Forgotten graphics technology: the wild workings of the direct-view storage tube CRT

Talk by Tom Stepleton (he/him) 👪

Saturday from 3:30 PM - 4:00 PM in Stage B

It's 1975! You need a high-resolution computer display for fine drawings (e.g. CAD diagrams). Memory's EXPENSIVE, processors are slow: what to do? Here's an analog solution to a digital problem: an unusual cathode-ray tube that preserves whatever it draws with no flickering, fading, or any kind of refresh. A brilliant dot sears emerald trails into the screen, rendering intricate line-art without pixels. No need for video memory when the screen itself remembers! It's mesmerising to see this special tube in action; more satisfying still to know how it works. Discover a mechanism Tektronix refined over three decades, growing from palm-sized oscilloscope readouts to 25" computer-lab behemoths. A wreath of electron guns, kilovolt potentials, microscopic cobalt cones, and transparent anodes set the stage for a nonlinear dance of charges that yields visualisations with style --- and we'll unravel its mysteries with animated diagrams. En route we'll visit notable storage tube applications, from early computer memories to 1978's _Battlestar Galactica_. Of course we'll see a real Tektronix terminal at work, too! Computer memory is cheap now: by the mid 1980s, modern displays had advantages storage-tube systems couldn't overcome. Nobody's making them anymore, so check out this talk while old stock still works!

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