Atari Video Music

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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]


According to Atari, Inc. design engineer, Al Alcorn, 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 a Video Music screen as a background in the video for "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise". Daft Punk also used a screen in their video "Robot Rock".[citation needed] The diamond pattern visuals from Video Music can also be seen in several scenes from the 1979 movie Over the Edge where the mute character Johnny watches the visuals in his bedroom. The same pattern also appeared in an episode of The X-Files (Season 1 Episode 7, "Ghost in the Machine") as part of a video surveillance system.[citation needed]

The unit was considered commercially unsuccessful and production was discontinued after only one year on the market.[citation needed]


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.

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