Introduction: ATARI 2600 Video Composite Mod

About: Inspektor Gadjet is a project for my most experimental music, Live performances, audiovisual installations, DIY hardware and other goodies … The idea behind the project is to make available the information, ha…

Composite Mod – ATARI 2600


I bought my ATARI 2600 (4 Switches) in the year 2003 on an international auction for 30 dollars. At this time I was obsessed with getting all the 8 bit music systems possible, Commodores, Ataris, Nintendos, FM Chips… Without paying too much attention I bought the unit thinking that it was a NTSC system, so I bought the only game I was ever need, SYNTHCART

This music game or software was made in PAL and NTSC, so I bought the NTSC version for proper compatibility. I tryed it and the unit was showing in a normal PAL TV but with black and white colors only… Anyway for what I used it you don´t even need a TV.

I played severall gigs back in 2006 with it, but not a big deal and then in one of those gigs the ATARI stoped working… It´s being collecting dust since then…

Now in the year 2014, 11 years after I decided to get my friend the 2600 and try to fix it, give it a clean and of course!!! it´s modding time!!! :)

Step 1: Atari Video Output

The ATARI 2600 comes with an ugly oldschool RF type connector, the ones you used to have to tune, and fine tune, until you get something acceptable… The cable comes out of the unit without chance to unplug it, so the unit its far from transportable. The other problem is that this kind of connection is obsolette, and many moderns TVs or Flat screens don´t even allow it anymore, so hooking the device might be not even possible in the first place to many people.

For a long time I wanted to try and change the Video Output and use a Composite Video instead. There are numerous Kits availables online ranging from super simple to more complex ones, that even add Super Video connections.

There are many tutorials depending on what exact version you have, NTSC, PAL, 4 Switch, 6 Sitch… In my case I found the best one after searching online before buying in this link from CoolRetroProjects.

Here a Complete PDF Composite Video Tutorial for all ATARI systems.

NOTE: As suggested by the user @AnotherHowie Some of the links obove stoped working so in case you need the PDF guide use the follwing link:

Step 2: Composite Video Mod

There are basically two mods around, one very simple and the other one more complex. Both are available in ebay but they are both 20 to 30 dollars. Allthough it seems like a cheap, safe and quick option, I though to look around and match the components of the more simple one.

Step 3: Component List and Schematic

The component list is quite small and consist only of a few elements:

  • One Resistor R 2k2
  • One Resistor R 3k3
  • One Transistor 2N3904
  • Three RCA Connectors.
  • Piece of Stripboard or perfboard.

After finding many variations of the circuit online, I found this one in a image search around the internet, it´s quite clear and allows you to make it either in stripboard or normal perfboard.

Step 4: Removing the RF Module

Open the ATARI unit and localize where the original RF cable plugs in to the PCB and remove the cable (image 1). It looks like a normal RCA connector (image 2).

Next to it, on the bottom right corner, there is a small metal box with a small PCB coming out of it, that is the RF Module, in order to remove it you must “cut” the 5 pins that connect to the main PCB with 90º type pins (image 3). You can just cut them and leave the module there, I decided to remove the whole RF module instead (image 4).

Step 5: Removing Some Components

For picture qualitty improvement (Not necessary) remove the Transistor that is found near to the red plastic cilinder, labelled as Q201 or Q202 (image 1 and 2). Remove aswel the Resistors shown (image 3), on my case this were R209 – R222 – C205. In order to remove the metal plate and access the PCB you must “bend” the small pads. It´s possible to put it back so be carefull not to break them (image 4).

Step 6: Adding the New PCB

Depending on your ATARI Model, prepare the new composite video PCB and solder the cables to the right points of the circuit. Basically you must solder the new video connections to the old RF Module 5 pin connector. Please visit the PDF guides I posted in the above steps to fully understand which lines to connect depending on your model.

After that you just need to add 3 new RCA (Yellow, white and red) on the back of the unit, where we will solder or new Video and Audio outputs.

Sound is mono so just link both RCA on the connector. Test before closing the unit!

Step 7: Testing That All Works :)

Before closing your unit, test that it all works. Proceed to connect your new Composite signal and Audio in to a suitable screen or TV.

Once you know that the unit it´s working normally again, proceed to close the case and be amazed by it´s new appereance :) If it doesn´t work at the first time, don´t panic, check first other TVs around if you have the chance. I´ve noticed that different TVs reacted differently to the ATARIs signal, some of my screens wouldn´t show any image, then I changed to an old school TV we have around and it worked fantasticly.

All in all I´m quite impressed by how good this modification turned out, I spent 0€ thanks to the fact that the few components are easy to find in any old Electronic device… Never dispose Electronic rubish!! …

For a link to the original article at my site please visit this link. The post there is both in English and Spanish, plus there is an "in depth" Synthcart article, link to manuals and explanation of the Easter Egg Trick to get Visual Animationout of your Atari Synthcart!! :)

Hope you found it interesting and helpfull!!