Atari hopes to regain lost glory


By Chris McGowan

From Billboard, July 31, 1993 v105 n31 p49(2)

COPYRIGHT BPI Communications 1993. All rights reserved. Reprinted under the "Reasonable Use" interpretation of the 1976 Copyright Act.

New Jaguar Runs On 64-Bit Horsepower

LOS ANGELES--Atari Corp., which founded the video game industry in the early '70s, hopes to regain its past glory in that area and also establish itself as a multimedia force with the introduction of its 64-bit Atari Jaguar home entertainment system this fall. Jaguar adds to the hardware-software list being presented to video retailers interested in expanding beyond tape.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Atari will attempt to leapfrog the highly touted 32-bit 3DO multiplayer with Jaguar's faster 64-bit RISC processor and lower price, as well as bound ahead of 32-bit systems expected in 1994 from Nintendo, Sega, and Turbo Technologies. The set-top Jaguar will also be competing with CD-I, CDTV, and VIS--other CD-based multimedia systems that also include games in their software mix and plug directly into the television.

 IBM will manufacture the Jaguar player in a multiyear contract worth around $500 million. Jaguar will play "MegaCart" game cartridges and retail for $200. A CD-ROM add-on will be available in the first half of '94 and also list for about $200, according to Atari chief financial officer August Liguori, which is 25% owned by Time Warner.

"Clearly, Jaguar is very important to the company," says Liguori. "It's one of a kind, and a true 64-bit machine. We're known for delivering very hi-tech products at very affordable prices to the consumer." He adds that "the opportunity for software developers is far-reaching in terms of what they can do with the machine."

Jaguar will be marketed initially in New York and then rolled out nationally and in Europe through 1994. The machine features a 64-bit RISC processor, as opposed to 3DO's 32-bit RISC CPU. Atari says Jaguar offers more than 16 million colors via its 24-bit color graphics, plus 16-bit CD-quality audio.

Jaguar also has a 32-bit expansion port that allows for future connection into cable and telephone networks, as well as a DSP port for modem use and connection to digital audio peripherals such as DAT players.

The upcoming CD-ROM peripheral will play CD-ROM, audio CDs, karaoke CD+G, and Kodak Photo CDs. If Jaguar and its CD add-on retail for around $400 total, that will be significantly cheaper than Panasonic's $700-list 3DO multiplayer bowing this fall.

It should be noted that the 3DO unit will debut with its CD-ROM drive built in--with the ability to play back the same array of disc formats mentioned above--and it also has a number of proprietary features.

In addition, 3DO will introduce an add-on FMV (full-motion video) cartridge in 1994 that will enable the multiplayer to play back CD-based digital movies conforming to the MPEG-1 compression standard. Interestingly, Time Warner is also one of the major investors in 3DO, and stands to benefit from the success of either that player or the Jaguar.

The initial Jaguar software offerings will come from Atari, which is developing new versions of old games, and creating brand-new programs. First titles will include "Cybermorph," "Alien Vs. Predator," and "Jaguar Formula One Racing." Third-party publishers are currently working on titles for the system, says Atari.

Time Warner has made a library of video clips available to Atari and its licensed publishers, for use in programs for the new system. "Having access to the Time Warner library will be truly beneficial. With 64-bit technology, the Jaguar will allow for new heights in software experiences," says Sam Tramiel, Atari president.

He predicts Jaguar "will revolutionize the state of home entertainment as we see it today. And we are proud that our entry into the multimedia entertainment category will be fully made in America."

IBM will manufacture Jaguar at its Charlotte, N.C., plant. The project represents one of IBM's first entries into manufacturing for the mass consumer electronics market. "With this, we'll show that we can competitively build a sophisticated consumer product," says Herbert Watkins, director of Application Solutions Manufacturing at IBM Charlotte.

Atari was founded in 1972 by video-game pioneer Nolan Bushnell, who introduced "Pong," the first video arcade game, and also helped launch the personal-computer industry. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was among those who worked at Atari before starting their own companies. Atari dominated the video-game business in the '70s, and in 1976 was purchased by Warner Communications, but its fortunes fell drastically in the early '80s, as did those of the entire video-game business.

Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore Business Machines, purchased the Atari's computer and home-video game hardware divisions, with Warner retaining a 25% share. Not included was the company's arcade division, Atari Games, which became a subsidiary of Namco.

Atari regained its footing in the late '80s and introduced new personal computer lines, a graphics workstation, the Falcon 030 integrated media system, and new video-game units.

Currently, Nintendo and Sega have the lion's share of the 16-bit cartridge business in the U.S., while CD-ROM drives for Macintosh computers and IBM-compatible PCs, and Sega CD players dominate hardware sales in the CD-ROM market. Panasonic will bow its "FZ-1 REAL 3DO Interactive Multiplayer" in September.