2600 CE - Handheld Atari VCS Home

What is the 2600 CE Project?
The making of the case.
The making of the guts.
The making of the guts.
Current status of the project.
Game of the Week.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Files of interest.
Links to other sites of interest.
About me.

How does an Atari VCS work?

Atari VCS beauty shot from product catalog

What is RF?

RF stands for Radio Frequency, and describes a very broad range electromagnetic signals and frequencies.

There are several bands of RF defined, with TVs utlizing both VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency).

TV Channel 3 is approximately 86 MHz, and TV channel 4 is approximately 93 MHz.

What do the RF switchbox and cable do?

The cable is basically a wire that a varying electrical signal can travel along to reach the RF switch box.

The switchbox needs a liitle more explanation.

The signal that is carried along the RF cable is exactly like the signal that your TV gets from the air with its antenna - it is a "tuned" mixture of audio and video, that the TV's tuner splits apart to control the CRT and speakers (for more on how a TV works, please visit the TV section.)

The switch box is really more a switch than anything - it's purpose is to allow two different "antennas" to be hooked up to the same TV, with a manual switch to change sources.

Today's TVs have composite inputs as well as antenna connections, with internal switching between the two - but up until a decade ago, you had an antenna connection, and that was it.

So the switchbox is simply there to switch between the external antenna and the game system, which the TV also sees as an antenna.

Look at another section of how an Atari 2600 works:

  • Atari 2600 console - processes controller input and cartridge instructions to create video and audio which are output to the TV
  • Atari power cable - takes household current (120 Volts, 50-60Hz AC in the US) and transforms it into 9 Volt DC, roughly equivalent to a 9 Volt battery.
  • Controllers (joysticks, paddles, keyboard controllers, etc...) - Transform human movement into signals the console can understand.
  • Television - The only way to see and hear what the console is producing
  • Cartridges - Contain programs that are "run" by the console, which in turn, determine the sights and sounds generated by the Atari.

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