Watch Full-Length, Full-Color Movies on a Fully Original Atari 2600

This MovieCart is capable of playing full-length, full-color movies on fully original Atari 2600 hardware.

The Atari VCS (now referred to as the Atari 2600) was one of the first cartridge-based home video game consoles in history and was the best-selling console of its era. But that was the late 1970s and the technology was in its infancy. Saying that the graphics were rudimentary would be a dramatic understatement — today’s children would consider them unusable. That’s why it was so surprising to find this MovieCart that is capable of playing full-length, full-color movies on fully original Atari 2600 hardware.

This doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but the project is very real. Of course, it requires reasonable expectations. According to the information provided by creator lodefmode, it can only display movies at a paltry 80x192 pixel resolution with a severely limited color palette and poor sound quality. It does, however, run at a very normal 30 frames per second. Storage is cheap and abundant these days, so that isn’t an issue. But the Atari 2600’s video capabilities are very restrictive. Even this video and sound quality is unbelievably impressive and necessitated some clever hacks.

It is possible to load any film onto the MovieCart’s SD card, because lodefmode created a utility to convert standard MP4 files into the custom MVC format. One demonstration lodefmode made is the classic movie Westworld — yes, kids, it was a movie long before it was a TV show. The converted movie doesn’t look great, but Yul Brynner’s cheerful visage is clearly recognizable.

MovieCart 2600 is an open source project, so you’re free to build your own using the files provided by lodefmode. Or you can purchase one from the Tindie store for $24.99 (though, sadly, they are currently out of stock). If you purchase one, it will even come with an SD card loaded up with a full-length color movie from the public domain!

Whether you build your own or purchase a MovieCart 2600, you’ll need a couple of other things to get going. First, you’ll need the software and lodefmode’s plugin to convert the video files. You’ll also likely want a cartridge enclosure, because this is just the populated PCB. It fits in Combat-style cartridges shells. And, of course, you’ll need a working Atari 2600, as well as a joystick to control playback.

But that will all be worthwhile when you amaze your friends by playing the latest Marvel film on your nearly five-decade-old Atari.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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