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Atari Holoptics and the Ill-Fated Cosmos
by Michael Atkinson

Now remember, this was the crazy eighties after all.

In the time of glitz and glamour - post-punk, pre-grunge and pure consumerism - Atari, prior to the great video game crash of 1983, were well known as leaders in the electronic entertainment industry and were, at the time, maintaining their status as a technological juggernaut, while constantly trying to bring new and innovative products to market.

From the brilliant minds of the Atari's Advanced Projects Group engineers Allan Alcorn, Harry Jenkins and Roger Hector, came the Cosmos. Once toted as "The Newest Dimension in Electronic Entertainment" the Cosmos, was little more than a gimmick, according to many observers at the New York Toy Fair in 1981.

The system used a partially transparent HOLOPTIC plate in front of an array of LED's giving the illusion of dimension. Basically you would see a 3-D image superimposed over game characters composed of red LED's.

A Cosmos era press release extols the "advanced" system features.

. Dual Image Three-Dimensional HOLOPTICS TM Display
. Programmable LED Skill Games with a Variety of Game Cartridges
. Innovative Game Sounds
. AC Power Adapter Included (NO Batteries Required)
. One or Two Players
. Tabletop Game for Convenient Access

Interest was high enough, gimmick or not, for over 8,000 pre-orders from that one showing. With solid word of mouth and decent press, momentum continued to build behind the Cosmos, which prompted the creation of game boxes. Sales flyers were also shipped to Atari's distributors, further whetting appetites. For all intents and purposes, everything appeared to look as if the Atari Cosmos was well on its' way.

Suddenly, without warning, the unit was scrapped and never mentioned again.

According to Allan Alcorn, who was the head honcho for the Cosmos project, Ray "The Czar" Kassar, one time CEO of Atari, wasn't willing to risk entering the handheld/tabletop market as well as the fact that the Atari 2600 VCS was the only thing, he (Kassar) had faith in. Some say that it was the cancellation of many unique and innovative projects by Kassar that led the mass exodus of creative talent from Atari.

After the dust settled, and the Advanced Projects Group was dismantled, this project, among others fell into obscurity. Thanks to the archeological efforts of many former Atari engineers and gaming enthusiasts, the details behind the fiasco were finally revealed.

As a historical footnote, Atari did eventually use the holographic technology, if only for the stylized hologram stickers on cartridges and hardware. Unfortunately, there were very few of these units that were assembled and working, however it was noted that many empty cases were created.

According to reports, there are currently only two fully functional Atari Cosmos units known to exist.

Special Thanks to: and Curt Vendel and


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