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I'd like to buy an old green-on-black or amber-on-black computer monitor, but I'm not sure what to search for. Are they called "monochrome" monitors, or something else?

What I want is one of those with glowing green letters made of thin lines on a solid black screen. When I search for monochrome monitors I find a lot of what looks like black-and-white monitors.

What I want is one of those with glowing green letters made of thin lines on a solid black scree

Also, when looking for a vintage one, what are the best brands and models to search for?

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A "monochrome" screen refers to any display which only displays one colour, based on the type of phosphor used. The type you are after is more specifically called a "green screen" monitor. Unfortunately an internet search for this term is going to produce a lot of stuff about movie green-screens - perhaps searching for "green screen CRT" will be more helpful.

As to what type you should get - that depends on what you plan to do with it. What are you going to hook it up to? Do you want a monitor you might be able to use on a modern PC? On an old PC? A more historic 8 bit computer? A mainframe?

Historically, you're going to come across two types of green-screen monitors. First, the basic monitor designed to receive a video input signal from a computer - just like the monitors we all know today, although the input connection is going to be quite different. Most common on IBM-style PCs was the 9 pin D-connector (DE-9) although you might also find monitors that use composite video or S-Video ports, or even something proprietary to the system they came with.

The second type is part of a "Dumb Terminal" or just "Terminal". This is a monitor/keyboard combination that is designed to connect to a computer via a serial port, such as an RS-232 connector. These provide all the display hardware and character set necessary to display an image, typically 80x24 or 80x25 text. They were used for connecting to mainframes and early personal computers which didn't provide their own display capabilities. Their advantage was the computer didn't need to waste memory storing the contents of the screen, or incorporating expensive video display chips. They could also be connected over a distance, even via a modem. The computer simply sends text output to the terminal and leaves it up to the terminal to handle the display. Formatting is done via sending control codes, generally ASCII 0-31.

Common terminals include the VT-100 and Zenith Z-19, but there were many manufacturers.

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    I find "dumb terminal" to be insulting to the many fine and capable terminals I have used :-) – another-dave Mar 20 at 18:18
  • @another-dave LOL! – Caleb Fuller Mar 20 at 18:33
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    @another-dave Maybe we should call those terminals "computationally disadvantaged" instead? – Philipp Mar 22 at 13:49
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    @Philipp Those terminals were display-abled! – Neil_UK Mar 22 at 14:37
  • @CalebFuller The VT-100 and so forth were actually smart terminals, as they had fancy (for the time) local intelligence implementing cursor control, effects like blinking, and so forth. The "dumb terminals" were those that acted essentially like a glass teletype, just displaying the serial stream of characters on the screen as-is without any local processing. – Armand Mar 23 at 0:52
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Are they called "monochrome" monitors, or something else?

Yes. Monochrome covers all that paint in Amber, Green, Blue or white on black.

What I want is one of those with glowing green letters made of thin lines on a solid black screen.

That sounds more as if you're looking for a vector display. Something incompatible with most old hardware and total incompatible with today's computers.

Which brings us to the more important question here: What computer do you want to connect it to and/or what output does it provide. 'Course it won't help to find a nice old screen if it's incompatible with the machine you want to use it with.

Also, when looking for a vintage one, what are the best brands and models to search for?

Doesn't really matter.

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    "Thin lines" could be referring to the horizontal raster lines. – snips-n-snails Mar 20 at 0:16
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    @snips-n-snails sure, but is it what he wants? – Raffzahn Mar 20 at 0:20
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    Also, the IBM PC video cards for such monitors were called the Monochrome Display Adapter. – DrSheldon Mar 20 at 2:13
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    @DrSheldon - Don't forget the Hercules Graphics Card! It gave the crisp text display of the MDA plus high-res monochrome graphics much better than CGA. And it has one of those amazing historical anecdotes where the inventor only made it so he could work on his PhD with his IBM PC using his native Thai script! – Caleb Fuller Mar 20 at 13:24
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    @CalebFuller: Sure, but they didn't call the monitors "Hercules", which is the question here. – DrSheldon Mar 20 at 13:59
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They were generally called "computer terminals" rather than "monitors". They came with a keyboard, character ROMs, interface devices, etc.

The VT220 came in white, green, or amber phosphors.

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    I interpreted the OP's question as looking for monitor only, not a full-blown terminal. – Armand Mar 20 at 4:32
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    But by far the easiest way for the OP to start using that glowing goodness on arbitrary hardware will be to find a monochrome terminal with a serial interface. (And who doesn't love those old keyboards too, except everyone else in an open plan office). It may not answer the question directly, you're right, but it may be the answer they need. – Dan Sheppard Mar 20 at 13:32
  • @Armand - all part of my quixotic attempt to point out that there's a lot of "retrocomputing" before the advent of "computers one person could afford to buy". – another-dave Mar 22 at 23:44
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What you are describing is a cathode ray tube (CRT) that could be part of a terminal such as a VT220 or an ADM5, but it could also be a standalone monitor. Early (80s) home computers would typically connect to a television (either mono or colour), some machines like the PET and IBM System/23 had a built-in CRT and others again used a standalone monitor. The main difference between a TV and a monitor is that a monitor accepts direct video signals rather than decoding VHF/UHF, resulting in a much clearer image.

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My favorites (back in the day) were DEC's VT-100 and VT-220 lines. I also had good luck with Wyse terminals (the Wyse-60 terminal actually had a calculator app built in). The Lear-Siegler ADM-3a models were pretty horrible, I think every one we had in the computer labs in college had had its speaker gouged out or stuffed full of gum. Datamedia DT-80s were VT-100 clones, they looked like mil-spec hardware, which meant they were ugly and built like tanks.

If I were spending the money, I'd try to pick up a VT-100, as they were good-looking and functional terminals (loved the 132-column mode). You might also want to look for a GiGi (DEC's color ReGIS terminal) if you want to do any graphics work (although the Tektronix 4010 and 4014 were better, if you could get past the whole "storage tube" thing).

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  • I rather liked the ADM5. The curved design meant that few students would pile paperwork on top of the ventilation slots. – Frog Mar 20 at 22:49
  • Ahhhgh! No! Those Textronix storage-tube terminals were an entirely different animal. You would not want to use one of those if what you needed was a text terminal. You could not use one of those if what you wanted was a terminal on which you could fill out forms. The process by which it drew on the screen was like putting ink on paper---indelible. The only way to "erase" any mark on the screen was to erase the entire screen.* – Solomon Slow Mar 21 at 20:30
  • * I exaggerate. At least one of those two models, maybe both (I forget) could erase just the upper half or just the lower half. – Solomon Slow Mar 21 at 20:31
  • I remember the 132-column mode. My colleague always used it and always complained about headaches at the end of the day. No sympathy from me - if you wish to look at tiny fonts all day long, don't complain if you get a headache. – cup Mar 23 at 10:41
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Back in ancient times, we mainframe type people were given a "terminal", aka "CRT" (for Cathode Ray Tubes), or more simply, just "tube". They were IBM 3278 (green) and/or 3279 (four color) models, and loads of compatibles. The "real" ones from IBM weighed about 12 metric shit-tons.

And yes, their characters were composed of barely-discernible thin horizontal green lines... that's where the cathode ray would sweep across the phosphor, left-to-right, top-to-bottom.

Screensavers were originally created because if you left the screen on, eventually the image was burned into the phosphor. Screensavers were top-sellers back when PCs were new, I remember the ones with winged flying toasters, the package was called "After Dark".

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    For values of “new” equivalent to “around ten years old” ;-). Screen savers were only really a thing on PCs once Windows took off, and PCs had been around by ten years by then. (After Dark was released on PCs in 1991, the original IBM PC was released in 1981.) – Stephen Kitt Mar 21 at 13:09
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    Screen burns certainly pre-dated the PC, so the justification for screen savers was already there in the early PC days. – user_1818839 Mar 21 at 21:57
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What are you probably referring to, was known as "Hercules graphics card" for IBM PC (XT,AT) compatible computers. Or more often "Hercules compatible graphics card". These cards were driving monochrome ("Hercules compatible") monitors, which were monochrome monitors with DE-9 connectors and 5V (TTL signal level).

To recreate the original "feeling" of the monochrome Hercules display/card setup you would need both, as the "lines" you are talking about are probably the horizontal scanlines, which depend on the resolution of the card as well. They came to market about 40 years ago, so good luck.

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  • Not all monochrome was Hercules : only the highest res (720 x something) was. IBM's own MGA was (I think) 640x200 at its best. – user_1818839 Mar 21 at 21:59
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    @BrianDrummond Actually, the IBM MDA (not MGA - it was "D" for Display, not "G" for graphics, because IBM's version didn't do bitmapped graphics) was the same resolution as the Hercules - 720 x 350. The CGA was 640 x 200 in monochrome mode, but was an inherently color design including 320 x 200 4-color and other modes. The catch is that the MDA resolution was too high for a lot of off-the-shelf monitors, so if you wanted to use a non-IBM monitor to save $, CGA was the more typical choice (until compatible monitors became common). – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 23 at 2:38
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Besides the other options mentioned, you might also consider a Philips 8833-series monitor, which were used a lot together with Amiga computers in the past. These are color monitors, but have a "green" switch. Maybe not quite what you are looking for (in the "green mode" it will still be, er, greenscale, not "true" monochrome), but more versatile than the other solutions, and it may be easier to find hardware which can actually show something on the monitor.

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I would look for a Goldstar Monochrome CRT monitor with VGA input. They made their name in Korean electronics in the early 90's and eventually became LG.

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