RC2015/07 entry – vector display system

For RC2015/07, I’m going to hook up an old vector display (the retro part) to a modern microcontroller and either write a new game for it or port an old one. Vector displays were used on computers from the 1950s through the 1980s, and are perhaps most known to the public as the type of display used in Atari’s Asteroids arcade game. In the 20th century, vector displays offered sharper images for line art than did the raster displays which became more common starting in the 1970s.

I’ll use one of two different HP vector display systems, a 1338A tri-color beam penetration display with analog inputs, or a 1345A monochrome display with a built-in display controller with a parallel digital interface.

The 1338A is particularly interesting because the beam penetration tube allows for green, yellow, and red to be displayed (but unfortunately not blue), but with the same sharpness found in monochrome vector displays. More typical color vector displays, such as those used in later Atari games including Tempest, use a normal color CRT with a shadow mask, so the vectors wind up being fuzzy and composed of discrete dots.

For the 1338A, I could build my own interface, or use an HP 1350A or 1351A Graphics Translator, which provide a vector generator with an IEEE-488 (aka GPIB or HP-IB) interface.

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