Jul 1, 2021

Atari Video Music

5 minute read
Michael Aubry

Music visualization is a function present in electronic music visualizers and media players that creates animated visuals based on music.

The graphics are generally created, presented in real-time in a synced fashion with the audio source as it is produced.

A music visualizer generates what you see on the monitor by collecting waveform and frequency data from the soundtrack and passing it through specific display rules. In its simplest form the louder a specific frequency is the larger the line draw for it is. Then a line could be drawn for each audible frequency.

Music Visualizer

What is the Atari Video Music System?

However, before we had high-tech computer-driven music visualizers, we had to rely on old-school technology. Similarly to how music was previously created with synths and physical effects, yet nowadays you can do almost anything on a computer.

Bob Brown of Atari came up with this pretty unusual and unusual piece of equipment. The concept was intriguing: connect your hi-fi audio system to the RCA ports on the back of the Video Music, then connect it to your television.

The Atari Video Music (Model C240) is the earliest commercial electronic released music visualizer. Atari, Inc. produced it, and it was released in 1977 for $169.95.

The technology produced an animated visual display that reacts to the musical input from a Hi-Fi audio system for commercial visual entertainment media.  You can see this happening in the video above.

Originally designed to go with your home audio system, it soon gained popularity as a tool for music videos and video art. Connect any music input and start adjusting the responsive shapes and colors for various visual effects. In 1976,

The Video Music was released as an ill-fated attempt to bring the worlds of video games and home stereo systems together.

It was a primitive forerunner to the contemporary graphical features seen in almost every mp3 music player.

Atari Video Music System- Development History

The Video Music unit was created by Robert Brown, a creator of the full version of Pong, under the pseudonym Project Mood.

When Atari was on the road advertising the gadget, a Sears salesperson wondered what the engineers were smoking when they created it, according to Atari design engineer Al Alcorn. A technician then walked forward, holding a lighted joint.

The gadget was characterized as an "Audio activated video display" in U.S. Patent 4081829A in March 1978. It has been a commercial failure, and manufacturing was halted after only a year on the marketplace.

Technical Details

An RF switch box connects the Video Music to a television. The other connections are left and right RCA jack inputs that connect to the audio amplifier's RCA outputs on an optical frequency.

The front is a glossy black plate, and the sides are walnut veneered particle boards. Pushing a power button turns the device on, and five potentiometer knobs and Twelve extra pushbuttons regulate visualization.

Knob Control

The following are the knob controls:

  • Contour: Two knobs govern the graphic representations of the left and right audio input signals to soften the forms or add to the geometric intricacy of the design, ranging from soft to geometric.
  • Gain: There are two knobs to control the size of the visualization, which are connected and control the left and right audio input signals.
  • Color: The color knob is used for controlling colors and may increase the available colors from a solid color to a rainbow of colors.

Push-Button Controls

The push-button controls are as follows:

  • Power: To turn the unit on or off.
  • Shape (solid): Any shown Shape or Image will be solid.
  • Shape (hole): One stereo channel controls the exterior, while the second stereo channel controls the hole in the middle.
  • Shape (ring): Both stereo channels will show two outline forms that maintain their thickness while the music pulses.
  • Shape (auto): The system alternates between the various Shape options and the following eight buttons at random.
  • Horizontal 1: Displays one generated image.
  • Horizontal 2: Displays two horizontal generated images
  • Horizontal 4: Displays four horizontal generated images
  • Horizontal 5: Displays five horizontal generated images
  • Vertical 1: Displays one generated image
  • Vertical 2: Displays two vertical generated images
  • Vertical 4: Displays four vertical generated images
  • Vertical 8: Displays eight vertical generated images

Best Modern Music Visualizers

Music artists frequently overlook music visualization tools, leading them to wonder why their material is a failure on YouTube and Vimeo. Your music is faultless, but how you deliver it to the audience is not. Yes, your presentation is a little shabby, which is why you aren't receiving a lot of views. I've included a list of some of the greatest music visualizers below:


While, clearly, we're biased Motionbox.io is by far the most user-friendly music visualizer. It has a user interface that is simple to use and comprehend. Additionally, if you run into any problems, they provide an excellent get started guide and a support crew to assist you. Its built-in templates and simple editing tools can make you stand out from the crowd. Motionbox.io is an online tool and completely free to use.



VEED is a simple yet effective application for music visualization that can be viewed directly from your browser. This program was created by Tim and Sabba, who intended to build a video editing software that was quick, simple, and easy to use for beginners.



Spectrolizer is a more conventional visualizer that presents a full-screen soundscape. This software provides a wide variety of display choices. The customization becomes quite deep and misses a live preview, but the possibilities are infinite once you get the hang of it. You can make tunnels, lines, audio waves, and a variety of other unique combinations. It's the best thing since Windows Media Maker, but it's much better because it's customizable.


It's a Wrap!

Atari released Atari Video Music in 1976, a wired music visualizer created by Pong founder Bob Brown that spanned the gap across customers' stereo systems and television sets. The technology that allowed Atari Video Music is smaller, cheaper, and accessible in the modern world.

In 1978, Video magazine published a special "VideoTest Report" on the Video Music system. The reviewers praised it as "a well-constructed gadget and an unusual component to employ as an auxiliary to stereo sound" but cautioned that "after the novelty has worn off, the display may become fairly repetitive."

There you have it. The origins of the modern music visualizer. You'd never think a bunch of hippies smoking weed in the 70s would lead to one of the most important music tools of the 21st century.

Michael Aubry

Hey 👋 I am the founder and maker of Motionbox. My mission is to build useful tools in the video space. I enjoy science, art, and sports. Feel free to reach out to me.

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