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1991 - The Atari Panther was going to be the first new Atari console since the launch of the 7800 by Atari Inc. in 1984.  Although Atari Corp. had re-launched the 7800 in 1986, the company had done little to reinvigorate its games division, with the majority of its R&D spend being devoted to it's computer business.  By 1990 however, Atari were already making moves to began a new assault within the games market, which was growing faster than ever before.

Seeing the growth of Nintendo and Sega, Atari began designing a new video game console.  Previous to the Panther decision, Atari were also toying with an ST based video game console, but this wouldn't have competed technically with the newer consoles now dominating the market.  Utilising the graphics subsystem from its Transputer workstation called "Blossom", Atari designed a new 32-Bit chip running at 32Mhz which was capable of showing 7,860 colours on the screen at 320 x 200 pixels.  It also allowed zoom scaling which was similar to Nintendo's famous "Mode 7" on it's Super Nintendo system.

The Panther would have competed directly with the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) and the Super Nintendo - it would have been much later to market than those systems, but Atari felt it could still compete with its proposed hardware specification, which on paper was at least 2 or 3 times more powerful than the current systems available.  Panther was very close to actually going into production, but was shelved at the last minute as a parallel project within Atari showed much more promise and much more power - that project gave birth to the Atari Jaguar nearly 2 years later.

For many years it was thought the unusual prototype "Mirai" might have been one of the proposed designs for the Panther, although it's pastel shaded buttons were from the 1987/88 period, which more resemble the design of the Atari XE games console.  Now, over 10 years later, the Atari Historical Society (www.atarimuseum.com) has found the actual drawings for the casing of the Panther.

The unit is much smaller than a stock Jaguar, and as you can see above, it has ports for 2 joysticks/controllers, 2 slide buttons possibly for reset, power etc, and the same sculpted "air duct" like lines on its side panels, which are also seen as the rear of the Jaguar.  The Cartridges would be manually inserted flat into the front of the Panther like a front-load VHS tape recorder (or for those who have used a NES, a little like that!).

On the back of the Panther there is what seems to be a built in TV connector/UHF box (with Hi/Lo switch for NTSC markets), 4 circular connectors on the right side, possibly audio left/right and video, and a curios "mini-din" like sized connector beside those.  To the left there is a removable panel which would possibly house an expansion connector.  On the right side, 2 further circular connectors or ports can be seen, again, it's possible these were for "other" peripherals or maybe a ComLynx system as detailed in the official specification sheet (see further down this page to read the specification in full).

As you can see from the overall Panther design, it is very similar to the Falcon Power Pad above (which would also be used as the Jaguar Controller).  We are pretty sure, although we have no proof at this point, that this controller would have been designed in conjunction with the Panther project.  The STE and Falcon used enhanced controller ports as did the Panther (and later, the Jaguar).

We have prepared a larger view of the system, based on the original drawings below.  Please download and enjoy.

 

:: Atari Console: Panther To Go ::

In a sudden change of direction Atari has abandoned it's 32-bit Panther Console in favour of a revolutionary, 64-bit RISC-based games machine - a design that the company feels sure will be "the technology leader into the 21st Century".

While details of the new console, codenamed the Jaguar, are a closely-guarded secret, according to insiders the Reduced Instruction Set Computer technology involved could allow the Jaguar to run Virtual Reality games.

The announcement comes a few weeks after Atari UK's Managing Director Bob Gleadow stated that the Panther hardware was complete.  At a major press conference held last month, Gleadow implied that a pre-Christmas launch for the Panther was likely -  the final date would only be governed by the availability of game titles, he said.

Now all development work on Panther software has been called to a halt by Atari USA's President of Software Development, Larry Segal.

In a letter to the software houses that had Panther development systems, Segal explained that Atari would "forego" the Panther console in favour of "a spectacular game system that we feel will be capable of being the technology leader into the 21st Century".

At least six UK software houses were working on Panther software, but it seems none of them had actually completed a game when the decision to scrap the project came - less than six months before the scheduled International launch.

Segal is keen to maintain their support for the Jaguar: "Those of you who have placed time and energy behind the Panther will be compensated for your support," he wrote, "we have no intention of causing you financial distress... we will give you every opportunity to adopt your development schedules to this new system."

Apparently, Atari was developing the Panther and Jaguar consoles in parallel, but the Jaguar suddenly began to overtake it's stable-mate.   According to Craig Erickson, Vice President of Software Development for Atari USA, Panther had reached the stage at which the casing was ready to go into production, the hardware was ready to go into production and the hardware engineering was complete.

Erickson explained: "The Jaguar was progressing faster than we anticipated and we asked ourselves why were we putting Panther out instead of Jaguar?  "At that point we decided to drop Panther and push all our resources behind Jaguar".

While a few Jaguar development systems are believed to be in the hands of major USA companies, the Jaguar console is unlikely to be publicly unveiled this year, according to an Atari spokesman.

From "New Computer Express" (weekly) June 1991

 

Image - Panther Development System (mouse over to open the lid)

 

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