History of Consoles-Atari Video Music (1976)

Atari Video Music


In 1976 Atari released the Atari Video Music system.  Though technically the Atari Video Music system isn’t a gaming console, it was designed by Robert Brown, who was one of the guys who had worked on bringing the home version of Atari’s Pong to the market.

The Atari Video Music is better classified as stereo equipment, rather than a gaming console.  The system hooks up to a TV through an RF switchbox.  There are two inputs located on the back of the system for the RCA jacks to connect to, which in turn connect to an audio amplifier.  The system also includes a built in wired AC adapter.



So what does the Atari Video Music do? Well, the Atari Video Music displays dancing psychedelic images that move to the music/sound that is playing through the audio amplifier.  I like to think of it as the very first version of a Winamp display.

The Atari Video Music was considered a commercial failure for Atari, and after only one year Atari decided to pull the plug on the system.  Legend has it that while Atari was out promoting the system, one of the Sears sales reps had asked Atari, “what they were smoking when they had invited it”, and after that question an Atari employee stepped forward holding a lit joint.


The Atari Video Music is designed very similar to most mid 1970’s stereo equipment.  It has a retro wood finish, with a black top, and a metal front with five knobs and thirteen buttons located on the front.


The left two knobs control the left and right audio input signal strengths.  While the third knob controls the color (rainbow to solid), and the right two knobs control the left and right audio input signals visual representations shapes (soft to geometric).

There are thirteen buttons located on the front of the Atari Video Music ranging in color from orangish/yellow on the far left, getting progressively darker to black on the far right.  The first button on the left is the power on/off.

Shape Buttons-Buttons two through five control the images shape on the screen by changing how solid the shape is, adding holes, and adding rings. The fourth shape button (fifth button over) is a random feature button, and will automatically cycles through all of the different shapes available.

Horizontal Buttons-Buttons six through nine control the horizontal images on the TV screen, adding 1, 2, 4, or 8 horizontal generated images depending on which button is pushed in.

Vertical Buttons-Buttons ten through thirteen control the vertical images on the TV screen, adding 1, 2, 4, or 8 vertical generated images depending on which button is pushed in.

Personal Thoughts:

The Atari Video Music is definitely a strange device that Atari put out, but looking back on it, it was really ahead of it’s time.  Today computers and other devices add displays to music and audio that consumers listen to.  Unfortunately for Atari at the time, consumers didn’t see any value in adding a display to their audio experience at home.


The Atari Video Music was only available for one year, making it kind of hard to find today.  If interested in purchasing an Atari Video Music system today, expect to pay anywhere from $150-$300+ pending on condition.

Trivia Facts:

    • The Atari Video Music display has been used in two music videos: Devo’s “The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise”, and Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock”.
    • When owning one of these systems, make sure to plug the Atari Video Music in the wall first before plugging in the RCA inputs.  The system suffers a bad static electricity issue if it isn’t grounded properly.
    • Years later Atari with the release of the Atari Jaguar CD built in a “Video Light Machine” feature in the system that would display images that move to the music similar to the Atari Video Music.  Granted this was done and displayed a lot better.

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About Gamester81

John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a bimonthly podcast for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007