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What video connections were common on European TVs and monitors during the "retro" era?

In the USA, first there were none on TVs (RF screw terminals only) and monitors had composite (yellow RCA, CVBS) or nonstandard connectors specific to the computers they were made for. Later came MDA/CGA (DB-9, digital RGBI) to monitors, and S-Video (4-pin mini-DIN, Y/C) and Component Video (red, green, and blue RCA, YPrPb) to TVs, and eventually some TVs came with VGA (HD-15, RGBHV) carried over from computer monitors. SCART (RGBS, CVBS, Y/C w/ audio) was practically non-existent in the USA, although I think my family once had a Sony TV/monitor with a SCART input, but we never had anything that would connect to it.

I'm under the impression that SCART was much more common in Europe than S-Video or Component. Is that true, and were the U.K. and France different from the rest of Europe? Were the standard connection types different between TVs and computer monitors?

  • I believe Europe used the same connectors as far computer monitors go, but TVs were all SCART instead of RCA composite and S-Video. I don't think YPbPr component was common over SCART, and separate RCA cables like in North America might have been more common. – Ross Ridge Feb 25 '18 at 17:15
  • The aerial sockets are different — it's a friction fit, not a screw — and then it depends where in Europe you mean. France adopted Peritel (i.e. SCART) very early: it's partly why the Oric was successful in France. It was the only micro in its price class with an RGB output, such was perfect for France because SECAM is a real hassle to generate. – Tommy Feb 25 '18 at 19:54
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    I should downvote this for reminding me of the utter crap that is called SCART :( – pipe Feb 27 '18 at 11:52
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Before SCART, European TVs often had not video input at all or S-Video on 6-pin or 8-pin DIN sockets (not Mini-DIN). Cinch composite was uncommon until VCRs came out. After that the old S-Video connectors died out and it was most common for cheap TV sets to have only an antenna and one composite in, better TV sets had a SCART input very early. Component video was very uncommon, as the SCART standard preferred RGB on these pins.

I don't know about any European CRT TV which came with CGA/MDA/EGA/VGA inputs.

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    There were some rare high-end tube TVs like Grundig Xentia 72-490 and Loewe TVs that actually had a VGA connector. – tofro Feb 25 '18 at 17:30
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    You're aware that S-Video is a thing of the 90s? Not realy the 'retro' era, isn't it? – Raffzahn Feb 26 '18 at 10:44
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    S-Video is separated Chroma and Luma. That was available before the 80ies. E.g. the Commodore 64 had it, and various better 1970ies TV sets, too. It was just the Mini-Din connector not invented yet. – Janka Feb 26 '18 at 10:49
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    AFAIK DIN-6 (regular size) in 80's on TVs by Grundig, Sony, TESLA was used for video/composite video (not S-video) + audio input. – pabouk Feb 26 '18 at 10:49
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    I think the standardised S-Video connector is a product of the very late '80s, being closely correlated to the SVHS push that never quite took, even though simply supplying luminance and chrominance separately wasn't a new idea, with the Atari and Commodore machines even having largely-compatible connectors for it. That might explain the crossed talk? – Tommy Feb 26 '18 at 15:40
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In the UK in the 1980s and the early 1990s, no video input at all was common. Early video recorders and set top boxes (for the new digital channels) would use RF out. You would disconnect the aerial from the TV, connect it to the VCR or STB, and connect the VCR or STB to the TV with another aerial cable. The TV would see it as an extra channel. You might even daisy chain an STB and a VCR.

When SCART started to appear, we thought that it was great as the quality was rather better than the previous system. I used to have a SCART switch which took three inputs STB, VCR, and XBOX since my TV at the time had only one SCART socket.

I think that some high end TVs had other options but they were not common. The only other that I remember seeing is three RCA sockets (red, white, and yellow) which were often at the front or side and probably intended for connecting a camera.

  • Iirc two of those (RCA) cables were audio and only one was video. – wizzwizz4 Feb 25 '18 at 18:54
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    @wizzwizz4 Yes, red = right audio, white = left audio, and yellow = video. – badjohn Feb 25 '18 at 18:57
  • Which leads to the question of why so many other video connectors required so many pins... – wizzwizz4 Feb 25 '18 at 18:58
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    @wizzwizz4 A single video connector gives you composite video (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_video); using more connections to split the signal up as in component video, VGA-style analog, or modern digital connections can give you much higher quality. – Russell Borogove Feb 25 '18 at 22:20
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    Scart had so many pins because it tried to do so many things, bidirectional composite video, bidirectional audio, RGB video, data communication, switching the TV on automatically, rapidly switching between composite and RGB modes for caption decoders and so-on. – Peter Green Feb 26 '18 at 2:38
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Up until ~1980 the only connectors TV sets had were Belling-Lee type antenna in. So most VCR and next to all home computers did use RF modulated output toward the TV set (*1). This included even cable networks. While Type F connectors where used for more sophisticated equipment, households were still fitted with Belling-Lee. Professional equipment of the same time did use BNC type connectors.

RCA (Cinch), DIN or Tuchel connectors were, at that time, only used for audio. Especially RCA was rather rare in Europe.

Around 1977-81 several TV manufacturers did come up with proprietary connectors, often based on DIN 41524 connectors (the large ones). They all vanished in the early 1980s in favour of SCART, which was a quite nifty standard putting composite, component and RGB plus sound into a single connector. First of course at the higher priced models, but soon across all available TVs.

There were cheap imported VCRs offering only RF modulated and Cinch-component output (*2), thus Cinch to SCART cables became somewhat common. Similar Cinch inputs were only available on cheap imports - in addition to SCART.

SCART was the base connector for all TV sets until about 10 years ago (~2010), since then being replaced slowly by HDMI as main connector, but many sets still got at least one SCART input.

During the 1990s some sets included S-Video and VGA input. But that was more of a marketing issue, as SCART already featured all relevant signals to cover anything Composite/RGB/S-Video, so all needed was the right cabling.

With SCART the connection of home computers was a no-brainer. No matter if it was a C64, Atari ST or an Amiga, there were SCART cables for all of them.


*1 - 1979, I got an Apple II; I had to add an RF modulator, so I could use an old B&W TV. It wasn't until two years later when I did finally spend the money to get a 'real' monitor. Half the size, but able to do 80 columns :))

*2 - usually Japanese and Korean manufactured devices. It's safe to assume that they where mainly designed for the US/Japanese market.

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    "No matter if it was a C64, Atari ST or an Amiga, there where SCART cables for all of them" -- or, of course, the SAM Coupe, which IIRC used SCART as its primary connector. – Jules Feb 26 '18 at 11:56
5

TVs in Czechoslovakia (mainly TESLA brand)

  • Till approximately 1985 TVs had only the antenna input. See1, 2
  • later almost all the colour TVs had composite input
    • small devices had DIN-6 connectors with composite input (used also by Grundig and Sony)
    • large devices had SCART connectors with composite input
      • probably none of the TVs had RGB pins connected
  • it seems that B&W TVs did not have video input except one model from 1989 (TESLA Merkur 2)

It is relatively simple to add video/composite input and sometimes also RGB so it was not uncommon that electro hobbyists added these inputs to TVs.

4

For the home market, TVs were often used because of their easy availability: most households already had one, and the image was often good enough for the low resolution of early machines. Professional users would often buy a purpose-made computer monitor, which would become essential as display resolutions increased and computers entered the GUI era.

I'll concentrate on dedicated computer monitors, as other answers have already given good explanations of the connections available on TVs of the retro era.

In the early 1980s, a high-quality colour monitor would use an input with separate RGB pins, and potentially an Intensity pin. These inputs would be driven at TTL voltages, giving 2^3=8 or 2^4=16 colours onscreen (similar to CGA/EGA displays for IBM-compatibles). The physical connector itself would be manufacturer-dependent, but was often a DIN 41524 socket. Here is an example of a Microvitec CUB monitor using a 6-pin socket for TTL video:

Rear of a CUB QL 14 monitor sold for use with a Sinclair QL

Other manufacturers, such as Philips(*1), used an 8-pin DIN socket. There was little standardisation of the pinout for either of these connectors, just like there was no standard connector on the computer end. The usual advice for customers was to "ask your dealer" if they had a suitable cable, or if they could make one for you. (A benefit of using off-the-shelf DIN connectors.)

High resolution monochrome monitors would typically use a phono (RCA) or BNC connector. Some monitors supported more than one type of input.

As computers started to use non-TTL (i.e. linear or analogue) RGB colour, manufacturers could support both by adding a second connector on the rear of the monitor. At first this was done with a second DIN connector, but as the SCART standard (which supported analogue RGB) became popular in Europe, they too were used. Here's the back of a Phillips CM8833, which supports monochrome/composite video (Input I) as well as TTL RGB via DIN connector or analogue RGB via SCART:

Rear of Philips CM8833 Monitor

The use of DIN connectors for video fell out of fashion after the end of the 8-bit era, with D-sub connectors becoming more prevalent. Philips released a revised CM8833-II which replaced the DIN and SCART connectors with a single DE-9 connector, with a toggle switch to select analogue or TTL input levels.

SCART and RCA composite connectors were also found on contemporary TVs, but DIN and D-sub connectors were rare or non-existent. DE-15 (VGA) connectors didn't become common until TVs had switched over to LCD displays, which takes us beyond the "retro" era.


  1. Philips also made OEM monitors on behalf of a number of computer manufacturers, including Acorn and Commodore.
1

Some background:

TVs of the area before video recorders, satellite receivers etc became common and worked best with a baseband video connection, did have little reason to offer such a connection.

Neither would such a connection have been trivial to implement or retrofit. TVs of that era were very commonly of a so called live chassis design, which made it very difficult to provide for any DC or AF coupled external connections at all (anyone touching a wire connected to such a port would stand a high chance of getting bit!).

1

I still have a small CRT TV in my house (belongs to my landlord) which has a composite video input on the front (which can still be used with a Raspberry Pi), and a SCART socket on the back. The latter is used with a digital TV receiver, as the analogue TV signal has long since been switched off. For context, this is in Finland.

In the UK, I remember the Microvitec Cub monitor being nearly ubiquitous in schools throughout the 1980s and, to a lesser extent, into the 1990s. This had an RGB component input in PAL timings, and essentially went with the equally ubiquitous BBC Micro. At home we also had a BBC Micro, and a somewhat better RGB monitor to go with it.

If you didn't have an RGB monitor, or your computer didn't have a component RGB output with a sensible cable available (I'm looking at you, ZX Spectrum family), the usual solution was a UHF modulator and a Y-splitter to incorporate the rooftop antenna signal. The TV then had to have a spare channel tuned to the computer.

The major exception to this rule was the IBM PC clone family, which had 9-pin CGA/EGA and then the now familiar 15-pin VGA outputs. The latter was adopted by later home computers such as the Acorn RiscPC, while the Acorn-built BBC A3000 of 1989 seems to have had both a composite video and a 9-pin EGA output.

  • The A3000, like most early Archimedes machines, had a 9-pin DE-9 connector for colour monitors, and a separate output for monochrome monitors. On some machines (such as the A300 series and A3000) this was an RCA/phono connector, on the A400 series it was one or two BNC connectors. Later machines replaced the DE-9 with the DE-15 made popular by the VGA standard. – Kaz Aug 18 at 19:31

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