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The Techtronix 4051 Graphics System


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In 1973, Techtronix introduced one of the first low cost (still thousands of $) graphics terminals. It used a charged plate technology that held whatever image was drawn on it until it was erased without the need for RAM to refresh it.

In 1976, they integrated a 6800 CPU and BASIC so you could perform processing locally.
This may have been the first Extended BASIC on an 8 bit machine.
The BASIC had extensive graphics support and seemed to be pretty fast in spite of the 1MHz clock speed.
It may have influenced Extended BASICs on personal computers.
I'm guessing the BASIC originated on mini-computers or mainframes.

The 6800 was replaced with faster CPUs in later models, but if you look at some of the videos on youtube, you will see a few things that look like computer animations that appeared in movies. I'm not sure if they used stop frame animation taken from one of these or a different system, but it's kinda cool to see in action.


This is from an older terminal, but you can see what these systems were capable of.

Just so you can see how trailing edge these graphics actually were... but these were much more expensive systems:

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Tektronix 4000 series were one of the two backbones of computer graphics output in the 1970s and early 1980s, the various DEC graphics outputs making the other half.


The Tektronix 4000 stuff was so ubiquitous, that not only did it make it into programs like 'xterm', but other companies made rasterizers to graft graphics capabilities onto other terminals. One such example is the RetroGraphics VT640 modification, that bolted onto a VT100 and gave it a pretty good approximation of the Tektronix 4014. This was used heavily by New England Digital in their Synclavier II workstation (the Terminal Option).


The Tektronix terminals started taking back-seats when framebuffers came out of the labs and into general use, first as dedicated terminal units (like the Vectrix VX384), followed by hybrid solutions from Silicon Graphics (their first IRIS 1000 systems were diskless workstations that required a larger computer to bootstrap from), and so on, through the years.



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  • 2 weeks later...

In 1980 I worked with a 4051 for a professor modeling gravitational interactions between stars. No graphics of the stars themselves but we summarized results in graphs. He had the printer too, which seemed rather analog, somehow giving the exact image from the storage CRT screen (black for green, white for black).

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In college I got to play with a Z80 based Vector Graphic system.

It was pretty cool but I think these put it to shame.


I worked for a shop which sold Vector Graphic computers. The name was misleading as it was merely an S-100 CP/M box with a rather standard raster video terminal.

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