sales
  • 1983: “Video game crash” hits the United States and affects Atari
  • 1984: Warner Communications sells Atari
  • 1993: Atari shuts down making home computers
  • 1998: Hasbro Interactive buys Atari, then sells video game subsidiary to a French company
  • 2013: Atari files for bankruptcy

Atari Created: Atari was founded by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who met in 1969 in California. The two created the first-ever coin-operated arcade machine, which was released in 1971. The machine was not super successful but gave them enough money to continue making games.

They actually started their company in 1971 and called it Syzgy Co., but changed the name to Atari in 1972. The men chose the name Atari from an ancient Chinese board game called “Go.” In Japanese, “ataru” means “to hit a target.”

Pong Released: The creators of Atari released Pong in 1972. The game was modeled after table tennis and installed in a local bar where the creators knew the owner. The game was a hit and made about $40 a day. That doesn’t sound like much now, but it works out to be about $220 a day now.

The creation and popularity of Pong led to a huge request for Atari machines and by 1974, there were over 8,000 machines in restaurants, bars, and arcades.

The home version released: In 1975, Atari released the home version of the game console and sold 200,000 consoles in its first year. That doesn’t sound like much in a world where video game makers sell millions each year, but this was the very beginning of the video game industry and even 200,000 consoles was a huge deal.

Atari VCS released: In 1977, Atari released their VCS, which later became known as the Atari 2600. This is probably the system people are most familiar with.

The system cost consumers a pretty penny, around $199 back then, which is the equivalent of about $800 today. It didn’t take off right away, but by 1979 became the best selling video game console.

Atari begins its downfall: After the success of the VCS system, you would think Atari would be good to go. Unfortunately, changes within the company led to its fall over a number of years.

Departments were cut, key employees left the company, low-quality software hit the market and affected the video game industry, and parts of the company were sold.

The Nintendo Entertainment System hit the market in 1985 and had a huge, negative effect on Atari. The company was sold numerous times between then and 2013 when it declared bankruptcy.

Atari Console and Game Cartridge Worth

If you still have an Atari and some of the game cartridges, you could be looking at making a bit of cash if you ever decide to sell.

The most recent version of Atari, the 2600, actually isn’t worth too much despite it really being a classic. They sell for anywhere between $50 and $150 depending on their condition and use. The games, though, could earn you some money.

Some games won’t get you much, but others could get you more than $1,000. Take a look at some of the values.

Game Value
Atlantis II $779.89
Donkey Kong $7.84 – $45.74
Raiders of the Lost Ark $5.54 – $22.85
Swordquest Waterworld $160.17 – $499.99
Mario Bros. $13.90 – $116.70
Eli’s Ladder $400.79 – $1,603.89
Berenstein Bears $175 – $380.22
Ms. Pac-Man $8.45 – $20.14
The Music Machine $269.48 – $5,250
Word Zapper $3.26 – $11.71
Malagai $258.74 – $1,457.89
Ghostbusters $13.07 – $23.80
Spike’s Peak $65 – $550

Despite being a relic of the past, you can actually still find Atari systems and games online fairly easily and affordably.  There’s the popular Atari 2600 on Amazon for around 80 bucks.

A lot of games are even cheaper than that. There’s Donkey Kong on Amazon for around $20. You can get an all-time favorite of mine, Pac-Man, for less than 3 bucks on Amazon and there’s Yars’ Revenge for a few bucks.

It won’t quite be the same as playing on the good, old Atari 2600 from the ’70s and ’80s, but you can actually buy the Atari Flashback 8 Gold Console on Amazon. It’s like a newer version of Atari and comes with 120 games built into the system and has an HDMI output. With the HDMI output, there’s no confusion or extra work when it comes to connecting it to your TV.

Then, there are the rare games that will cost you more than you can probably imagine. Recently, a rare copy of the game “Extra-Terrestrials” was up for sale for $90,000. The game is one of the rarest games in existence for the Atari 2600. Only 100 copies were produced by a Canadian company.

The game was sold in early 1984, but most people didn’t even know about it until 2011. This was due to the video market crash of 1983. When well-known games were barely selling, there was no chance a little known game designed by a little known company would garner any attention.

As you can see, there are plenty of options to expand your Atari game collection, whether you only have a few dollars or thousands.

Best Atari Games to Buy

If you’re newer to Atari and want to expand your game collection once you get the system hooked up to your new TV, here’s a look at some of the all-time favorite classics and a little bit about each one.

  • Pong
  • Adventure
  • Space Invaders
  • Asteroids
  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pitfall!
  • Frogger
  • Q*bert
  • Joust
  • Pole Position

Pong: Pong was the first game developed by Atari. This is really one of the first video games to become popular over a widespread audience. Pong is a version of table tennis where two players use the Atari control paddles to try to throw the ball into the other player’s screen.

Adventure: Adventure came out in 1979. Since video games were relatively new, the game isn’t much to look at but it will still hook you. Your character (a square) fights dragons throughout the game as you hunt to find a magical chalice and bring it back to the golden castle.

Space Invaders: Space Invaders was released in 1980. You use a cannon on the grand to shoot little aliens who are moving across the screen. As you shoot more and more, the aliens start moving faster and faster. Either you destroy all the aliens or they get you and you’re destroyed.

Asteroids: Released a year after Space Invaders in 1981, in Asteroids you are captain of a spaceship as you zoom all over and try to break up asteroids. While breaking up the asteroids, you have to dodge flying saucers.

Ms. Pac-Man: Ms. Pac-Man was released in 1982 as a follow up to Pac-Man. Many people considered Pac-Man a poor game even though millions of people bought it. Ms. Pac-Man was considered a great follow up as you scoot around the mazes on the screen to earn points while avoiding the bad guys.

Pitfall!: PItfall! was also released in 1982 and is considered one of the most influential games of the Atari 2600. Your character, Pitfall Harry, swings around the jungle to collect treasure. On his adventures, he must avoid crocodiles, scorpions, and dangerous land obstacles.

Frogger: Frogger, another game released in 1982, features a frog as the main character. He’s got to make it home under a certain time limit, sometimes through rush hour traffic and other times over raging rapids.

Q*bert: Q*bert came out in 1983. In this game, you control a long-snouted orange with no arms… yes, I’m serious. You jump around a pyramid and try to touch every cube without getting hit by the enemies in the game.

Joust: Another 1983 game, Joust, features a flying ostrich. In this game, you battle other knights and try to dodge pterodactyls all while collecting eggs. This game involves quite a bit of strategy as you work to get your ostrich higher than the other characters so you can kill them.

Pole Position: Also released in 1983, Pole Position is the original gaming car racing video game. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that today’s car racing games have, but you can still whiz around the track as you try to beat your opponents.

Different Version of the Atari Video Game Console

As the leaders of Atari worked to keep up with other developments in the video game industry, they continued to develop various versions of the game console. Here’s a look at the different versions.

  • Atari 2600
  • Atari 5200
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari Jaguar
  • Atari Lynx

Atari 2600: This version of the Atari video game console was originally released in 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System or Atari VCS. It became better known as the Atari 2600 in 1982.

The Atari 2600 was the first time consumers could play video games in the comfort of their own homes. Prior to its release, consumers had to put in quarter after quarter to play video games in arcades. The release of the 2600 created a whole new industry.

The system didn’t take off right away. It was only after Atari expanded the number of games available for the 2600 that it started selling really well. In 1979, more than one million Atari 2600s were sold, making it the best selling Christmas gift of that season.

The 2600 came with two joystick controllers and a pair of paddle controllers. This system was one of the first ones to have games stored on cartridges you could insert rather than having the games physically built into the system.

The system launched with nine games originally. Here’s a look at them.

  • Air-Sea Battle
  • Basic Math
  • Blackjack
  • Combat
  • Indy 500
  • Star Ship
  • Street Racer
  • Surround
  • Video Olympics

When all is said and done, there are more than 500 games for the Atari 2600 system. This includes games from Atari, third party manufacturers, and everyday John Smiths who are much more of tech geniuses than I am.

Atari 5200: The Atari 5200 was released in 1982 and was a higher-end console than the 2600. It was designed to be used along with the 2600, but came with some extra features such as an analog joystick, numeric keypad, and start, pause, and reset buttons. These additional features were supposed to offer more control than the Atari 2600.

Despite being designed as a complementary unit to the 2600, most of the Atari 2600’s games were not actually compatible with the 5200. The unit was discontinued after just two years and selling around one million video game consoles.

Atari 7800: The Atari 7800 ProSystem, known as the Atari 7800 for short, was released in 1986. Unlike, the 2600, it was almost fully backward-compatible with the older system. This means you could use the older games from the 2600 in the newer system without any additional technology.

It was also far more affordable than the Atari 2600 at $140, which is the equivalent of $320 today.

Thirteen games were released with the Atari 7800 system.

  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pole Position II
  • Centipede
  • Joust
  • Dig Dug
  • Desert Falcon
  • Robotron: 2084
  • Galaga
  • Food Fight
  • Ballblazer
  • Rescue on Rescue on Fractalus!
  • Track & Field
  • Xevious

Atari Jaguar: The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993. It is the final Atari console released that uses physical media, like hooking up to the TV or computer. At this point, Atari was competing with Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The Jaguar did not perform well. It had a number of bugs and it was difficult to develop games for the system. There are only 50 games that work with the Atari Jaguar. Atari tried to develop a CD add-on, but this didn’t help. Only 250,000 units of the Jaguar were sold and it was discontinued in 1996.

Atari Lynx: The Atari Lynx was actually released in 1989 before the Atari Jaguar, but is a handheld game console. It was the world’s first handheld video game console with a color LCD. It came out at the same time as Nintendo’s Game Boy and had to compete with that.

In 1991, to keep up with Nintendo, Atari released the Atari Lynx II. The newer version featured different hand grips, a better screen, and a power-saving option. The Lynx II did well, but Nintendo still dominated the market.

I bet when you found that old Atari and decided to connect it to your new TV, you had no idea how tumultuous the gaming system’s history had been. Despite a rough run, Atari will always hold the spot as the originator of the video game world as we know it. 

Ali R.

I'm Ali, and I'm very much a geek of the 80's. I love all things involving comics, weird dice, low-resolution pixels, badly lipped synced action films with plasticine monsters, loud bright clothes that nobody should have worn, pop songs that nobody should have sung, and TV cartoon shows that ...well everyone should watch.

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