How to play your Atari 2600 on a modern Television

The Atari 2600 was the first console I ever played. I was but a wee tot then and had no idea what that console would eventually lead to for me. It holds a special place in my heart as the only video game system I ever played with my grandfather and my father. All of that being said, I haven’t touched one since I was seven years old. All of the other consoles got in the way from the NES onward. I am 30 now and things have changed a bit. I have a fairly sizable game collection and many of my childhood consoles. There was one glaring omission, however.

A couple of weeks ago, I was subbing in on 1 More Castle’s podcast, 1 More Podcastle. The listener question was multi part but the part of importance here was: “What console don’t you have that you wish you had?” I looked around my room at my collection, thought on it, and remembered. It all came back to me in a flash and I answered with the Atari 2600. During a break in the recording, one of the co-hosts mentioned that he had an extra one. A few short days later, there was a box at my door with one of the last missing pieces of my childhood collection.

I’d like to tell you that I plugged it in immediately and everything worked great. This would be a short piece if I did. Frist issue was that it was missing the power supply. That was an easy fix. I hopped on eBay and had one winging my way in no time. The next issue was a bit trickier. My version of the 2600 is the “2600 Jr”. It was released in 1985 and it was meant for 1985 televisions. Would you like to know what I don’t have? A 1985 television. I do have the original giant box RF switch that was included with the unit. That doesn’t work so well on my TV. What’s a boy to do?
With a little crafty engineering, I was able to get this done. Here’s how:

1. Find a Radio Shack
2. Be surprised that Radio Shack is still in business.
3. Find these 2 items: F-Connector (Coax) Male to RCA (Phono) Female, part #278-276 and RF Interference filter, part #1500025
4. Take the black wire that is supposed to go from the Atari 2600 to the RF modulator, and slide the F-Connector onto one end, thereby giving you a coax cable coming out of your 2600.

step-4

5. Screw the RF Interference Filter onto your brand new Atari 2600 Coax cable.

step-5

6. Screw the other end of the RF Interference Filter onto your TV.
7. Relive your childhood.
8. Repeat step 7 as necessary.

Finally, I was able to play my memories again. I am still missing the paddle controllers, likely until I hit my retro game shop later today, but I have two joystick controllers and that enables me to play a lot of the games I had picked out as soon as I knew the console was coming. 23 years later and I finally am reunited.

I have seen videos of animals reacting to seeing their owners after years apart. The animal is always so happy and elated, as if this was the greatest moment of its life. I never really understood that until the moment I flipped the power switch on. 23 years suddenly disappeared as the joyous booping and beeping of 2600 games filled my ears and my eyes were treated to sights I hadn’t seen in two decades.

What, you ask, is the game that I chose to break this unfortunate streak of Atari neglect? Video Pinball. THE official game of my family for many years. We would have high score competitions that a tiny version of me would never win. It was fun. It brought us together over something. As I played, waves of memory and emotion returned faster than I could process it all when suddenly, I noticed something had happened. Something that served as another reminder of why I love retro gaming so much in the first place. Something that gaming fails to do more often than not now. I was smiling. Ear to ear. I was smiling because I was genuinely having fun. I was smiling because I was with an old comfortable friend. The friend that introduced me the whole world of video games in the first place had returned to remind me why I love gaming so much. Welcome back, Atari 2600. It’s been too long.

video-pinball-atari-2600

Tom Hall

I like to play video games and chew bubble gum; and I'm all out of gum. If you enjoy my work here, I encourage you to check out my work for Video Gaming Hard Corps, 1 More Castle, and my own site ocarinaoftom.com.

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11 thoughts on “How to play your Atari 2600 on a modern Television

  1. Sleepyeyed says:

    I’ve done the same, but without the RF Interference filter. Does that part make a significant difference?

  2. I do the same thing however not using a RF Interference filter. It’s really not needed. Also, Radio Shack charges WAY TOO MUCH for the F-Connector, something like $6.00 USD depending if you get the gold plated one or not, which also doesn’t seem to make a difference. If you check Amazon or even eBay, you can get a huge bag of F-Connector’s for the same price, then hook up (get it) your friends older consoles :)

  3. I had picked up an Interference Filter as well and then one day forgot to put it on and it turned out I didn’t need it. I popped it on and off a few times and could not tell the difference on my setup.

  4. Honestly, I didn’t even try it without the filter. I was lucky enough to find a Radio Shack with both pieces on clearance so I bought them both at the same time pretty cheaply. On my FB page, someone also suggested running it through a DVD recorder with progressive scan should you have one handy. They said: “It’ll take the low quality signals (something like 240i) from the old systems and normalize them to 480p, then the scaler in your TV does the digital upscaling work from there.” Interesting thought but I don’t have one of those handy.

  5. Wait wait.. The RF Interference Filter may in FACT be needed if you are hooking this up to a CRT television, you know, those things with scan lines… I say this because I have my Coleco ADAM hooked up to an old CRT set without the RF Interference Filter and there is a lot of static in the picture.

    I’m assuming all of you are hooking these concoles up to newer, LCD televisions. I have yet to attach any concole of mine or the ADAM to a modern TV to see if there is a difference.

    Has anyone done both and can give a definitive answer?

  6. @Justin: I’ve used these F-Connector without the filter on both modern LCD and old CRT TV’s with the same results, so IMHO the RF Interference filter isn’t needed, however your mileage my vary. Bottom line though is try not to by them from Radio Shack… way too expensive.

  7. I was laughing out loud at this…

    1. Find a Radio Shack
    2. Be surprised that Radio Shack is still in business.

    I worked at a locally owned Radio Shack and it was hilariously mismanaged. Warranty work on customer products were costly to the owner for shipping so some things were “fixed” in house.

    CD Walkmans at the time were the most common warranty item as it was common for the audio jacks for the head phones to fail but we rarely sent those out ..nope..that fell in this guys job description. Armed with an instruction manual and a soldering iron I was able to repair the issue 9 times out of 10!

    Moral of the story..be surprised Radio Shack is still in business.

  8. MaximumRD says:

    MAN I’ve explained this one so many times over the years to people lol. Always Face palm when I hear “My picture is fuzzy when I tried my NES RF switcher….”

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