Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: Video Game Consoled Compared

why did Atari fail

Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: Video Game Consoled Compared

Key Points

  • Atari and ColecoVision have both been in existence since second generation gaming consoles came out.
  • Atari was well known for Pac-Man and ColecoVision for Donkey Kong, both very popular among gamers.
  • When it comes to superiority Atari clearly has some advantage over ColecoVision.
  • Both are collectors item now

It is hard to imagine that the second generation of video game consoles launched over 45 years ago. However, two of the most famous consoles to come out of this generation were the Atari 2600 and the ColecoVision. Whether you grew up with it or are a newer retro gamer, you have probably heard of the Atari 2600, but the ColecoVision is a bit more niche. Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision, which is superior?

The Atari 2600 was released in 1977, five years before the ColecoVision was released in 1982. Current generations of video game consoles do even last five years nowadays, so they probably weren’t big jumps in technology back then. Was there? Let’s explore their differences.

Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: Side By Side Comparison

Atari 2600ColecoVision
Release DateSeptember 1977August 1982
Top-Selling GamePac-ManDonkey Kong
Colors on Screen128 simultaneous (2 background colors and 2 sprite colors (1 color per sprite) per scanline)16 simultaneous (1 color per sprite)
AudioMono audio with:
2 channel sound
5-bit frequency divider and 4-bit audio control register
4-bit volume control register per channel
Mono audio with:
3 tone generators
1 noise generator

Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: What’s The Difference?


Atari launched the Video Computer System (VCS). It wasn’t the first game console or even the first console to accept cartridges. But the Atari 2600, as the VCS came to be called, did what no other system could. The Atari 2600 brought real arcade games home, transporting you to virtually unlimited new worlds from your living room or den.

ColecoVision launched in 1982 and had impressive specs for its time, showing in its arcade conversions. To ensure success, Coleco contacted Nintendo. The company secured the rights to a super popular arcade game called Donkey Kong for $250,000, which would feature in its console.


set of atari 2600 cartridge
Rom cartridges for gaming consoles had smaller memory and were expensive.

Both the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision were cartridge-based consoles, which were a big step up from the first generation of consoles. First-generation consoles only allowed you to play the games that came with them, but these two allowed you to pick up a new game each week. This made it hard to get bored with these two consoles.

The Atari 2600 had a more extensive library with 524 games, and the ColecoVision only had 129. This is due to how long the Atari 2600 was out. The most notable games for 2600 are Pac-Man, Golf, and Burger Time. While the ColecoVision had games like Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Q*Bert.


Unless you have played games from this generation, the graphics might not be the best. That said, ColecoVision does have a considerable advantage in this department. Since the Atari 2600 contained no patented material, ColecoVision’s Expansion Module #1 an entire 2600 which did fit into the Coleco’s expansion port.

The differences between these two consoles can be most exemplified when you look at the same game on both consoles. An excellent example is Burger Time. Before hopping to the home consoles, this game was very popular in the arcade. Unfortunately, the Atari 2600 version has each burger component of the same color, and the enemies are unintelligible blobs. While the ColecoVision had each component look different, and the enemies were recognizable.


The games and graphics could be amazing, but if the controller doesn’t feel nice to use, the experience can be ruined. This is where the Atari 2600 really shines. The joystick and one-button controller is still one of the most famous icons for gaming still today.

The ColecoVision controller, however, is regarded as one of the worst game controllers. Like many competitors, the ColecoVision controller has a numerical keypad similar to a calculator or phone for advanced games. But the feeling of using this controller is not at all pleasant.

Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: 4 Must-Know Facts

ColecoVision with its controller
When it was released, ColecoVision enjoyed moderate success due to its higher quality arcade ports


  • The Atari 2600 was discontinued in 1992, and the ColecoVision was discontinued in 1985.
  • ColecoVision’s Expansion Module #1 was essentially an entire 2600, which fit into Coleco’s expansion port.
  • The top-selling game for 2600 was Pac-Man, and it was Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision.
  • The Atari 2600 was built from off-the-shelf parts.

Atari 2600 vs. ColecoVision: Which One is Better?

Both consoles are collecter’s items regardless of how they performed when they were actually in circulation. So it comes down to which one you value more and which you can find more games for.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a 2600 or ColecoVision in perfect condition due to their age. But if you are on the hunt for a second-generation console, we recommend looking for the Atari 2600 before going after a ColecoVision.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you play ColecoVision games on an Atari 2600?

Expansion Module#1 allows the ColecoVision to play any Atari 2600 game.

Which came first the Atari 2600 or the ColecoVision?

The Atari 2600 came first in 1977, and the ColecoVision came second in 1983.

How many ColecoVision games were made?

There were 129 games released for the ColecoVision.

How much is an Atari 2600 worth today?

You can find an Atari 2600 for around $30-$60, depending on the condition.

Is ColecoVision still in business?

Coleco ceased operations in 1988 as a result of bankruptcy. The Coleco brand was revived in 2005 and remains active to this day.

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