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Atari Video Music

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Title: Atari Video Music  
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Atari Video Music

The Atari Video Music

The Atari Video Music was introduced by Atari, Inc. in 1976, and designed by the initiator of the home version of Pong, Robert Brown. The idea was to create a visual exploration that could be implemented into a Hi-Fi stereo system. It is described in United States patent 4081829.[1]


As the legend goes, when Atari was on tour promoting the device, a Sears representative asked what they were smoking when they invented it. With that, a technician stepped forward holding up a lit joint.[2]

Devo used one as a background in the video for "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise", as well as Daft Punk in their video "Robot Rock". The diamond pattern visuals from Video Music can also be seen in several scenes in the 1979 movie "Over the Edge" which was the debut movie for Matt Dillon. A character in the movie Johnny, who was a mute, is the one usually watching the visuals in his bedroom. It also appeared in an episode of The X-Files (Season 1 Episode 7, "Ghost in the Machine") as part of a video surveillance system.

The unit never gained enough popularity and was in production for only a year.


The Video Music hooks up to a TV through an RF switchbox. The other hook ups are left and right RCA jack inputs that hook up to an audio amplifier's RCA outputs. The face is a brushed metal plate and wood panel sides. The unit consists of 5 potentiometer knobs and 13 push-buttons. The way the audio generates the visual is in basic form a diamond in two parts. The outer part is the left audio channel while the right is the inner part. The knob controls were as follows:

  • Gain: 2 knobs controlling the left and right audio input signals strength.
  • Color: 1 knob controlling. from a rainbow of colors to a solid color.
  • Contour: 2 knobs controlling the left and right audio input signals visual representations shapes from soft to geometric.

The push button controls were as follows:

  • Power: Turns unit on and off.
  • Shape (solid): Any imaged that is displayed will be solid
  • Shape (hole): One stereo channel controls the outside with a hole in the center controlled by the other stereo channel.
  • Shape (ring): Both stereo channels will represent 2 outline shapes that retain their thickness with the pulse of the music
  • Shape (auto): The system automatically cycles at random between the different Shape settings as well as the next 8 buttons:
  • Horizontal 1: Displays 1 generated image.
  • Horizontal 2: Displays 2 horizontal generated images
  • Horizontal 4: Displays 4 horizontal generated images
  • Horizontal 8: Displays 8 horizontal generated images
  • Vertical 1: Displays 1 generated image
  • Vertical 2: Displays 2 vertical generated images
  • Vertical 4: Displays 4 vertical generated images
  • Vertical 8: Displays 8 vertical generated images

The last 4 buttons have an auxiliary function when the "Auto" button is pushed. In this mode, the last 4 buttons represent Solid, Hole and ring. When the unit is in auto, it will retain the shape of one of those three shapes. The 4th button is "Auto All". This sends the unit into semi-automatic mode, cycling through shape, horizontal and vertical options but not affecting the gain, color or contour settings.

See also


  1. ^ US 4081829 
  2. ^

External links

  • Atari HQ page
  • Atari Museum page
  • video of the Atari Video Music screen
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