By the Glow of the CRT

If you are a certain age, you probably remember writing software (or playing Adventure) bathed in an amber or green light from an old CRT terminal. If you are even older, you might have found it way better than punching cards, but that’s another story. [Tobi] wanted to relive those days (well, sounds like he is too young to have lived them to start with) so he hooked up a VT220 terminal to his Linux box.

This isn’t that surprising. Linux’s forefather, Unix, expected these kind of terminals (or a hard copy TeleType) and all the trappings for working with a glass terminal are still in there. You do have to deal with a few configuration items that [Tobi] works through.

In fact, it appears that he wrote his blog post using vi on that very VT220 using a text-based Web browser to research the links. He has a lot of resources for connecting a terminal of any sort (or even a terminal emulator) to a Linux computer.

There’s been a lot of interest in old terminals lately. You see a lot of old VT100s lying around. I personally have an ADDS Regent 100 that occasionally connects to several of my computers. You can see it in the video below.

44 thoughts on “By the Glow of the CRT

    1. I don’t. My ears are good enough that I can still hear the 15kHz flyback whine, and it’s distracting anytime I go somewhere that is unfortunately still running an old CRT for their CCTV system or whatever. I can hear it from across the damn store.

      1. 15KHz and higher, I can hear all the way up to 19K. God is that painful. People look at me like I’m nuts until I find the troublesome device and they say yeah it has problems. I was really good at finding bad power supplies in the lab.

        1. Not to be the guy wearing the onion belt, but be glad you can even hear them. Lost most of my hearing >6k. About the time I was first starting to use the original PC, I also ended up hanging out around really loud aircraft engines with less than optimal earpro. Every now and then I hear a peep, squeak, or whine, or imagine I hear it.

    2. I dont miss the contrast between 60Hz lights and a 59Hz monitor; those last generation 4:3 “high def” (1920×1280 maybe?) had enough dead time that set to 59Hz would make me nauseous. Luckily the one I had sent to 75Hz and it was only Windows that defaulted to 59Hz.

      Older terminals didn’t give me that problem. Even when using a camera and the lowest refrsh to calibrate the shutter timer, looking at a 45Hz (or whatever) never triggered a migraine.

  1. Or playing Adventure on a Decwriter dot-matrix printer at 110 baud. The print-head would jump the the right if you paused typing so you could see what you typed. And it used the idiotic full width “computer paper”. CRT’s were too expensive until the IBM PC spurred mass production. An Apple II with a serial card and a 9″ TV monitor was cheaper than a good CRT terminal and it had local storage.

  2. I migrated from punch cards to a KSR-43 at 330 baud. I was thrilled when they let me use a glass TTY. It probably only ran at 2400, but the improvement was huge. While tty configuration borders on the black arts, the real test is modems. My canonical test for a sys admin’s experience level was to mention configuring a modem for UUCP. If the person squirmed I knew they had significant experience.

    I still keep a Falco terminal just in case, but I greatly prefer stacks of xterms managed by twm. Unfortunately, there are situations where there is no satisfactory substitute for a real terminal. When I did this a lot I made a cable with 2 red/green LEDs and a switch that selected straight through or crossed. Connect, flip switch so both LEDs are green. Replace with appropriate hardwired cable. Of course, you still had to find or write a termcap or terminfo file. And God help you if it were some early production, poorly documented terminal.

    1. ” Unfortunately, there are situations where there is no satisfactory substitute for a real terminal. ”

      Yah, try holding open a door with a netbook.

      I owned one for a few years, hooked it up to a linux box, redirected the console in DOS, think I managed a multi-user console under DR-DOS once… but I let it go because took up too much room for a single function device.

      I’m not real clear on why you’d need a real real one much, unless it’s the abomination of RS-232 that’s the default on PCs (For so long that most will have no clue that it’s incomplete) but I’ve got machines that have “real” RS-232 on.

    2. I worked AT&T Networking Hotline in NJ. Modems and UUCP weren’t hard (Postscript printers could be fun). Previously work with Baudot, ASCII and Hi and Lo speed tts (Newpaper code), even played with currently loop (oooo tingly, okay ouch). I had no trouble with most things serial. Termcp/Terminfo were always fun, defaulted to VT52 or dumb. Those folks had to learn to use ex ;-)

  3. I may love me some emulators for old dos and console games, but the only problem i see with emulation is always the monitor. Some old graphics modes just won’t work or at least look fugly on LCD. I can’t seem to justify this for terminals though, unless you use it for really long runs.

    1. The graphics modes that don’t work, aren’t going to work on a terminal either.

      Also, whether you’d get a “text” game especially one that used the bitmapped graphics characters to display nice on a terminal is down to the fonts available on it. Also whether the game itself played nice with the DOS console, because if not you won’t be able to redirect console to serial port and use terminal.

    2. I agree.
      Or when you attach say a NES to a LCD it too simply looks horrible.

      However using a sharp LCD from say from the early 2000’s the picture
      seems relatively good. I’m assuming it has to do with the quality of
      construction within the composite processing board.

    1. Yes, Xenix with a good motherboard that would let you get more than 1M of RAM. I worked with a Gimix Ghost (our development system) running OS9 Level II (6809 with 2M of RAM). We ran 8 terminals, 2 printers, 2 modem (News feed from AP) and an EPROM burner. I always thought it was weird that you could only run one user on an IBM PC. Seem like a real waste.

      1. Did you have the smart serial board for the Gimix? Gimix was way too expensive for me, but it was intriguing that they serial and parallel boards that included microprocessors. Not a first, but pretty uncommon in “home” computers. And probably a good way to speed things up when the main cpu ran at 2MHz at best.

        Michael

      2. “”The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armor to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.” – Douglas Adams

  4. Maybe 6-7 years ago the last of the new CRT displays were being dumped on ebay. You could pick up a 13″ or 14″ point of sale CRT display in green or amber, VGA or TTL, brand-new for under $70. Now it’s pretty much down to luck to find one in good condition and not at a desperate/vintagerarecollectible price

    IBM and Wyse terminals were pretty common. If you just want an ASCII CRT terminal and don’t care about ‘vintage’ they’re probably best.

    A secret source of low-use ‘vintage’ CRT displays does exist though: 80’s and 90’s word processors.

  5. The VT220’s were great terminals, super tiny for the time (the one pictured is a much bigger VT100)

    When I was studying computer science the X-terminals were getting popular but we still had some rooms with some HP 700/92 text-based ones. And I spent a lot of time there because the X-terms were often used for classes and even if they were free it was hard to get a spot.

    There you could just sit for hours and even go for a break without being afraid of losing your spot.. Really miss them, if the old VT220’s were easy to get I’d get one for at home here. But they’re really hard to find these days.

  6. The problem with you young wiper snappers is that ya ain’t learnt nothin! Now get off my virtual lawn!

    I do find this one a bit odd. I’ve lived in the tty (and vty) for more than 30 years. One thing to add to this is the use of screen which allows you to use a single glassy tty for multiple sessions. ;-)

    BTW, I still use screen and terminal emulators to reach most of the machines I work on.

  7. “old terminals”? I have 6 DEC VT220 terminals running the DMS100 RTIF’s in our office. Yup still in use. The DMS map terminals each have one as well, there’s three more. I can count 7 more that are for other systems and are still used nearly every day.

    old… pssssh….that ain’t old, let me tell you about old sonny :)

  8. You can use an ESP8266 to turn any old CRT TV into a remote VT* terminal. You’l need to add an AVR to have a light-pen if you want to use an onscreen keyboard to minimise parts yet have a full terminal. On linux there are a few options for piping a TTYS* device to a remote port over TCP/IP, that remote port would be server code on the ESP. I expect the ESP32 can do it all in one as it can to ADC while doing WiFi at the same time.

  9. The company I work for actually refurbs most brands and models of terminals. Lots of Wyse, Adds, etc. http://www.vecmar.com terminals even come with a warranty and the appropriate keyboard. It is still a viable thing to sell, not a lot of demand but they have been refurbing them since the mid 90’s and still have a few big customers using them. It still amazes me the amount of older tech that still gets used in some of the larger businesses.

  10. What used to be a good use for an old serial terminal was as an 80 column “printer” to send text files to to check layout before printing, or to “print” a page from a software manual.

    Quite useful with home computers and micros that didn’t have the ability to display 80 columns of text.

  11. I want a Lear Siegler ADM-3A. A design classic; I used one at University – fairly whizzed along at 1200 baud – limited by the ICL 1907 at the other end. Unlucky people got to use the Newbury terminal which was no design classic.

    Not my first terminal though – I did my final year project in 1973/74 on a real ASR-33 for the interactive stuff, and an IBM 029 card punch for the batch.

    1. My first real job we had an ADM-3A which was someone elses’ and I had a Televideo TV910. I personally liked the 910 better even though I had never heard of it before then (whereas, everyone had heard of the ADM3). Prior to that I had done a lot on 5 level and 8 level teletypes including my own KSR28 and an ASR-33. Oh, and I also had a Frieden Flexowriter.

  12. Can I get a holistic-universe royalty payment for this story?

    http://hackaday.com/2013/06/30/retrotechtacular-bell-labs-introduces-a-thing-called-unix/

    *From the 2013 article comments:

    “Scaramouche says:

    July 1, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Is it weird that I kind of want one of those old monitors now? And I was born in ’82. Just remembering my childhood, learning BASIC on a monochrome screen. My dad was too thrifty for a color monitor at first. Oh how the amber glow illuminated the night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I really have to take a stab at the retro edition. I think there’s still a coleco adam and timex sinclair at my dad’s house somewhere”

  13. Somewhere at a landfill in the Netherlands in a Televideo 950 terminal with a 9-pin connector that could be used to connect it as a monochrome PC monitor. I thought it was quite a cool hack that I could use my terminal as a regular monitor and my computer as a terminal emulator, back in 1992 or 1993 or so.

  14. I love that he used the Glass TTY font for the post, that’s my default terminal font for any “work” terminals.
    I had the chance to set up a somewhat more recent terminal a few years ago, the manufacturer escapes me right now but it had several emulation modes for different terminal types, and supported baudrates up to 38400 and high resolution modes. Quite a fantastic little beastie.
    What always nabbed my interest a little more strongly though, were the X-terminals that saw later use as Unix mainframe desktops, such as the HP Envizex line. I grabbed one of those at the same time I had the serial terminal, and it turns out those are a little more work to get running.
    To my knowledge, I’m still the only one hosting a usable form of the update files for the HP 700X/Envizex series. If anyone wants to mirror or has one of these to play with, here’s some info.
    http://www.thepoorgeek.com/techblog/2013/07/02/updated-hp-envizex-files/

    If you just want to see an Envizex go, here’s that:

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