Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 2:30 PM
So you thought that the advent of CD-ROM based video games started after the golden age of videogames? Not quite, in 1983 Atari's labs were already working on using "optical disc" based video game consoles:
TO: Dave Stubben
FROM: Don Teiser
SUBJECT: Status report
As requested, here is our first weekly status report, which is created
using the latest status reports from Davis and Wehrenberg. It is a lot
longer than those that will follow, in order to clarify the current
REGARDING: OPTICAL ROM PROJECT
STATUS REPORT NO. 1 --- 9/22/83
As this is the first in this series of status reports, it
includes a somewhat extensive discussion of what has been
accomplished to date. It will not be necessary to include this
background material in future reports.
The Optical ROM Project intends to develop a software
distribution system which will allow the mass distribution of
game and other software in a fashion which compares very favorably
to solid state ROM carts. Optical ROM will have a unit cost of
less than $0.50, a capacity of 64 KBytes, and be available in
distribution quantity within one day of software release. The
presently used solid state ROM carts have a unit cost of $2.50, a
capacity of 8 KBytes, and usually require more than eight weeks to
produce. Thus the Optical ROM offers greatly reduced inventory
risk and greatly enhanced marketing flexibility. The consumer
will initially buy a reader which will be packed out with several
titles. Manufacturing cost on the reader will be less than $50.00,
and the consumer will consider the cost of the reader to be
reasonable in light of the titles received along with it.
The Optical ROM Project divides into two major areas:
development of the reader and development of the media. The status
of the efforts in these areas will be discussed below.
The present staff on this project, the percentage of their
time available, and their area of activity are as follows:
Dr. Paul Wehrenberg, 80%, Project Leader
Dr. Wai-Hon Lee, 100%, Media
Gilbert Chan, 100%, Optics
Eric Breeze, 30%, Analog Electronics
Glen Hoag, 25%, Interface Spec. and Digital Elec.
Recent staff changes have included the resignation of Dr. Der-Chang
Hsieh, who stated that he was resigning because the project was not
being supported by Atari at the originally planned level (Seventeen
professionals were called out in the early project proposals).
On a more positive note, Dr. Wai-Hon Lee recently joined the group
and is contributing heavily to the effort.
We have converted a large office in 30 Plumeria to a make-
shift optical lab. This will be adequate for rudimentary feasibility
experimentation, but does not have power or surface required for
We need a facility which allows chemical handling and meets
cleanliness requirements of the media development effort. Also
mechanical and electronics labs are required for reader development.
The facilities requirements have been detailed in previous
memos. At the moment we do not need all of the space listed in the
space requirement memos because we are understaffed, however, the
requirement for some clean areas, sufficient power, and chemical
handling ability will soon be on us.
DETAILED ENGINEERING STATUS
A functional system performance specification has been
established as 64 KBytes of data which can be read at a rate of
16 KBytes/second. For disk type media the disk diameter is not
to exceed five inches.
The engineering effort breaks into three areas; reader,
interface, and media, each of which is discussed below.
We have completed a preliminary top down design for
a reader device which uses a linear array photodetector to sense
data carried on a removable disk. The design has one moving part
which is the motor/hub/disk unit.
In the design process we established the analytical relation-
ships between mechanical tolerances, optical immaging performance,
photodetector performance, data layout, disc capacity, and data
transfer rates. Understanding these relationships has allowed us to
set design numbers and develop an optimal geometric data layout
which has a high probability of giving the desired system performance.
A critical component in the reader is the linear CCD photo-
diode array, and we have done a survey of potential vendors. The
most likely suppliers appear to be Hitachi and Toshiba. These firms
have provided us samples of their arrays and Toshiba has also provided
drive electronics. These components are presently being evaluated.
Optical system design and optimization for the reader
requires mathematical modeling tools and we have developed software
to do aberration and MTF analysis on the VAX.
We have completed a study of the requirements for interfacing
the Optical ROM to the following host devices:
Atari CX 2600
Atari CX 5200
Atari Home Computers
We have developed and evaluated six low cost media concepts,
and have identified our media of choice as an injection molded disc.
Cost analysis indicates that the packed out media cost will be less
than $0.50 for 64 KBytes of user data.
We have also contacted the 3M corporation, a major manufacturer
of video discs, to explore their potential as a supplier of media.
We have largely finished the preliminary design and
visualization phase as far as the reader optics, data layout, and
media are concerned. In these areas we are entering the feasibility
experimentation stage and are spending most of our efforts on
assembling the minimum equipment needed to perform the necessary
Mechanical design, interface design, data coding, and
signal processing are critical areas of this project which at present
are on hold.