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In British schools in the early eighties, the iconic microcomputer was the BBC Micro, typically connected to the equally iconic Microvitec Cub color monitor, as described in this video.

Why this monitor specifically? The video addresses this around 9:44, with the remark that among other things:

... it was very rugged and made of metal because it had to be fireproof. It just happened to be ideal for the classroom.

It's understandable that a monitor with a metal case and other attributes of ruggedness would be preferred for classroom use. The above wording suggests, however, that it was not designed that way with that use in mind, but rather that this was an example of what evolutionary biology calls preadaptation: the monitor was designed with a metal case because it had to be fireproof for some completely different application, and this luckily made it an appropriate choice later when schools were looking for monitors.

What was that prior application that caused Microvitec to design the monitor the way they did?

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  • In schools and colleges where you might have big computer labs it helps to be able to stack lots of monitors.
    – Alan B
    Nov 29 '21 at 8:37
  • Microvitec may already have been in the broadcast monitor market before the BBC micro came out, giving them an inside lane on selling to the BBC. Nov 29 '21 at 13:30
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    In the computer-room at school we had a mix of MV Cub and cheaper green-screen monitors that had plastic enclosures. Somehow, one of each of these ended up unattended, too close to a gas-fired radiator. The green-screen ended up as a heap of hardened plastic goo, draped over the CRT. The Cub was completely unaffected. I can neither confirm nor deny that this happened as a result of flipping monitors upside-down in order to get high-scores in the awesome Superior Software "Thrust"
    – spender
    Nov 29 '21 at 14:10
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    @MichaelHarvey True, but that's not what I said. The BBC certainly bought a lot of Microvitec monitors. (I was working there at the time). Microvitec's reputation there didn't hurt its chances of selling to others. Nov 29 '21 at 14:55
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    @user_1818839 Ah, OK, sorry! My pal's well-off dad bought him a Cub to use with his Sinclair QL, and I got both when he got more interested in cars and girls. Nov 29 '21 at 15:05
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What was that prior application that caused Microvitec to design the monitor the way they did?

Not sure if there needs to be any. Professional monitors always have been made with metal housing - back then and today. Also, there were no mass production consumer models, so literally nothing else available, at least really early on.

For anyone trying to get into the monitor market (Microvitec was founded in 1979), targeting a professional market (first) is a sensible decision. Not only does it need considerablly lower upfront investment and yields better margins, but also provides a way better ramp-up path than to target a low price high volume market which at that (1979) time didn't exist at all (*1) - and which was soon captured by cheap Far-Eastern manufacturers anyway.

It was only natural for schools to buy professional screens. Beside being less durable, plastic housings are only suitable for serious mass production, with lower production numbers of only a few hundred or thousand. Metal is less expensive as well - the same reason why original the PET has an all-metal case and the Apple II a metal base plate while plastic was only used for two rather simple parts.


Examples are classic models like Sanyo VM-4209:

enter image description here

Here seen with an Apple II, available already in 1975. The similar looking but later VM4092 only added another LED. Both were originally made as CCTV screens. Or the again later Sanyo VM 4509:

enter image description here

Here seen with an B&H Apple II. Essentially the same screen but a bit more beautified by moving the controls behind a flap.

Of course other manufacturers' models were similar, like the this (mid 1980s) Panasonic:

enter image description here

Professional screens continued to be that way - at least as long as they were CRT based.

enter image description here

Today's LCD/OLED/Plasma screens are a bit different, but even they can be found with similar sized metal housings to fit existing professional usage.


*1 - Professional screens are their business up until today - after all, speciality devices with first class service is the market area where European companies by far outperform any Asian supplier. Now and for all foreseeable future - without any 'buy national' support due to sheer competitiveness of people.

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    I concur that metal cases were common. The DECsystem-10 at my university had a number of terminals from Newbury Labs, which as far as I recall had sheet metal cases. This picture may not be the exact model, but it looks about right. The Newburys we had were simple glass teletypes, and were better than the DEC VT50s (12 line, yecch) we also had. Nov 28 '21 at 21:52
  • The Apple II, "available already in 1975"?! That date has to be a typo or something?
    – OmarL
    Nov 29 '21 at 8:46
  • @OmarL It's reflexive to the CRT, the topic about this Question.
    – Raffzahn
    Nov 29 '21 at 12:44

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