Monocrome To Magnificent: Computer Display Chronology

Remember when CGA came out and made monocrome monitors look horrible? Well CGA is crap, VGA is where it’s at. Wait… weren’t there a couple of standards in between those two? Take a walk down memory lane and relive the evolution of computer display technology. You’ll start with displays that are more or less CRT oscilloscopes and end up in better than high-def territory. The article is an interesting read but for those with short attention spans jump to the fourth page and check out the chart of technologies, resolutions, and implementation dates. We’ve come a long way in a few short decades.

45 thoughts on “Monocrome To Magnificent: Computer Display Chronology

  1. In the display history, there is an embedded NewTek Video Toaster video. Back in those days the Video Toaster contained HUGE amounts of RAM compared to contemporary devices, and there was a huge tariff on foreign RAM imports, to protect American RAM manufacturers (who quit making RAM anyway). Because the import tariff did not include devices containing RAM, NewTek imported large quantities of new laser printers and stripped the RAM from them, sending new RAMless laser printers to the landfill. Amazingly, this was far cheaper than just importing RAM. Sad, but true (according to NewTek employees I talked with back then).

  2. [quote]Remember when CGA came out and made monocrome monitors look horrible?[/quote]
    No, I remember the opposite. I remember when I first saw a colour CGA monitor and almost cried. What used to be so pretty in monochrome, looked impossibly pukesome in glorious cyan-magenta-white palette and in eyecancerous green-red-babyboo palette too. And that’s the story of my ruined childhood. I still love monochrome monitors, even though I don’t have any anymore.

    I would really love to hear a story from an engineer who came up with this magnificient palette. I promise not to throw my rotten tomatoes and eggs. The wounds have healed more or less and I just want to know.

  3. Interest one. However they are completely forgetting the very capable Apple ][ and his family, and the Macs. That’s one example of technology running at Warp9 right there.

    In fact I may be the only person left who remembers enough R6502 assembler to work with one.

  4. Remember when you still had to use a Hercules-style monochrome card to have a second display for debugging? The last time I had to go scrounge for a monochrome PC monitor and card was 1999.

  5. @svofski
    I’ve used one of those things. I even learned basic on Pet system. I do not consider them to be a proper application of the processor, and as it happens the part number I cited was when they were still being made by the late Rockwell Semiconductor house.

  6. @GCL: but people still code for 6502 (ok, mostly for 6510 if that matters)… I rather thought that you would see it as a positive thing.

    Was R6502 significantly different from MOS6502? I thought they were the same thing, just from different sources.

  7. @svofski
    I don’t because that particular processor never went mainstream the way the other members of the family did.
    Oh and the differences were such that the R6502 actually ran faster, then the MOS6502. And by the time the company was spun back to its original sources, and now I’m not even sure they are still in business, worse luck, they had even seriously considered making them in CMOS, about the same time as the Apple //C came out.

    The basic Apple family member, except the 2GS system wore the R6502 (Could also be the SY6502, it doesn’t matter.), and could run rings around the C64. It wasn’t the software, or even the fanbase, it was the amazing graphics, that were largely the doing of Don Lancaster…..

  8. @GCL: very interesting, I hear about these differences for the first time. Have you considered writing a bit about this, something more substantial than HaD comments would allow? Could be interesting reading for many.

  9. @CGL: 6502 is still alive and well today (at least the instruction set is). Those keyring-sized digital photo frames use an embedded one albeit beefed up with some on board RAM and modern peripherals.

  10. @nes
    Way ahead of you. I’ve known about that effort since about the time I discovered HaD. For what I actually want to re-purpose one of those pests for, there are two objections, one is that they’ve gone ahead and probably updated them. (Need to buy one from Target to see if I am right…). The other is how to apply them.

    It’s been done before. I believe it first surfaced on a site discussing the 6502.

  11. @CGL: I haven’t looked closely at one either but I think it’s a fair bet there’ll be a high speed SPI port on there for interfacing the LCD. Some shift registers may be all you need to get parallel I/O from that.

  12. @GCL: MOS invented the 6502, Rockwell manufactured licensed 6502 using the exact same mask from MOS. Therefore a 1MHz MOS6502 runs at the very same speed than a 1MHz R6502 there is not a single difference, a NMOS 6502 have the same virtues and deffects no matter the manufacturer.

    An Apple II running circles around a C64? Because it had better graphics?
    Are you serious, even a (sorry speccy guys) ZX Spectrum have way better graphics than an Apple II.

  13. Dude
    I ran a Hercules card right next to a CGA card in my 7Mhz Turbo XT back in the land line BBSing days.

    There was this killer little TSR that allowed me to cut and paste local phone numbers over to the monochrome screen from online lists so I could find and hang on as many systems as possible within my local calling area.


  14. @the_woz
    Very serious. The Apple ][ had two styles of graphics, low-res which were basically characters as graphics, and straight out of the works of Don Lancaster. And the high-res ones were vector oriented, and came in very dense. It was on a par with the methods outlined for doing vector graphics for the early displays.

    Your ZX81 used ASCII characters as graphics, the same as a TRS80 ModelI did.

    The foundry behind the R6502 did indeed start out that way, but by the approximate end of the series of Apples who used the R6502 and just before the 65C02 came out, they had managed to advance themselves past the MOSTEK ideas.

    In fact for proper programming of the Apple in assembler they even suggested the documentation from the company.

  15. On page 2 of the Ars Technica article, the computer in the background of the IBM 2250 Display Unit is an IBM 1130, not a System/360 [the correctly formatted name]. And they should be showing the IMHO cooler-looking Amiga 1000, which was introduced first, not the 500.

  16. Thanks svofski.


    ZX81 != ZX Spectrum. The Spectrum have bitmap graphics of the same resolution of the Apple][ and 16colors.

    The Apple ][ video circuitry and graphic modes are ‘just’ a hack, a clever one typical of the genius designs of Steve Wozniak at the time, but a hack nonetheless. Color was achieved by exploiting weaknesses of the NTSC color system. The hires mode introduced in the ][e is 560x192pixels, hardly vector class graphics.

    MOSTEK is not the creator of the 6502. It’s MOS Technology, two different companies.

    The 65c02 (used in the enhanced ][e and the ][c) was created by WDC and licenced to Rockwell among others. Rockwell added some extra opcodes to the 65c02, those opcodes where adopted, with a couple more by WDC and added to their 65c02.

    @all: Sorry for the offtopic.

  17. @the_woz
    Sorry, I am allowed to be wrong sometimes, and of course so are you. You are wrong regarding the hires mode of the Apple, it was 640 x 200, (which I do remember). It was indeed vector graphics, because it followed the classic Cartesian coordinate system.

    I’m allowed to be wrong concerning the thing from Sinclair.

    However processors aside, the history for them is quite muddled. MOS Technologies, did indeed create the first ones, the later ones leading up to the 65C02 were by both. The WD65C02 was indeed by them, at the same time they were also building the 65816 or 65802. So the Rockwell 65C02 was in fact from WDC. History does not properly reflect who is who.

    We should just agree that we know our hardware best.
    I am as it happens a hardware specialist.

  18. Their chart of PC adapters is way off the mark… MDA was 720×384, CGA went to 16 color not eight (hell I’m writing a NEW TP7 unit to use the undocumented 160×100 16 color mode right now for the retrochallenge winter warmup), EGA was 16 colors out of 64, not 256…

    …and of course it’s a crime to omit the PcJr/Tandy1k 16 color modes which were made possible using basically the same hardware as a CGA by just giving it more than 16k of RAM.

  19. @Pilotgeek:
    You are a small shell script. I’ve been in this mad business for over twenty years. I know that computer far better then anyone save its builders.

    Wikipedia is wrong. Again. I know the page you’re looking at. I am also not going to change it. They were thinking of the Apple 2 as applied to the technology before the Apple 2 Plus. 2 Plus to the 2 E that’s the technology I’ve been describing.

    Case closed. We’ll start insulting each other over a different subject.

  20. Ah the //e. Still have mine. Still runs.

    I think I can resolve the raster/vector issue. You guys are both right, but you’re talking at cross-purposes:

    When GCL talks about vectors, he’s talking about the BASIC command “HPLOT” that said “draw a line from X1,Y1 to X2,Y2”. The interpreter would then jump into some ROM assembly code that drew the line on a 280×192 raster display. The raster display was capable of 560×192 in the presence of the extra 64K of bank-switched memory in the 80-column card of the //e.

    When svofski talks about vectors, he’s talking about an X-Y display, like that used in early Atari games like Battlezone or Asteroids. The electron beam physically moves in a straight line from X1,Y1 to X2,Y2, like an oscilloscope.

    560×192 in monochrome was very high resolution for 1983. 280×192 was also pretty darn good. Color was implemented by a half-pixel shift controlled by the high bit: each byte was mapped to 7 monochrome bits, and if the high bit was set, the physical position of the next 7 pixels was shifted over by a half-pixel. The half-pixel shift meant that Orange/Blue could become Purple/Green when this signal was displayed on a monochrome display. (I’ve forgotten the colors you ended up with when you did it in double-high-res mode.)

  21. @GCL : I’m a small shell script? What does that even mean??

    You’ve been right on about 1/10 of the statements you make, yet you flaunt your knowledge around like you own the place. 20 years in the field means nothing; I know guys with more than that experience in computers/IT and I wonder how they manage to actually know so little.

  22. @Pilotgeek:
    It basically means you are something that is used on a computer who runs Linux or UNIX to do something routine. (And that also includes mainframes.)

    Wrong! I’ve been right about 75% of the time, which is about par for me. I’m also not afraid to accept when I’ve been wrong. And I do indeed know to use the Internet to do proper searches. The references for the Apple came up after the flawed Wikipedia one. Those are helpdesk drones and ‘droids, and menials. Not the sort who actually gets his hands/paws and octopodal manipulators and even grubby protuberances into actual hardware.

    I’ve even spent about three to five years working on the service end of the computer business.

  23. @Pilotgeek:
    There are somethings a properly trained and qualified computer worker, technologist and everything imaginable with regards to computers and technology related will not explain. (That’s why I stated that then.)

    As for the website, it says it is temporary. I may have something better RSN.

  24. I’m a small shell script. So I’m typically quite useful for small repetitive tasks? I fail to see how I should be taking offense to this.

    If you wanted a computer related insult to show your oh-so-incredible knowledge of computers, you could’ve thought of something a little better. I think your insults need a little debugging, sir ;)

    Also, congrats on bragging for about the 3rd time about being a “qualified computer worker”. You’re not the only one here certified and experienced in many computer and datacenter type fields.

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