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Atari 2600 using CD's in 1983...


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#1 Curt Vendel OFFLINE  

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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:


INTEROFFICE MEMO

TO: Dave Stubben

FROM: Don Teiser

DATE: 9/22/83

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
position.



REGARDING: OPTICAL ROM PROJECT

STATUS REPORT NO. 1 --- 9/22/83



INTRODUCTION

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.

STAFF

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.

FACILITIES

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
further development.
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.

Reader ---

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.

Interface --

We have completed a study of the requirements for interfacing
the Optical ROM to the following host devices:

Atari CX 2600
Atari CX 5200
Colecovision
Intellivision
Atari Home Computers
Apple II/IIe

Media --

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.

STATUS SUMMARY

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
development work.
Mechanical design, interface design, data coding, and
signal processing are critical areas of this project which at present
are on hold.

#2 Lord Helmet OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 2:56 PM

Looks like they were pretty far along on this. Damn crash. Would have been nice to see...Interesting that they were looking at a possible multi-platform release.

#3 Great Hierophant OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 8:37 PM

64Kbytes seems a bit unambitious considering that CD-ROM standards were less than two years away.

#4 SteveW OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 9:19 PM

I was about to say the same thing. 64K doesn't seem like much. It also depends what kind of format they would be using. Something small, along the style of laserdiscs, but half the size of a CD, would have been ideal. I would have loved an optical drive for the Atari 7800, loaded through the expansion port.

#5 supercat OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 10:39 PM

64Kbytes seems a bit unambitious considering that CD-ROM standards were less than two years away.

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The Atari didn't really have much use for anything bigger, did it? Even the multi-load Supercharger games weren't that big. Perhaps more interesting as a consideration: 64KB is about the amount of information that can be read in one revolution of a CD-ROM drive when the head is near the perimeter. So perhaps one could have used a 'one-dimensional' reader with the information printed on the disk like a barcode. Could have simplified things somewhat.

#6 Ralph3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Sep 6, 2005 11:57 PM

How does this compare to the Nintendo E-Reader.?
The E-Readers long bar holds 2.2 kilobytes of information and a short bar holds 1.4 kilobytes. Which most used 5 cards with 10 (or less) long bars with an average of about 22 kilobytes.Ant the Atari optical disk disk is 64 KBytes. So about 3 "Basic" NES games would've fit on 1 disk. I kind of would've preferred the optical disk today instead of those damn cards on my GBA that would read about half the time and not get easilly ruined. (Even though I keep them in a Baseball card deck box)

#7 Atari Charles OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 11:26 AM

I think Japan came out with the 1xCD reader in about 1982. I am glad Atari went with cartridges as cartridges are very durable(unless you smash them with a sledgehammer(see ET Cart Smash Video). Any form of disc would more than likely be scratched to hell by now.

#8 Zonie OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 12:33 PM

64Kbytes seems a bit unambitious considering that CD-ROM standards were less than two years away.

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The Atari didn't really have much use for anything bigger, did it? Even the multi-load Supercharger games weren't that big. Perhaps more interesting as a consideration: 64KB is about the amount of information that can be read in one revolution of a CD-ROM drive when the head is near the perimeter. So perhaps one could have used a 'one-dimensional' reader with the information printed on the disk like a barcode. Could have simplified things somewhat.

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I agree. The memo stated that there was only one moving part, the disc hub. That indicates to me that they were going to use a fixed head and read the outer edge. A good, simple design. High reliability. What usually fails on current CD/DVD drives? the head.

A 64K game back in 1984 would have rivaled the home computers of the time, like the C64 and later Atari 8bit machines.

Too bad they didn't move forward. As much as I prefer cartridges, this would have been a nice cost effective approach back then.

#9 Famicoman OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 1:22 PM

where did you get this?

#10 CPUWIZ OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 1:30 PM

where did you get this?

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LOL, kids these days, perhaps you should spend some time searching the forums and find out who Curt is. :P

#11 sukotsu9 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 2:39 PM

Real R&D at Atari... kinda tragic. Once you've gotten to the top, you've got to raise the bar, and something like this might've done it. Well, for the 7800, since the 2600 was on the slide.

Still, I find it strange looking back that many folks note how CD media is partly responsible for the Playstation rise to fame and yet so many gaming companies (Nintendo and Atari anyway) decided not to pursue it. :?

#12 Curt Vendel OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 3:40 PM

where did you get this?

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LOL, kids these days, perhaps you should spend some time searching the forums and find out who Curt is. :P

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LOL! "kids these days"

I love CPU.... he always makes me laugh when he posts!



Curt

#13 Curt Vendel OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 3:41 PM

Venture into a mystical, magical place of Atari yore...


www.atarimuseum.com


have fun! :-)



Curt


where did you get this?

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#14 Mindfield OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 5:04 PM

Were there any specs released on this "optical ROM?" Was it in fact an ordinary 5" optical WORM-type disc of the era or some proprietary smaller format?

Would have been really cool to see a CD-style type system released back in the early 80s. They'd have had nearly a decade on other CD-ROM-based systems, even if it wasn't quite the same thing. ;)

#15 Shaggy the Atarian OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 5:26 PM

It never ceases to amaze me the stuff Curt can find. And on top of that, the ideas Atari engineers had at the time. Very cool information. :cool:

#16 Agent X OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Sep 7, 2005 6:08 PM

Still, I find it strange looking back that many folks note how CD media is partly responsible for the Playstation rise to fame and yet so many gaming companies (Nintendo and Atari anyway) decided not to pursue it. :?

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Atari did pursue it. They created a CD-ROM drive for the Jaguar system, which you can see here. Unfortunately, they released it very late...about 2 weeks after the US launch of the PlayStation (which, BTW, will have its 10th anniversary this Friday).

Edited by Agent X, Wed Sep 7, 2005 6:09 PM.


#17 carmel_andrews OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2005 8:03 AM

Still, I find it strange looking back that many folks note how CD media is partly responsible for the Playstation rise to fame and yet so many gaming companies (Nintendo and Atari anyway) decided not to pursue it. :?

View Post


Atari did pursue it. They created a CD-ROM drive for the Jaguar system, which you can see here. Unfortunately, they released it very late...about 2 weeks after the US launch of the PlayStation (which, BTW, will have its 10th anniversary this Friday).

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And slightly earlier as well 1987/8 and the proposed CDAR system for the ST... saw one in a display case on Atari's stand at the Atari user shows in the UK (only saw it once... never seen again)... Also, atari's proposed ATW/abaq system was to have used cd rom devices from what i heard, again i saw one (incomplete) on an Atari stand at the aforementioned atari UK fairs

#18 MegaManFan OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2005 10:55 AM

So this has got me thinking.. which game company was the first to use CD-ROM for games? At first I was thinking Sega, then it occured to me that NEC/TurboGrafx might have both them and Sony beat by 2-3 years.

#19 Agent X OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Sep 8, 2005 11:15 PM

So this has got me thinking.. which game company was the first to use CD-ROM for games?  At first I was thinking Sega, then it occured to me that NEC/TurboGrafx might have both them and Sony beat by 2-3 years.

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NEC was the first company to use CD-ROM technology with a video game console, with their PC Engine system in Japan (a.k.a. TurboGrafx-16 in the US). However, CD-ROM computer games existed for at least a year or two before that. I believe The Manhole from Cyan was the first game to be produced on CD-ROM.




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