Secret Specs Of Atari’s 16-Bit Panther

Atari 16-Bit Panther

For months, industry scuttlebutt has indicated that Atari Corp. is working on a new 16-bit home video game system that would hit the market sometime late this year or early in 1992. Actually, Atari first began planning a 16-bit game system as far back as 1986, but the project was delayed because of an internal conflict between two design teams. One team supposedly favored a system based on the Atari ST personal computer, while the other wanted to develop an entirely new game machine from scratch.

Apparently that conflict was resolved within the past year, because Atari is now finishing work on a new machine that’s code named “Panther.” It’s rumored to be extremely powerful, but no one has managed to uncover its technical specifications — until now.

Game Player’s recently learned some vital details about the Panther from reliable sources. This information suggests that the Panther may be the most powerful home video game system yet.

The Panther’s most impressive features are its huge color palette and very fast computer chip. Sources say the Panther can display more than 256,000 different colors — about eight times as many as Nintendo’s 16-bit Super NES (Super Famicom) and four times as many as SNK’s NeoGeo! Like other game systems, however, the Panther normally can’t display all of its colors on the screen at the same time. But most screen modes are said to be capable of handling at least 256 colors simultaneously. The Panther’s “standard” screen mode is said to have a resolution of about 320x 200 pixels, comparable to the most common screen modes of other 16-bit home game systems.

The Panther may have more processing power than most office computers.

Inside the Panther, sources say, is a Motorola 68000 microprocessor chip similar to those used in the Neo-Geo and Sega Genesis. But the 68000 chip in the Panther is said to be twice as fast, operating at a clock speed of 16 megahertz. By comparison, most Apple Macintosh computers are powered by 8- megahertz 68000 chips; only the more costly Macintosh II models have faster microprocessors. That means the Panther would have more raw processing power than most office computers!

In addition to the 68000 chip, the Panther also has custom chips for graphics. These chips include a feature known as hardware scaling, which means that game designers can make objects appear to zoom larger or smaller on the screen. Although scaling can be accomplished in other ways without this feature, it’s generally faster and smoother when included as a built-in function. Atari’s hand-held Lynx has hardware scaling, as does Nintendo’s Super NES. However, sources say the Panther’s graphics chips do not have a similar function known as hardware rotation, which would allow screen objects to be easily rotated. So far, the Super NES is the only home game system with built-in rotation.

For sound effects and music, sources say the Panther has a stereo synthesizer chip with 32 sound channels, digital filtering, and digital sampling at a frequency of 20 kilohertz. The high sampling frequency (four times the rate of the Sega Genesis) means the Panther could reproduce sounds with superior fidelity.

When will the Panther be available? Sources say it should be ready by this fall, and that prototypes are already in the hands of a few game developers. The price is expected to be comparable to that of competing 16-bit home game systems — under $200.

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