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The Atari Cosmos was an unreleased product by Atari Inc. for the handheld/tabletop video game system market that uses holography to improve the display. It is similar to other small video games of the era that used a simple LED-based display, but superimposes a two-layer holographic image over the LEDs for effect. Two small lights lite up one or both of the holographic images depending on the game state. The system was never released, and is now a coveted collector's item.
The Cosmos was created by Atari Inc. engineers Allan Alcorn, Harry Jenkins and Roger Hector. Work on the Cosmos began in 1978. Atari Inc. purchased most of the rights to holographic items so that they could make this system. The Cosmos was to have nine released games, but all of the game logic was included the Cosmos itself – the cartridges only contained the holographic images and a notch to identify what game it was. This technically made the Cosmos a dedicated console, but Atari Inc. didn't publicize this fact.
In ads made for the system before the Cosmos' cancellation, Atari Inc. claimed that the holographic images were life like and 3D. While this may have been true, the images didn't influence the actual gameplay at all. There were only two images to a game, though they did enhance each game's appearance. The system was intended to run off of an AC adaptor, not batteries. The Cosmos would have supported up to 2 players.
In 1981, the Cosmos was exhibited at the 1981 New York Toy Fair. Reviewers were extremely critical of the system, but Atari Inc. stood by it and managed to obtain 8,000 pre-orders at the show alone. Engineering logs indicate 250 unit run was to be made, but it's unclear if they were all produced. In interviews by Curt Vendel with Al Alcorn and Steve Providence, management removed all of the parts and components from the "Holoptics Lab" and are speculated to have been destroyed. Shortly thereafter, Ray Kassar directed Al Alcorn to close down the Holoptics labs and remove all of the holographic photography equipment and associated machinery.
Many ads were made, and the system's boxes were manufactured. Everything seemed ready to go, but Atari Inc. pulled the plug by the end of 1981. It was speculated that Atari Inc. felt the Cosmos was too much of a risk in the face of the criticism it had received.
Only five Cosmos units are known to exist today, three are empty mockup shells and the other two units are fully functional. One empty shell and one fully functional unit are owned by the Atari History Museum, while the other functioning unit is owned by a former Atari Inc. employee.
While considered one of the rarest of Atari Inc.'s unreleased products, one of the functioning Atari Cosmos has been seen at several Phillyclassic video gaming shows, as well as Vintage Computer Fest 3.0. The unit is set out as part of the Atari History Museum exhibits run by Curt Vendel, running with Space Invaders or Asteroids for show-goers to play.