The evolution of computer graphics is something that has been well documented over the years, and it’s a topic we always like to revisit with our retrocomputing readers. to witness it, [Stephen A. Edwards] has put together an impressive and detailed presentation that looks back at computer graphics technology from the 1960s and 1970s.
The video, which premiered during VCF East 2021, goes to great lengths to demystify some of the core concepts of early infographics. There’s a lot to unpack here, but naturally, this retrospective first introduces the cathode ray tube (CRT) display as the ubiquitous technology that supported computer graphics during this time and beyond. From there, the presentation goes on to demonstrate the graphics capabilities of DEC’s PDP-1 minicomputer, and how its striking and surprisingly capable CRT display was the perfect choice for gaming. Space war!
As clearly stated in the presentation, the 1960s featured some truly bizarre concepts in advanced computer graphics, such as Control Data Corporation’s 6600 mainframe computer and accompanying dual CRT vector video terminal, which wouldn’t seem out of place on the Death Star. Equally odd at the time was IBM’s 2260 video data terminal, which used a “sonic delay line” as a rudimentary type of video memory, using only coiled wire, transducers and ring itself to store character information after a screen refresh.
These types of hacks were later replaced by solid-state counterparts in the era of microcomputers. The video ends with a look back at the “1977 trinity” of microcomputers, namely the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the TRS-80. Each of these microcomputers handled graphics in a slightly different way, and this is in stark contrast to the largely homogenized computer graphics landscape of today.
There’s plenty more to this great retrospective, so be sure to check out the video below. When you’re done watching, be sure to check out our other coverage of VCF 2021, including some great examples of computational preservation and TTL-based breakback.
[With thanks to Stephen Walters for sending in the great tip]