Contributors to channel output variations list:
Jon Levy, Rene de Bie, Sysop Fox-1
The Atari 8-bit computers produce a single video signal and monophonic audio.
The 400/800 models also produce some sounds (primarily the keylick and system
buzzer sounds) by way of an internal speaker.
Most 8-bit Atari computers put out their video and audio signals in two
1) Television cable (400/800) or jack (XL/XE)
This provides a Radio-Frequency (RF) signal carrying both audio and video.
Atari computers were manufactured in two versions: NTSC versions for markets
where televisions support the NTSC signal standard (North America and
elsewhere), and PAL versions for markets where televisions support the PAL
signal standard (Europe and elsewhere).
Any standard television with an analog tuner (NTSC or PAL, matching the
version of the computer) and support for an external antenna should be able to
display the Atari's RF signal. If the television has a speaker then it should
support the Atari's sound output as well.
The RF signal is either available on one VHF channel, or on one of two VHF
channels selectable by a switch on the computer. The channels supported
depends on the market that the version of the Atari was desgined for:
North American computers: VHF channels 2-3 switch-selectable;
channels 3-4 switch-selectable also reported
European computers: VHF channel 4, no switch;
channels 3-4 switch-selectable also reported
UK computers: VHF channel 36, no switch;
channels 38-39 switch-selectable also reported
Australian computers: VHF channel 1, no switch;
400/800: channels 1-2 switch-selectable
Accessories needed (typical setup):
a) RF Cable / TV Video Cable, a proprietary cable for Atari XL/XE computers
The input end is a phono plug that plugs into the Switch Box/
Television jack on the computer. The output end is a phono plug that
plugs into the TV Switch Box.
The 400/800 models have no Switch Box/Television jack. Instead, there is
a cable that comes out of the back of the computer. This cable carries
the RF signal. The output end is a phono plug that plugs into the TV
b) TV Switch Box
This includes a phono jack for RF signal input from the Atari, input
connector(s) for your TV/cable/satellite attenna, and 75- and/or 300-ohm
VHF output connector(s) for connection to the VHF input on the
While display quality of the RF video signal may be adequate, the quality of
the video signals provided at the Atari's Monitor port are noticeably
2) Monitor port
A proprietary 5-pin DIN Monitor port, which along with the audio signal
actually provides two video signals:
a) Composite video
b) Y/C Video, also known as S-Video:
separate composite luminance (Y) and chrominance (C) signals
The separate chroma/luma video signal is noticeably superior to both the RF
television output and the composite video output.
Monitor port exceptions among Atari computer models:
-the 400, North American 600XL, and XE game system lack the Monitor port.
-the XE game system includes a phono jack providing the composite video
signal, and also a phono jack providing the audio signal.
-The 600XL, 800XL(most) and 1200XL lack the separate chrominance/luminance
signals at the Monitor port. (But the signals exist internally, and it is a
popular hardware modification to make them available at the Monitor port as
they are on the 400/800/XE models.)
Any video display monitor that supports composite video input (this generally
includes modern televisions) should be able to display the Atari's composite
video signal. Monitors with built-in speakers for audio support, and monitors
with support for separate chroma/luma video inputs, are preferred for use with
Commodore produced many monitors with separate chrominance and luminance
inputs, making them popular with Atari users. Lonnie McClure provides this
list of suitable Commodore monitors:
1701, 1702, 1802, CM-141, 1080, 2002, 1902, 1902A*, 1084**, 1084S**
* The 1902A used a DIN connector for chroma/luma, which makes cabling a
bit more of a problem. The composite and audio connectors are standard
phono jacks, however.
** The 1084 and 1084S had more than one version. Some used the a DIN
connector for chroma/luma connections, like the 1902A, while some used
standard phono jacks.
The 1902 and 1902A are very different in appearance. The original 1902
shares the same slightly rounded front case design as the 1080 and 2002,
while the 1902A is has a rather square case design, and was manufactured
by Magnavox (as were some of the 1084 and 1084S versions).
The pinout for the Atari Monitor port is in the pinouts section of this FAQ
The typical Atari monitor cable includes the male 5-pin DIN connector on one
end, and two phono plugs on the other end. One of the phono plugs will carry
the monophonic sound signal, and the other will carry the composite video
signal. Atari's own CX89 Color Monitor Cable is of this type.
You may find an Atari monitor cable where the video signal carried on the
second phono plug is not the composite video signal, but is rather the
composite luminance signal. These cables are for use with monochrome
composite video monitors (usually green or amber). Atari's own CX82 Black
and White Monitor Cable is of this type.
The ideal Atari monitor cable includes 4 phono plugs at the output end,
carrying the sound signal, the composite video signal, the composite
luminance signal, and the composite chrominance signal. Only the best
composite monitors include separate chrominance and luminance inputs. When
the separate chrominance and luminance connectors are used, the composite
video connector is not used.
There is no real standard for colors for the different monitor cable
connectors. It is safe to identify them by trial and error.
The separate composite chrominance and luminance signals that the Atari puts
out comprise what the world has since come to call Y/C video or S-video.
S-video connectors are normally Mini4. It is possible to build a cable, or
purchase several adapters, that can allow you to utilize the separate Y/C
signals generated by the Atari with a television (or other display device)
that provides a standard S-video Mini4 input jack. This is the ultimate
display option for the 8-bit Atari. Clarence Dyson has a nice page about
such a project at http://www.wolfpup.net/atarimods/svideo.html .
A "video scaler" or "up-converter" is an adapter that will accept an input
video signal such as RF, composite video, or s-video, and output a conversion
of the signal as a standard VGA video signal. With such a device, the 8-bit
Atari can be used with a standard PC VGA monitor. AV Toolbox manufactures
several suitable adapters, listed at: http://www.avtoolbox.com/upconpage.shtml
Earlier popular devices included the Cheese Video Box from AV Toolbox and the
JAM!! from AIMS Lab.
Some people report good results viewing the Atari computer's video signal
through a PC using a TV/video capture card. Wikipedia's article about such
SCART - an acronym for Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radiorecepteurs
et Televiseurs - is a 21-pin universal connecting cable/socket system used for
audio/video components in Europe. The cables transmit RGB, composite video,
S-Video, mono and stereo sound. SCART, which is also known as PERITEL, EURO
AV BUS and EUROCONECTOR, is common throughout Europe, particularly in France,
England, Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. SCART is also very popular in
the Russian Audio Video market. It is possible to interface the Atari's
composite video signal, along with the audio signal, through a SCART
connector, though there have been few reports of people actually doing this.
Keith Howell has a nice page on some of these topics:
December 2003--More Than Games announced "A8 A/V BOB", an audio/video
breakout box featuring phono jacks for composite video, chroma, luminance, and
mono audio; it also features an s-video jack providing chroma and luminance.