Vintage gas plasma on a modern Mac?

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Tom Owad's picture
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Does anybody know of a vintage gas plasma display with a relatively standard interface? I'd like to get one working with a modern Mac. The only ones I've managed to find are built into old portables, like the Compaq Portable III. I'm hoping some of those are primitive enough that the display might be a separate module with a standard interface. Anybody know?

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Tom Owad's picture
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Looks like the Portable III u

Looks like the Portable III uses an OKI display that probably has a 4-bit parallel interface.

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I know many of the old GRiD m

I know many of the old GRiD machines had plasma displays as well.

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Thanks Jon. All I've found

Thanks Jon.

All I've found so far that'd work is this color display. I'm really curious what it looks like in person. It definitely doesn't have that orange glow that I want, but I wonder how close it could get.

I'm also thinking about using something like a IBM P70 as a X Window client. I really don't want to do that.

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Actually, that color display

Actually, that color display doesn't use the VGA port like I thought it did at first glance.

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that display reminds me alot

that display reminds me alot of what "dade" was using in the movie "hackers" old school huh?

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Hey Tom...how come you always

Hey Tom...how come you always talk about these interesting things but don't tell us what you're actually doing! Come on man, we're INTERESTED haha!

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Eudimorphodon's picture
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Obvious point, but....

It'll be *really* hard to find a monochrome gas plasma with a display resolution higher then 640x480. And 640x480 is basically unusable with modern GUIs. (Xwindows is completely useless unless you set up the display to be a cursor-following window on a larger virtual desktop, in which case useless becomes "Really annoying".) But... I assume you know that and know what you're in for. ;^)

(Your best bet for actually getting a screen *physically capable* of a higher resolution would be an IBM 3290 "Information Display", which is essentially a write-only 3270 Terminal. It also looks like they sold a "3295 Monitor" which *may* of had a matching (ISA? Microchannel?) display adapter. The resolution of said monster is listed as 960x768. And there are several of these monsters on eBay. Interfacing it to anything modern would totally be an exercise for the reader.)

As an aside, I seriously doubt that eBay listing you pointed to is actually Plasma. That thing screams "Active Matrix LCD". I can't remember *ever* seeing a color plasma on a lunchbox laptop. (The first color portables were LCD, not Plasma, and I'm pretty sure that color plasma was "invented" in large-screen TV applications.)

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Re: Obvious point, but....

Eudimorphodon wrote:

The first color portables were LCD, not Plasma

My SX-64 says otherwise Wink

I find 800x480 pretty usable with X11, and I've certainly used 640x480 without too much difficulty. One way to make it more usable is to tweak the DPI settings to force everything smaller or larger.

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Ok, here's the story: I we

Ok, here's the story:

I went to an auction last week, planning to purchase this Zenith radio. While at the auction, I ran into an acquaintance -- who promptly outbid me and bought the radio. He then offered to give me a Philco radio, similar to this, that he didn't want. I picked that up yesterday. The cabinet itself is in fine shape, but the radio doesn't work, it's missing all the knobs, and the record player is in really bad shape. I found a place that'll sell me replacement knobs for $20, and I think I can probably fix the radio, but not without a significant time investment, and this really isn't the radio I wanted anyhow.

The entire panel around the dial lifts out, leaving a space suitable for a computer screen. I could do the entire mod such that everything would be reversible. A modern LCD in there would look pretty garish, but plasma would look rather appropriate.

What I'd want the computer to actually do, I'm not even sure. I was thinking mainly about iTunes and a Radioshark.

What I'm leaning towards right now, is fixing the radio and using an AM transmitter to send iTunes to it. The way the cabinet opens to access the record player would make it easy to hide an accessible computer. Said computer could have iTunes with a bunch of old music and radio broadcasts, all being sent to the original-technology radio via an AM transmitter. I think that setup sounds like more fun.

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Regarding resolution, Eudi, I

Regarding resolution, Eudi, I was also thinking about getting a modern LCD, running it in black and white, and replacing the backlight with an Electroluminescent panel.
I think that would probably look pretty similar to the Dynamac, which isn't bad.

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That panel looks somewhat sim

That panel looks somewhat similar to the LCD panel/card in the Dolch portable I've got in the basement. In these modern times I could see someone confusing LCD terminology/technology with plasma from reading about modern flat TV sets.

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The Radios

Tom,

Man o man,

Both of the radio's you've shown are in really nice shape. I have a 1920's Westinghouse that my grandmother left me. It takes a while for the tubes to warm up, but she's fully operational and in good shape.

I start her up every one in a while just to hear her purr. Smile

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Re: Obvious point, but....

Ex-parrot wrote:
Eudimorphodon wrote:

The first color portables were LCD, not Plasma

My SX-64 says otherwise Wink

*snirk* True enough, I guess, although I was implicitly limiting the category to "flat panels". ;^)

(Remember how they used to describe any TV that had a handle on top as "Portable", up to and including 50 pound 19" models? I sort of automatically put anything with a CRT into that definition of "Portable".)

As for X11 resolution, well, I used to run 640x480 myself and lived with it (by futzing with DPI and font sizes, like you say.) on my cute little "looks just like a Powerbook 100" 486 subnotebook back in the stone age (1998), so it is "possible", but... *so* many programs insist on popping up dialog boxes which are hardcoded to huge sizes and lack scrollbars that it just gets *really* old. (Netscape was infuriating when it came to that.) Bad memories of that are actually one of the few things holding me back from getting a Netbook. :^b

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Faking it, Ghetto-Style

Tom Owad wrote:

Regarding resolution, Eudi, I was also thinking about getting a modern LCD, running it in black and white, and replacing the backlight with an Electroluminescent panel.
I think that would probably look pretty similar to the Dynamac, which isn't bad.

You know, a really *lame* thing you could do, assuming you were running an analog VGA interface monitor, is set OS X to display in black-and-white and then cut/pull the pin for the blue signal. (looks like it's pin 3 on the connector) That should give you a yellow display which wouldn't look quite right for "plasma" but would probably be a pretty close match for an early electroluminescent model like this:

(This idea occurs to me because we have several "crash cart" monitors at work that have damaged VGA cables and thus produce funky purple or yellow text instead of gray. If you have a spare VGA cable it'd be easy enough to try.) ;^)

--Peace

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If I went the X11 on a P70 ro

If I went the X11 on a P70 route, I'd be putting a touch screen over it and using a Tcl/Tk window, with a bunch of buttons linked to applescripts for controlling iTunes and similar.

I've had the problem you describe on my EeePC and it's quite frustrating.

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Re: Faking it, Ghetto-Style

Eudimorphodon wrote:

set OS X to display in black-and-white

Is that even possible anymore?

Quote:

(This idea occurs to me because we have several "crash cart" monitors at work that have damaged VGA cables and thus produce funky purple or yellow text instead of gray. If you have a spare VGA cable it'd be easy enough to try.)

Clever. I may have to try that just for kicks, regardless.

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Re: Faking it, Ghetto-Style

Tom Owad wrote:
Eudimorphodon wrote:

set OS X to display in black-and-white

Is that even possible anymore?

Possible, but non-obvious. Go to the "Universal Access" icon in System Preferences and tick on the "Use Greyscale" box. To *really* complete the funky back to the 80's illusion you might also try the "White on Black" setting. ;^)

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Re: Vintage gas plasma on a modern Mac?

Tom Owad wrote:

Does anybody know of a vintage gas plasma display with a relatively standard interface? I'd like to get one working with a modern Mac. The only ones I've managed to find are built into old portables, like the Compaq Portable III. I'm hoping some of those are primitive enough that the display might be a separate module with a standard interface. Anybody know?

Two things: The resolution of OS X can be scaled down using the Terminal. I found this out when I was thinking of running a Hackintosh Netbook. Those guys often have to get everything to fit and scale into a 1024x768 or less space. There's some commands that specify what % of the apps default size it should be.

Secondly a lot of orange gas plasma displays probably internally take an rca input. Even if they don't there are monochrome orange displays that sure as hell do.

You should be able to get a fairly functioning looking screen with that.

I may know people who have the screens you're looking for. PM me.

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While we're on the subject of

While we're on the subject of odd and vintage display technology - does anyone have any clues as to how one would go about creating a VGA LCD driver from scratch? I'm thinking, using a microcontroller or FPGA, some RAM, discrete logic even, to drive a bare LCD (plasma, etc) display panel from a VGA (or other) signal. I have similar mad plans to Tom's.

Right now, I have a somewhat rudimentary understanding of how such panels work, and would first of all need to read up on address lines, data formats, clock speeds etc, in general as well as relative to specific panels.

Tom: have you considered a small orange CRT? You might be interested in this thread at the 68kMLA, which has links to a source for small CRTs as well as extensive interfacing/driving information.

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Re: While we're on the subject of

DrBunsen wrote:

Tom: have you considered a small orange CRT? You might be interested in this thread at the 68kMLA, which has links to a source for small CRTs as well as extensive interfacing/driving information.

It is worth noting that the circuitry detailed for getting that SE monitor working relied on both hardware (a VGA card with an internal VESA feature connector) and software (A DOS driver mostly used for making AdvanceMAME arcade cabinets) techniques that wouldn't really translate to a "make it work with a Macintosh" hacking project. None the less, you have got to love the stupid pet tricks that VGA cards are capable of with a little clever programming and a few resistors. Here's a page chock full of fun ideas for interfacing to obsolete CRTs.

As for making a complete roll-your-own own LCD driver you're not going to get anywhere unless you have the data sheet (preferably a full application manual) for the panel in question. Without it you're just shooting in the dark, since there are *way* too many different interface flavors in circulation.

Here's an example of an LCD data sheet, in this case a black-and-white 640x480 panel. To go with it, Here's a completely unrelated Application Note outlining the basics of interfacing a raw LCD panel to a PIC microcontroller. Now, I know that I'm *way* too stupid and all-thumbs to actually understand how to nor actually build the circuit gluing these two things together, but from skimming the two I *think* I understand in principle how you'd do it. And unfortunately the result would be very non-trivial to adapt to a VGA interface. (It looks like the display is split into two halves vertically, with each half simultaneously receiving a four-bit pixel data values through a clocked shift register. You can program VGA cards to output oddball timings, but outputting two chunks of pixel data from two non-adjacent portions of the screen at once... less trivial. I don't see how you'd be able to do it short of digitizing each VGA frame into a memory buffer and reading it out again into the panel.)

It's true that many LCD/Plasma panels out of old laptops will have "smarter" circuitry then this bare panel that somewhat simplifies the problem. (A few years ago people were linking to examples of combining 90's vintage TTL panels with "simple" interfaces proclaiming them as examples of "achieving the holy grail", but what was largely overlooked was that the particular panels in question were specifically designed to accept VGA-ish signals. The super-simple two-chip interface that works with them is completely not applicable to an LVDS panel from a newer machine.) But... until you have the data sheet for your chosen panel in your hot little hand you just don't know.

--Peace

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too complicated.

Most macs have a minidvi to RCA/S-Video connector. That's all you'd need.

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Re: While we're on the subject of

Not a bad thought: TV out from the Mac into a small B&W TV CRT - orange/amber cellophane optional Laughing out loud Perhaps in a round brass bezel to complement the vintage radio look.

A page I know and admire.

Eudimorphodon wrote:

As for making a complete roll-your-own own LCD driver you're not going to get anywhere unless you have the data sheet (preferably a full application manual) for the panel in question.

Well, of course. Even I'm not that gung-ho / retarded.

Eudimorphodon wrote:

from skimming the two I *think* I understand in principle / very non-trivial to adapt to a VGA interface. / short of digitizing each VGA frame into a memory buffer and reading it out again into the panel.)

Yes, that is an approach I've considered - buffer the entire screen into RAM at a Mac-compatible timing and relay it to the display one frame late, in a format to suit the panel. Perhaps starting from DVI (ie an already-digital signal) to cut out the needless A->D step - although a monochrome VGA signal is de facto digital (on or off).

Eudimorphodon wrote:

It's true that many LCD/Plasma panels out of old laptops will have "smarter" circuitry then this bare panel that somewhat simplifies the problem.

Simplify, or complicate? I guess it's a case by case situation.

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