Which carts are compatible with which Atari systems?
The 2600 only plays 2600 games, the 7800 can play 7800 and 2600 games. The 5200 is not compatible with the other two. There was an adapter for the 2-port 5200 that allowed it to play 2600 games, the adapter was essentially a 2600 that used the 5200's video output. The adapter would not work with some early 4 port 5200 consoles.
What about the different TV standards around the world?
North America, Japan, and Brazil all use the NTSC TV standard for their games. Brazil uses PAL-M which is very similar to NTSC. The game consoles from Brazil do the conversion to PAL-M, so Brazilian games work great in an NTSC console.
Australia, the UK and most of Europe use PAL. PAL games don't work very well
on a NTSC TV, the colors are wrong and the picture will roll. I haven't
tried it, but I understand that NTSC games do not perform correctly on PAL TV's.
France uses a method called SECAM, but it's close enough to PAL that the
games are interchangeable.
How about controller compatibility?
The 2600 style joystick also works on a 7800 for games that do not need the second button. An unmodified Sega Genesis 3-button controller will work on the 2600 and 7800, but only the 'B' button and directional pad works. A Sega Master System controller also works, but again only the 'B' button works. The 2600 and 7800 use the same paddle controllers. The 5200 controllers are unique to the 5200 and are not compatible with the other systems.
What controller do you use?
I use the original Atari model a lot, but my favorite is probably the Suncom Slik Stik. It has a short stick with very positive action and it's nearly indestructible. I have grown to really like the new Atari Joysticks that come with the Flashback II.
How do I hook my old Atari up to my modern TV?
It may look like a video out cable, but if you plug it into the video (yellow) port of a TV or VCR it won't work. The Atari output cable is an RF cable designed to play on US TV channel 3 or 4. There are several options available at Radio Shack to hook it up properly. The #278-255 Female Phono Jack to Male F-Connector will plug onto the end of your video game's RF cord and allow it to connect directly to the back of a TV via the 75ohm cable connector.
I have had trouble with some flatscreen TV's and Atari's RF output. I have one original 2600 modified to output SVHS that works well on an LCD TV. Google "Atari 2600 S-VHS mod" for more info.
Click to see Atari's original hook up instructions.
My 2600 or 7800 console isn't working, what should I check?
If it's hooked up correctly then check the power supply with a volt meter, the 2600 uses a 9 volt DC 500ma power supply. A good power supply will read about 12vdc on a voltmeter with no load. If you need a new power supply, many stores sell a universal power supply that will work. With a universal adapter use the 1/8 inch phone plug, the tip must be positive. Radio Shack #273-1770 will work for the 2600, but it is expensive at $13.99 and requires tip #273-1709 for $1.99. Be sure the tip is positive (+). The 7800 also uses a 9 volt DC power supply, unfortunately Atari chose to use a unique connector on the 7800. Replacements are difficult to find. You can adapt a 7800 to use a 2600 power supply, but I would not attempt it unless you are experienced enough to figure out how to do it without help. You can also try Telegames or B & C Computervisions for new 7800 power supplies.
The other common problem is that the cart is making poor contact with the cart slot. You can buy a commercial video game cartridge cleaning kit. They include some cleaning solution and some cleaning swabs. 90% alcohol works well as a game contact cleaner if you can't find the commercial cleaner. To expose the carts contacts on an Atari 2600 cart with a dust cover just stick a small screwdriver in one of the small slots on either side of the long slot to open it up. You can then push the cover back into the cart case exposing the contacts.
How do I fix my jumpy paddle controllers?
Take the back off of your paddles and squirt a little electrical contact cleaner (WD-40 will do in a pinch) into the opening in the potentiometer underneath where the wires are soldered on. Work them back and forth a few times and try your Video Olympics cart.
How the heck do I play this game without the instructions?
There is an excellent manual archive and game rarity list on the Atari Age site - http://www.atariage.com
You'll find me frequently lurking in the AtariAge 2600 forums.
Is there an official FAQ?
You bet, you can see it at AtariAge.
Where can I find an Atari console?
Ebay auction web is a good source for systems. Just search for Atari. You should be able to find a good system with a bunch of games for less than the cost of a couple of new console games. If you buy from Ebay be sure the system has been tested and the seller has significant positive feedback. You can check our links page too. A lot of the collectors and dealers listed on my links page have systems for sale too.
Where else can I get more info, carts, or hardware?
Please check out my links page. I have links to many other collectors, and a few businesses that carry classic Atari stuff. If you run across any places I've missed, please let me know. The forums on www.AtariAge.com can be an excellent resource. They have a great search feature, any problem you may have has probably already been discussed there.