Upgrading my Atari 2600

For some time now I’ve been toying with the idea of performing surgery on my Atari 2600. Being decades-old, the only A/V output on it is RF. The quality of signals over RF is lousy by today’s standards, not to mention that most TVs don’t have RF inputs anymore!

Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of the founding of Atari, Inc. – and that was the push I needed to finally get this done. I was able to con @lawjick into coming over to help out, which was a really good thing because there were several points at which I really needed three or four hands to do this right.

Unfortunately I don’t have my childhood 2600 anymore, but I do have anĀ Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A that I picked up a couple of years ago. Here she is:
Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A
(Looking for details about Atari 2600 revisions? Here’s the definitive reference)

The first order of business was to pop the case off. There’s just five screws on the bottom holding it on, and a number of small metal tabs that keep the RF shield in place. Once those are all removed, you’re left with a bare motherboard:

The area of the motherboard we’re going to be working on is in the lower right of the board, seen here:
Audio and Video happen here

Everything we’ll be connecting to is in the center of that photo. R41 (the rightmost of the group of three resistors just left of photo center), TP5, and C19 (the capacitor between two resistors just right of photo center).

We cut two old composite cables from my junk bin and soldered RCA jacks onto one end of each. Once we had that, there was only three things to do:

  • Solder a jumper from the lower pin of R41 to TP5.
  • Solder what will be the video cable to TP5 and ground.
  • Solder what will be the audio cable to the lower pin of C19 and ground.

That’s it! When that work is complete, it’ll look something like this (probably neater, though):
Upgrade Complete

I’ll leave one small bit of wisdom here. Test everything before you put it back together! If you take basic precautions there’s no reason you can’t make sure everything is working without the case and RF shield being attached. That’ll save you having to disassemble everything if, for example, one of your solder points is slightly loose. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Once you’ve validated your work and put the case back on, she’ll look like this:
Atari 2600 Jr. Rev. A + Composite

We tried about a half-dozen games in the testing process – Donkey Kong, Demon Attack, and others – but there was only one game that was appropriate for documenting the successful upgrade:
Atari 2600. E.T. Composite Video.


All the credit for this goes to Thomas Clancy and the crew at AtariAge. I was just following the excellent instructions in the 2600 FAQ.