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Is the 1977 Bally Arcade Superior to the 1982 Atari 5200?


wiseguyusa
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Actually, the 5200 was more powerful. very generally speaking 1MHz of 6502 is equivalent of 2MHz of Z80 so a 1.7MHz Atari 8-bit is about the same speed for code as a 3.5MHz astrocade give or take. Atari 5200 was basically a 400 computer. So it had a 1.78 processor of 6502....the bally astrocade(what I call it) had a z80 of 1.79 MHz..... so basically the 5200 had twice as powerful CPU. The 5200 came with more ram built in, 4k vs 16k. It had a better resolution 384×240 pixels while the astrocade only had 320×204. The 5200 had 256 colors available with 16 on screen at once. The bally only had 8 colors total. While they both had about the same sound capability( 4 channels total), the 5200 also had co processors to help it with the graphics, etc,. The GTIA and the ANTIC.

Edited by segasaturn
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I don't know, I have yet to ever see an actual Astrocade despite a few years of searching for one. This is one of the only comparisons where the 5200 might actually win an argument about which unit saw better adoption.

 

@SegaSaturn - I didn't look it up and it sounds like you did, but I thought one of the Astrocade's advantages was that it could display much more than 8 colors. I believe the built in draw program claims it can display 256. Not an expert, but I'm interested in this detail.

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I don't know, I have yet to ever see an actual Astrocade despite a few years of searching for one. This is one of the only comparisons where the 5200 might actually win an argument about which unit saw better adoption.

 

@SegaSaturn - I didn't look it up and it sounds like you did, but I thought one of the Astrocade's advantages was that it could display much more than 8 colors. I believe the built in draw program claims it can display 256. Not an expert, but I'm interested in this detail.

Idk I looked it up and I only saw though multiple websites it had only 8 colors.....

Edited by segasaturn
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I don't want to come off as an Atari hater, I certainly am not, but the 5200 basically being a 400, yet the 400 was supieriour in every way!.

 

So a more direct comparison would be the 400 from 1979, still it begs the question if the 5200 wasn't a huge step backword when compared to the 400 or Astrocade.

 

I am just very impressed with what the Astrocade can do for a 1970's era game console.

 

My 5200 was tested once, and put back in the box, if I have an itch I scratch it with my 130XE or XBMC. emu

“No one's ever going to play this guitar. ... Don't even look at it" -- Nigel Tufnel

That is how my 5200 is treated, like a faberge egg.

Edited by wiseguyusa
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My favorite story about the 5200, my straight A honor roll classmate got a 5200 for straight A's.

 

I convinced my parents that an Atari 400 would help me study and bring my poor grades up ;)

 

6 months later when both of his controllers were broken guess who looked like the real genius :grin:

 

 

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Well, I've already stated that I've never even seen an Astrocade. However, I've played the games in emulation and they are impressive.

 

In childhood, my experience with Atari began and ended with the 2600. I never had any other device made by them, so playing the 5200 opens up a whole new world of games that I never experienced. I have the mult-cart and digital adapters, so I can experience all of the computer conversations, and it is a lot of fun. I also appreciate the uniqueness of the analog controls and don't really find it all that hard to maintain the controllers or adapt to the PC gameport.

 

On Average, the 5200 games are great and most don't appear on Coleco. If I had an 8-bit computer then that would be fine too, but I'm not really interested in all that comes along with collecting retro computers, so the 5200 fills in a nice sweet spot in the early gaming pantheon for me.

 

I recently just went through a Donkey Kong Jr system crawl. I played the 2600 and the 7800. I played the arcade game in MAME and the 5200 allowed me to experience the A8 version as well. Now I just need to get the NES out . . .

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I have never played an Astrocade. If I recalled correctly wasn't it testmarketed as a mail order in late 1977? Known as the Bally Home Library Computer. Then in 1978 it had it's major launch as the Bally Professional Arcade. Then the Astrocade in 1982 until it's discontinuation in 1983. They go for high prices on ebay and I heard they are some of the most unreliavle systems especially overheating. I do love the pistol grip controllers and they have some cool games. But the prices they go for and reliability issues had me turned away.

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Maybe Atari 5200 controllers don't work, but at least the consoles do. ;)

I like both but I don't really think they're comparable. What's better, Genesis or NES? But if one is inclined to force the issue, I'm gonna say the 5200 is a better system, because pick a reason:

1) Better graphics - the Bally was years ahead of its time in several respects, most obviously with its high-res (for the time) graphics; it wasn't until the Intellivision, really, that consoles matched it, let alone surpassed it. The Astrocade truly is an impressive console, especially considering the date of its design. But the 5200 did surpass it, and with the Bally's four- or five-color games, it really isn't close. Even Incredible Wizard, the Bally's most lauded title, looks like a suped up Channel F game.

2) Better audio - but...but...Incredible Wizard! To which I reply: Pitfall II! Berzerk! Uh...Wizard Of Wor! Yes, the Bally has the capability to do some amazing, larger-than-life arcade sound, and the system's showcase game, Incredible Wizard, is a great example. I'd say Galaxian and Solar Conqueror, as well. But apart from a few select titles, the sound in Astrocade games really isn't much to write home about. The 5200 isn't generally known for its audio, but if nothing else it's much more polished than the Bally's. It does have some games with very memorable sound and music, though.

 

3) Better library - 85-90% of the Atari 5200 library is stellar, and loaded with bonafide classics. The Atari 5200 library is like a playlist of the Greatest Hits of Arcade's Golden Age. The Bally, meanwhile, has about three or four A-list titles and a bunch of the same generic late '70s arcade and number games that appeared by different names on the Channel F, Atari, Odyssey 2, and Studio II. (Granted, I happen to really like those generic late '70s games, but chances are most people are going to find the 5200 library much more interesting.)

4) Better durability - anyone who's heard of the Astrocade knows how inordinately failure-prone they are. And it really is true; I've owned three and they've all died on me for, like, no reason. Even after adhering to commonly accepted safety precautions with a paranoia usually reserved for the likes of Richard Nixon. Consequently, a functional Astrocade is not an inconsiderable investment. (And as for myself, I've had my heart broken too many times.) For the price of a working Astrocade, you could get a 5200 and a pile of games. Granted, the 5200's controllers will need to be repaired (and they will; it's just a fact of life with the 5200), but at least they *can* be repaired, which as far as anyone knows can't feasibly be said for most deceased Astrocades.

5) "5200 = 400" does not make the Astrocade a better platform nor the 5200 a worse one. Technically it isn't totally true anyway.

The Bally does have some advantages, such as a more reliable controller (BTW there seriously needs to be an adapter to use Astrocade controllers on the combo-controller 2600 compatibles, the Sears Video Arcade II and Coleco Gemini) and the ability to write, save, and load programs with Bally BASIC, tedious as that would be with the Astrocade's console-mounted keypad. But overall I don't see how it can be objectively argued that the Astrocade is a better system than the Atari 5200. I mean, if you like it better for X, Y, or Z, that's fine and I can appreciate that, but that's another discussion.

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Owning several versions of both systems, I can say that the 5200 is the better performer, while the Astrocade's controllers are arguably superior. Even though it's clunky because of the limited keypad interface, the ability to turn the Astrocade into a reasonable computer, program in BASIC, and save and load cassette tapes shouldn't be overlooked either. The main failing of the Astrocade was its relative lack of popularity, which limited the quality of software on it. Even though the 5200 was short lived on the market in comparison, it had the benefit of leveraging several years of Atari 8-bit programming knowledge and that was reflected in the overall quality of the software.

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I agree with all of that.

 

My Astrocade was stolen. Found it in the wild for like $30. It didn't have a power supply, but it wasn't hard to make one. The system does run hot. Really hot. Frankly, for it's time, it performed well and I enjoyed the games. Didn't get to program on it. Wish I had.

 

Love the controllers. The games were mostly spot on too. Controls made sense, response good. It's very enjoyable. Feels a bit like an Odyessy 2, but not quite so set in stone as far as graphics go. Somebody, somewhere, should do UFO! on the Astrocade. Would rule.

 

Had it gained a larger following, it would have given the Intelly a run for the money. Looks to me, from the FAQ http://www.ballyalley.com/faqs/astrocade_cart_and_hardware_faq.txt

 

...than it had the necessary interrupts to modify the screen attributes on the fly. Given this, like the VCS and other consoles of the time, more color and sophisticated titles were possible, though not on par with the 5200, essentially a gaming computer, where the Astrocade was a gaming machine that could be used more like a computer.

Edited by potatohead
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The most important thing to know about the Astrocade is that its display is entirely bitmap-based-- no tiles, no sprites. This is a strength, in that there are no restrictions on where and what you can draw, but also a weakness, in that any moving or animated objects must be software-blitted.

 

And yes, it does support raster interrupts for more than four playfield colors:

 

 

 

The video chip is actually capable of 320x204 resolution, but the Astrocade doesn't have enough RAM to use this mode. In fact the audio and video chipset is the same as that used in the arcade Gorf and Wizard of Wor.

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Not necessarily. The sheer brilliance of past and present programmers makes the VCS shine like none other.

 

It's hard to compare most systems to the Atari 2600 because it's clear its full potential has been consistently tapped. The same can't really be said for systems like the Astrocade, which always struggled in terms of support (first party, developer, user base, etc.). While unarguably better and more flexible in some ways (four joystick ports, standard computer and cassette tape expansion, additional ports, better sound, more RAM, etc.), the Astrocade also had its issues (overheating, limited colors, low relative resolution, etc.). All systems of that era obviously had their pluses and minuses, but as you say and we all know, it's ultimately up to who programs on a particular machine that can make it shine.

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