Atari Six Switcher 2600 Video ModificationPosted: September 4, 2013
Chances are if your visiting this site, you are the sort of person who still uses what people today refer to as “retro” hardware or as my girlfriend calls prefers to call it “tat”. Among all these precious artifacts is my console collection and the first proper console I ever owned: the famous Atari VCS 2600. The granddaddy of game consoles and one of the longest supported consoles in gaming history. The 2600 served to initiate a generation of gamers into the genre well in to the 80s, even after its hardware was considered dated. The Atari 2600 holds a special place in my heart, which is why in today’s blog, I will be telling you a story with a happy ending.
New Technology: Bane Of The Collector
So recently I purchased a new singing and dancing 27” wide screen IPS LCD television, retiring the 19” Sony CRT which up until recently had been fine for our needs, that is until HD movies came along and left me squinting as I watched the film Super8 on my now relatively tiny television screen. I was less than happy about shelling out for a new set, but the picture is pretty amazing, especially the colours. Maybe the tube was going on my Sony, but on the IPS screen my DVDs are really looking a lot better. As always there was a slight snag with this particular upgrade. The Sony had been perfect for hooking up any of the old consoles I had and the picture, albeit coming through the RF aerial, was still pretty clean. So imagine my horror when I hooked up the Atari to the new flat screen and was greeted with an amazingly fuzzy picture. Perhaps RF interference wasn’t as bad 20-30 years ago, but today in 2013, the picture was pretty dire. So that left me scratching my head, there had to be a way of improving the image quality. That’s when it hit me, what about composite? The Wii was hooked up via composite and the picture was pretty good, so why could the Atari not do the same?
The Internet: The Fountain Of Knowledge.
I spent the best part of the evening and the next day looking online for adaptations for the Atari 2600 that would convert it from RF to composite. Several of the guides, while promising, also came with a warning to the would be modder. Not all 2600’s took to modification the same way. Sometimes you would get a good picture or the colours might be out, worse you might not get a picture at all. This really didn’t fill me full of confidence while I researched the mod. Even my favorite web show Ben Hack had a spin on the video mod, his included two 1k pots for adjusting the picture if the colours were out. Personally I wasn’t bothered too much by the colour, I mean seriously. I had been putting up with RF for years, the benefits of a half decent picture and not having the tune the set in where more then good enough for me. After all this is an Atari 2600 we where talking about. How sharp do you need those pixels? A square blob is still a square blob even in high def!
In the end I settled on a mod I found here http://retro.mmgn.com/Nintendo-64/Forums/Atari-2600-AV-Mod
Credit goes to Brighty83 for posting this originally,
To do this mod you need:
Small Circuit Bread Board
Twin Phono leads (3 meters)
Wire for hooking up your components.
‘Optional’ Additional equipment
Soldering Iron, fine or normal tip will do
Heat shrink for your wiring
Attention: Do not attempt this modification unless you are comfortable using a soldering iron and have a reasonable grasp of electronics. Neither myself nor the original author of this hack is responsible if your Atari comes alive and tries taking over the world or worse stops working all together!
Okay so that is the warning out of the way, lets get busy hacking!
For me this was a really easy, straight forward hack that ended with a good result. The picture quality might not be amazing on Ms. Pacman, but on most of my other games it is pretty damn sweet. Unlike other mods that allow you to adjust them on the fly, this mod gives you a generally good picture across the board without altering the aesthetic look of your Atari console. This was the most important factor for me, all I wanted was to swap my 5-6 meter long RF cable with a composite.
First of all you will want to build the circuit board that will eventually go inside your machine. For my installation of the hack, I altered the design, as I did not want a set of phono sockets on the rear of my Atari 2600. Instead I wired a 3mtr phono lead directly to the circuit board. I drew enough of the lead inside the console through the hole for the RF lead and looped a knot in the phono cable. This meant if the cable was pulled or snagged, it would not be ripped out of the console, damaging components. Alternatively you could use hot glue to secure the cable.
Below is the diagram for the circuit, note this is how I have it built inside my Atari. If you want phono connectors on the rear of your machine, you will need to alter the wiring slightly. It is up to you if you wish to connect wires to the board yet or connect them first to the points on the Atari. I cut 5 wires roughly 10” in length and attached them to the bread board.
Using: Black = Ground, White = +5v, Yellow = Audio (tip: Fit your transistor so that the emitter is where the letter ‘E’ is shown on the diagram.
I used an additional brown wire to route the ground to an isolated area of the bread board so that I could ground the exterior audio, as pictured below.
Once you have put the circuit together you will need to take apart your 2600 and begin tapping in to contacts on the motherboard. Flip the console over and remove the six screws indicated in the image.
Once you have the lid removed, disconnect the cable connected to the controller board, this is the board with all the switches. With the cable disconnected, unscrew the two remaining screws that are holding the board in place. Gently lift the board out and place it to one side.
Returning to the console, you should now be left with the cartridge slot and a large metal housing. Flip the Atari over and remove the two screws as shown. The motherboard should now be free of the plastic base. Lift it out and flip it over, removing the screws indicated.
With the motherboard exposed, you need to tap into the audio line of your 2600. Solder one of the 10” red wires to the pin indicated in the photo.
Replace the metal back plate, threading your red wire through one of the holes and screw the unit back together. Place it back on to the plastic base of the console and screw it in to place, making sure you use the screws with the spacers!
Now that’s one down, next on to the video. Get hold of your controller board and flip it over so you can see all the pins, try and locate the RF module, use the photo as a guide. Unless you have removed you RF module, you need to solder your wires on to the rear pins of the RF module, as shown in the photo.
Pin 1 – Black wire = Ground
Pin 3 – White wire = +5v
Pin 4 – Red wire = Video
Before you begin work on the controller board, I would like to give you a little advice. Your 2600 is roughly 25+ years old, which means the traces on the PCB are fragile. So try to be gentle with your soldering iron, don’t expose the PCB to too much heat. If possible use a fine tip, which will focus your work and make for a tidy job. As you see in the photo above, my attempt isn’t great to look at, but it does work. Will teach me to use a worn tip on my soldering iron. Fortunately this mod unlike some others, does not require you to solder directly to the TIA chip. Instead we are tapping in to the necessary lines just before they feed in to the RF modulator.
Some guides recommend that you remove the RF module, this I leave entirely up to you. I left mine connected as it has been sitting there for the best part of 30 years and it seems a shame to remove it. As far as I’m aware leaving it installed does not effect our modification, but installing the mod will disable the RF module from functioning.
With your wires now connected to the board, carefully place the board back inside the 2600 bottom case, fixing it down with the two screws you removed earlier. Reconnect the cable to the top of the board, reconnecting the logic board and controller board back together.
Unless you did so already, solder the wires coming from the controller board to the circuit we built. Once you have done this, you should be good to go.
Before applying power to the console, if you have a multimeter and know how to use it, I highly recommend you do a line test on all your soldering points. Make sure there are no crossed lines on your bread board circuit. If it all checks out okay, hook the console up to your TV and try playing a game.
Hopefully it all worked and you have an Atari now working on composite. Secure all your wiring, making the inside look tidy before finally screwing the lid back in place.
Now pat yourself on the back, well done!