Vectrex, Finally In Color

The Vectrex is everybody’s favourite vector-based console from the early 1980s. Vector graphics really didn’t catch on in the videogame market, but the Vectrex has, nonetheless held on to a diehard contingent of fans that continue to tinker with the platform to this day. [Arcade Jason] just so happens to be leading the pack right now.

The Vectrex has always been a monochrome machine, capable of only displaying white lines on its vector monitor. Color was provided by plastic overlays that were stuck to the screen, however this was never considered a particularly mindblowing addition to the console. [Jason] decided he could do better, and dug deep into his collection of vector monitors.

With a 36″ color vector monitor to hand, the Vectrex was laid out on the bench, ready for hacking. The bus heading to one of the DACs was hijacked, and fed through a series of OR and AND logic to generate color signals, since the original Vectrex hardware had no way of doing so. This is then fed to the color monitor, with amazing results.

[Jason]’s setup is capable of generating 8 colors on the screen, and it’s almost by some weird coincidence that this really does make the classic Vectrex games pop in a way they never have before. It’s also a testament to a simpler time that it’s possible to hack this console’s video signals on a breadboard; modern hardware runs much too fast to get away with such hijinx.

It’s an epic hack that through experimentation and some serendipity, has turned out some exciting results. [Jason] is now in the process of taking this to the next level, experimenting with adding color intensity control and other features to the mix.

It’s not [Jason]’s first time around these parts, either – we saw his big-screen Vectrex just a month ago!

[Thanks to Morris for the tip!]

18 thoughts on “Vectrex, Finally In Color

        1. A friend of mine changed school last year because the old school made heavy use of computers and she regularly got seizures from the monitors. So it’s not just about being able to see the flicker.

    1. I’m not sure if it counts, but I used an early ’80s vector monitor heavily when I wrote software for a CAD group in a big corporation. I’m not sure what name was on the monitors, but they were 19 inches (big in the day), and each one was paired with a green screen monitor, maybe 13 inches. The commands were entered on the green screen, the images were displayed on the vector monitor. The system as a whole was a Calma GDSII, it was run from a Data General Eclipse S-280 minicomputer, with the graphics controlled by Lexidata microcomputers, one for every two graphics stations. We had a system with four graphics displays and five greenscreens, the fifth was for system maintenance. It had two 300 meg disc drives, with no network connectivity. It did have a modem, so we could connect to our photomask makers. All other contact to the world was done by real-real tape drives. The minicomputer supported four users, with just 1M of memory, the processor was a large stack of large boards plugged into the backplane. By today’s standards, a big unit.

      1. Vector General(?) display and a Tek storage terminal (if the whole screen would rewrite in an update).

        VG had color displays of 4K by 4K with single gun. The gun voltage was varied to penetrate layered phosphors to gt colors. No visible pixels and sharp as a tack. Definitely better than the “best” one shown here.

        I can’t find a single image of these display adn I’m not sure of the name. I suspect they use “Penetron” tubes. Irecall them as bigger than the Tek 4000 family and in black cabinets and very cool for rotating huge wireframe models in real-time. Boeing also had a huge lofting plotter and they delivered you a rolled up sheet of paper about 8 feet by 12 if you hit the wrong “print”!

      1. I loved those! I’d forgotten about them, it’s been longer since I used one, and I never anywhere near as much as the Calma system. My father worked at the Indianapolis Tektronix field office. He’d let us run Star Trek and other games on them. I was still in high school at the time.

  1. There already is a colour solution for the Vectrex, the official 3D Imager. It uses spinning colour wheels, over both eyes, so handily gives 3D too. There were at least a couple of different wheels available, for games which used different amounts of each colour, since of course they have to sync up.

    Not being rich, old, or lucky enough, I’ve never seen one in the flesh. Apparently they’re a bit epileptastic. Fans have created a homebrew adaptor, to ordinary LCD shutter glasses. It doesn’t give colour, but works for the 3D.

    The original is surely just a cheap DC motor with some sort of slot detector to sync with the colour wheel. With this new-fangled 3D printing and some bits of perspex, shouldn’t be impossible to reproduce. Certain games supported it.

    1. I’ve got one of the 3D Imagers. There were only three 3D games, and each one came with its own color wheel. The wheel is half black, to do the eye blocking, and the other half does have varying sectors of color, depending on the game’s requirements.

      It is noisy and flickery, but it works.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.