Mini Vectrex Prototype Restored By National Videogame Museum

The crash of the videogame market in 1983 struck down a slew of victims, and unique products such as the Vectrex were not immune to its destructive ways. The all-in-one console featured a monochromatic vector display and offered an arcade-like experience at home complete with an analog joystick controller. It sadly never made it to its second birthday before being axed in early 1984, however, thanks to the [National Videogame Museum] we now how a glimpse of an alternate history for the Vectrex. They posted some photos of an unreleased Vectrex prototype that was restored to working order.

Little was known about this “Mini version” of the Vectrex as its very existence was called into question. The console came into and left the videogame market in such short order that its distributor, Milton Bradley, would have killed any additional model posthaste. Little thought was given to the idea, though a rumor appeared in Edge magazine issue 122. The article detailed a fan’s memory of seeing a Vectrex shaped “like a shoebox” on the president’s desk.

Seven years after the publication of that story, photos of the Vectrex design revision were posted by one of the Vectrex designer’s sons on Flickr. These photos served as the only concrete evidence as to the existence of the machine that were widely available for some time. That was until the [National Videogame Museum] managed to acquire the actual prototype as part of the museum’s collection in Frisco, TX. So for those without plans to swing through the DFW area in the near future, there is the video of the mini Vectrex in action below.

Also don’t miss this digital picture frame that was re-purposed into a color changing Vectrex overlay.

13 thoughts on “Mini Vectrex Prototype Restored By National Videogame Museum

      1. Read elsewhere from the son of one of the people, it was a custom made demo unit that sat on the bosses desk to amuse visitors. A one off large expense. I personally think it was ok for a kiosk/bar mount, but not that appealing free sitting.

        Was it vectrex who wanted to do a handheld unit? I have been in a page about portable TV’s, and they were a lot more advanced and bigger screens than I thought. RCA was reportedly talking about a color tube one in the 1960’s. Here:

        http://www.guenthoer.de/e-history.htm

  1. Have to wonder what the point of this was, back then. Since much smaller, or more compact CRTs were available at the time, even primitive B&W LCD TVs were around approximately at that time. Something like the Sony Watchman could have been fitted with computer guts and made into something like a bigger Gameboy. Even if you needed to carry some of the hardware on your belt.

    I’ve half an idea the reason for this is the same as the original Vectrex. Somebody found a few hundred thousand 5″ CRTs going cheap!

    1. Convert a Sony Watchman to vector display? That’s a pretty hefty challenge! Any takers? We’ll have a field day with the comments of vintage electronics enthusiasts! Sacrilege!

        1. I had a go with one of those CRTs. The only real issue is you need to add a DC offset to the Y deflection (horizontal on the Vectrex) as the spot naturally sits off the top of the screen and you have to drive the X deflection with a mix of Vectrex’s horizontal and vertical to compensate for the rather extreme keystone you get otherwise.

          Tricky but probably doable in analog, as the Vectrex drives its X and Y amps with just a pair of integrators. I figured it might be easier to save a few headaches with tuning all the gains and offsets and such by shifting all the drawing into the digital domain using an FPGA or microcontroller to emulate the Vectrex video hardware. There’s not that much to it; a DAC and a few sample and holds, the integrators and a shift register for the pattern gen.

          +/- 12V is about enough to sweep the full width at the neck side of that tube. I experimented with the head servo amps from CDROM drives, but they do get pretty warm.

          1. Hi, IMHO, using an FPGA or uP to emulate CRT is questionable when device has to be a museum restore or replica.
            When no more CRT got available then a good job can be emulate, when it is in place best is restore.
            When one address FPGA is better remove all AD/DA and simply convert vector to raster on digital domain and distribute a complete emulator for old passionate, output can be on VGA or LCD but it is no more a replica nor restore.
            Regards
            Roberto

    2. They were likely choosing cheap parts again. CRT’s were incredibly expensive in those days. A system might have to retail for ten times it’s cost to build, so there is only so much people will pay in end retail to keep sales up. Plus, investor driven companies were prone to throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks.

      However, I still have a flat screen CRT intercom at home, I wanted to explore for doing vector graphics, maybe as a projector (see below), hard to get. I can’t remember the details, but think it was something like this: It has an inline CRT using electrostatic or something from memory, shoots at a screen laying down on a low angle. The screen is photo fluorescent I think, so the beam makes it glow. The unit is a flat square box. That would be a good thing for mini vectrex. You could do a vectrex sized machine s lot thinner, and if it was a light beam rather than electron beam coming out (some sort of light generating layer at the end of the tube (I forget), using color wheels, have color. There were a few different flat CRTs in history.

      1. Trust me not to read it all. You guys are onto one already. I thought they would have finished producing those years ago. Wish you the best. But did they ever make big ones?

        Adding dark glass hides the white material a lot. There are special filters you can can get which light steering or light rejecting which would be handy.

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