A Look Back At Computer Displays

These days, our video cards are actually as powerful as yesterday’s supercomputer and our monitors are bigger than the TVs most of us had as kids. But how did we get there? [RetroBytes] covers computer displays starting with the Colossus computer to today.

Back in the days of Colossus, of course, a display was actually a TeleType-like device printing on a roll of paper. The Manchester Baby actually had a crude display which was actually a Williams tube (no relation) that used phosphor persistence to store data. You could physically see memory on the tube or monitor it on a parallel tube — an early form of memory-mapped display.

Early commercial computing used cards and often used a typewriter-like device as a console. Timesharing allowed people to use computers directly and drove innovation in user interface technology. Of course, displays didn’t start out like the ones we use today. [RetroBytes] shows an old video game that uses vector display technology which was a common way screens worked on early computers. Essentially, the device was an XY oscilloscope driven by the computer.

TeleTypes gave way to “glass TeleTypes” or terminals. Power supplies and CRTs made these heavy, but they were the user’s window into the computer. Of course, eventually, the terminal would become the computer.

The video ends at the terminal. Of course, today, not only is the terminal the computer, but the screen is almost certainly a flat screen. The way a modern VGA card works is a lot different than an old text-based terminal. Not that we didn’t see old graphics systems, complete with light guns. Even if you want a duplicate terminal these days, you might want to scale back on the size a little.

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