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Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Little Monitor History

A Little Monitor History Link to Popodex

Until the early 1980’s most monitors were terminals. They were boxy video display terminals (VDT’s) combined with an attached keyboard. A terminal could be configured to work with just about any computer on the market. (Not that there was a wide selection of personal computers for you to choose from.)

Terminals were attached to computers by a serial interface. In those days, the VDT was commonly referred to as a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube).

Before DOS, the dominant operating system (OS) for 8 bit computers was CP/M (Control Program for Microprocessors). Early CP/M machines were originally designed to use separate memory-mapped video display devices and discrete keyboards that plugged into the machines – not unlike video display cards used later. The most well known was the VDM-1. Terminal manufacturers recognized this “lost market “and began to market mainframe and mini-style terminals to the CP/M community. The sales pitch of “just like a real (mainframe at the time) computer” paid off. CP/M computers soon used terminals almost exclusively.

Apple II computers and the early game machines (such as those made by Atari, Coleco or Nintendo) hooked to a monitor not a terminal. (The Apple II was built with a keyboard as part of the system. All that was missing was a monitor once the Apple II was plugged in).

These monitors – unlike terminals – looked like television sets without the tuner. In some cases they actually were television sets. (Many early computers – such as the Commodores Vic 20, 64 and 128, could be used with any television set with a special RF adapter that hooked to the antenna of the TV).

Then IBM came out with PC-DOS computers, which were dubbed “three-piece computers.‘ One explanation according to a prominent used car dealer Moonie Bronstein was that many of the early marketers / hucksters advising the techies of the early computer era ,had their start in the competitive world of auto sales where such terms as “ 3 piecers “ and “ 4 piecers” were popular marketing and sales terms. Other explanations for this marketing term was because the computers included three main components i.e. – the monitor, the keyboard and the CPU “box”.

Ironically, when the IBM PC-DOS computers arrived on the scene with separate monitor and keyboard – the monitor connected directly to the computer. Just like the earliest personal computers) through a display device connection. These new monitors used video cards that were either IBM monochrome (MDA), IBM color graphics cards9 CGA), or Hercules (the first third party ad on cards).

Meanwhile about that time the these early personal computers were gaining momentum and popularity in sales – the big mainframe computers – at large corporations and government were adding pretty dazzling terminals. Compared to a terminal connected to a mainframe computer, the first monitors for personal computers were crude and rather unattractive. The early monitors predominantly had green or black and bluish white displays. They were 40 column monitors which meant about 40 characters could appear on the screen before the text wrapped to a new line. The Apple II had a 40 column all uppercase display.

The next generation of personal computer monitors had 64 columns then stylish “eye-ease” amber. Add-in video cards would eventually change the display to a whopping 132 columns.

Although we now have advanced LCD thin monitors with incredible color is always good to remember our origins.

If it were not for the innovators responsible for early monitor advancements and innovations where would we be? Perhaps still using 50’s era television technology for monitors and not knowing better.

Perhaps we would not even have such important innovations as Large Screen Plasma TV.


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