Task: Connect Your Atari Computer to an LCD Screen
Needed: LCD screen, connectors
Time: 30-60 mins
I love my Sakata SC-100 monitor that I use with my 8-bit machines. I still have the same one I used back in the day with my Atari 800. As much as I love this monitor I know it won’t last forever. There will come a day when I need to find an alternative. I have started planning for that eventuality by getting what I need to connect my Atari computers to a modern monitor or TV. There are many different options to explore in this space. I will focus here on one of these and save the others for future posts.
First a bit of background about Atari 8-bit computer video. All of the Atari 8-bit computers have a monitor port that outputs a composite video signal. This is a single-channel analog video signal that is connected to a monitor or TV through a yellow connector that is often found as part of an RCA connector that also includes red and white audio connectors for stereo sound. The single channel of video is called composite because it creates a linear combination of the luminance (luma) that carries the brightness of the video along with the chrominance (chroma) that carries the color. This is super easy and allows you to connect any Atari 8-bit computer with the composite out to a TV or monitor with the composite (yellow) in. A number of monitors and TVs from the 1990s and early 2000s have composite in and are still relatively easy to find.
Although the composite signal is easy you can get much better quality video by keeping the luma and chroma signals separate and feeding the two-channel signal to an S-Video connector. As I will show below in the instructions, these connectors for your Atari are readily available. To see the difference in quality, I have included below screenshots of composite on a CRT monitor (my Sakata SC-100), composite on an LCD monitor, and S-Video on an LCD monitor. Note the remarkably better quality of the S-Video image. These were all three taken under the same lighting conditions at the same time. The LCD monitor is a Dell 2001FP 20-inch monitor that was very popular in the early 2000s. The video ports for this monitor are shown below.
S-Video is clearly the way to go. Unfortunately, only the Atari 800, 65XE, and 130XE provide both the luma and chroma signals needed by S-Video. This is a problem since most Atari 8-bit enthusiasts use an 800XL that only includes the luma signal. The chroma capability is there it was just never connected to the monitor port in the 600XL, 800XL, and 1200XL. There are instructions online for how to make the connection to enable S-Video. I also highly recommend the Ultimate Atari Video (UAV) modification. I haven’t tried this yet but plan to do a future post on this. Here is an Atari Age thread on this.
The final issue is sound. Most LCD monitors don’t have sound capability. This means you need to connect the red and white RCA connectors to some speakers. I had a really hard time finding small speakers for the desktop that accepted RCA sound input. Fortunately, there is a Y connector that converts the RCA sound to a 3.5 mm audio connector found on most speakers. Details below in the instructions.
Purchase a Dell 2001FP LCD monitor or similar. These can be readily found on eBay for about $50 to $100. You might be able to find them locally for much cheaper since there are plenty still around.
Purchase a composite to S-Video connector. These are sometimes available on eBay. I bought mine from 8-Bit Classics. Expect to pay about $10 to $25 for these.
Purchase an RCA audio to 3.5 mm audio converter. The one I bought I found on Amazon for about $10.
I have found getting Atari video onto modern monitors and TVs to be one of the more confusing topics. This is partly because the resources on Atari Age and other sources are inconsistent and often assume the reader has more knowledge about the technical side of video than they probably do. What I described above is relatively easy and S-Video is awesome if you have an 800 or XE system. Getting these old systems on HDMI is a story for another time.