This vintage alphanumeric display was huge, hot, heavy and expensive



It’s easy to take display technology for granted these days, but the ability to display data in a human-readable way hasn’t always been easy. This is well demonstrated by the Pinlite 30003 Alphanumeric Display Modulea four-character display that was pure luxury for the time.

Each screen is a rectangular vacuum tube containing 17 filaments of incandescent light.

Not only were the 17 segments that make up each screen capable of displaying any letter or number, they were even readable in daylight! Each of these 17 segments is an incandescent lamp filament, which is how the required brightness was achieved. The rugged module shown here contains four such displays, each on its own plug-in board with a dedicated character decoding chip directly behind it.

As [AnubisTTL] points out, the resulting unit is bulky, has terrible character spacing, and was undoubtedly very expensive. By today’s standards, it’s almost unbelievably heavy, hot, and impractical. But before high-brightness LEDs were a thing, a daylight readable alphanumeric character display was really something special. It would have absolutely been worth investing the money and effort for the right people.

Before small, efficient displays were commonplace, the solution to the problem of how to display data efficiently and in an easy-to-read format took a lot of really unusual (and clever) turns as engineers worked around the limits of time. . This resulted in oddities like the SD-11 spherical display, which is mostly empty space inside. Another great example is the Eidophor, a projector from before projectors were even a thing.

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