The Atari VCS - formerly Ataribox - has had a relatively rocky ride since it was announced last year. A delay to its crowd funding phase, let alone launch, brought the cynics out of the woodwork. Even though they, like everyone else outside of the development team, have few ideas as to what the final product might be.

To be completely honest, we're not entirely sure ourselves. The prototype shown at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco was simply an un-working concept design unit. An empty box, essentially. As were the Classic Joystick and Modern Controller.

They lit up, but nothing else.

However, we're happy to give the Atari VCS the benefit of doubt because a quick chat with Michael Arzt, Atari's COO of connected devices gave us more insight into what the final box might offer. It also gave us a good indication that this is a true passion project undertaken by dedicated Atari fans who want nothing but the best. And are willing to delay release in order to achieve it.

While Arzt refrained from delving too deeply into the internal hardware of the Atari VCS, he did tell us some of the expected features.

Streaming and voice control

Not only will the new console be pre-installed with a large collection of classic games from Atari's past - including some of the old third-party titles, such as Activision's Pitfall - it will be a media streamer, with apps such as Netflix and Spotify, and be able to play modern games through its Linux-based operating system and proprietary UI.

Pocket-lintAtari VCS concept design pics image 9

The Linux angle was already known, but Arzt also told us that the Atari VCS will have voice control functionality - not something we'd heard before.

That makes it intriguing and we wonder whether Atari is developing its own system or adopting an existing voice assistant, like Amazon's Alexa. Pop Alexa in the console and you have an all-different kind of affair.

The box itself is actually larger than we expected and, if you're a fan of the original Atari 2600 like us, beautiful. It has been designed to sit proudly in front of your TV on top of an AV cabinet rather than in one. Let's face it, it's rare to get teak panelling on modern day hardware and we're happy to see its (faux) return.

The Atari logo on the front lights up, but we hope you can at the very least tone it down in the settings on the final model.

Power under the hood

We were told that the top ridges are modular and can be used for ventilation to ensure the box doesn't overheat. That's another hint that there are plans to make it more powerful than a Roku, say, and considerably beefier than a SNES or NES Classic Mini.

The controllers are interesting too. Or, at least, one of them is. The Modern Controller is simply an Xbox One-style gamepad, but the other is designed around the original 1970s joystick. There are differences, of course, it isn't made of rubber for a start, and features modern sensors for full 360-degree control.

Pocket-lintAtari VCS concept design pics image 12

It also has a series of LED lights around the circumference of the stick that light-up in the direction you move it. They will be orange on the final version, we were told, to ape the painted orange dashes on the original. The stick is also likely to be able to twist, in order to play paddle games such as Pong and Breakout.

There is unlikely to be a media remote control, at least at launch, with the joystick able to control all on-screen features as well as the games. And then there is the voice control anyway.

Both controllers will be wireless.

First Impressions

That's all we really know about the device and its accessories for now. After all, the concept models we saw at GDC were empty design boxes and non-functional. They gave us an idea of what they look like, how they feel and the size and style but nothing else.

We are, however, likely to find out more in the coming weeks and months as the pre-order/funding phase starts on 30 May.

The box itself, we have been told, will be available early 2019.

Until then we're willing to give the Atari VCS the benefit of the doubt. If it does feature all the things Arzt was willing to talk about, it's not just another dumb retro games machine it is so much more. It might then justify the $200 price tag the pre-order editions are said to cost.

And it might even quiet some of the existing cynicism.

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