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REVIEW: Atari 2600 S-Video Output From Longhorn Engineer

Rebirth of my 30 year old Atari! 
It's easy to connect a video game system from the classic NES forward to a contemporary TV. Systems from the mid 80's started outputting via composite and s-video (if you were lucky) connectors. Before that the only way to connect an external source to a TV was via the antenna jack, wihch was sadly less than ideal. The connection was often prey to RF interference. I can't tell you how many times an Atari marathon was interrupted  by the picture going kablooey. Also the modulated signal coming out of the video game unit itself put audio and video on a single cable, so there tended to be a lot of video noise.

Emulation is great, but I still like to play classic games on a classic console. I could hook up my 1978 era Atari to my snazzy LCD television via the RF input in the back, but I didn't want the heartbreak of a lousy display. Fortunately I found Parker Dillman, who under the name "Longhorn Engineer" modifies your classic Atari to output a clean video signal, and makes it heck of a lot easier to hook up to a newer television.

Never thought I'd see the day.I decided to put a classic 6 switch Atari under the knife. It's the second iteration of the woodgrain beast, but Dillman can modify any model of Atari 2600 (with news of a 7800 mod to come!). I shipped it off to Longhorn Engineer, and in a few weeks my Atari returned sporting a couple extra hookups in the back. Composite video for maximum compatibility, S-video for better color fidelity, and separate audio jacks for each oscillator. The 2600 is intended a mono device, but it has two separate sound generators inside (which is only exploited by Video Olympics in a small way, and a homebrew title or two). I had Parker build in separate outputs for each oscillator for more flexibility when using the Atari's audio for making music. You'll also flip when you hear those analog Atari sounds pumping out of a real sound system

The display looks just great. I haven't measured the output on my video test gear, bit it's easy to see that the new display is worlds apart from the RF static soup that I was used to for so many years. I think that the S-video output is a must sinceYou mean I don't have to slap my TV anymore? it lets you better appreciate the vibrancy of on-screen colors. It may be counter-intuitive, but newer LCD televisions aren't the ideal display for some titles. Those games that employ flicker to increase the number of on-screen characters won't cycle through sprites as fast on an LCD as on a CRT. That's not a function of Longhorn Engineer's work, but an unfortunate side-effect of the lower refresh rate of my LCD television. Once connected to a CRT, the modded Atari really shines and I'm playing games with a renewed vigor. If only my scores reflected that.

Dillman offers kits on this site for those who want to do the mods themselves, as well as several levels of customization if you send your unit to him for upgrade. You can also download the schematic of his mod for free! Check out his site to follow along with his journal of creating the mod, and you can also check out a videos of the mod in action.

Longhorn Engineer's site with details of the mod
Ben Heckendorn demonstrates the mod in action
More detailed video about the mod (language advisory for sensitive viewers)

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