Build A TV Typewriter

Posted: October 24, 2011 in Computers and Internet, Electronics, History, Magazine, Retro, WEIRD

The TV Typewriter was a video terminal that could display 2 pages of 16 lines of 32 upper case characters on a standard television set. The Don Lancaster design appeared on the cover of Radio-Electronics magazine in September 1973. The magazine included a 6 page description of the design but readers could send off for a 16 page package of construction details. Radio-Electronics sold thousands of copies for $2.00 each. The TV Typewriter is considered a milestone in the home computer revolution along with the Mark-8 and Altair 8800 computers.

Don Lancaster was an engineer at Goodyear Aerospace designing a high resolution video display for the military. Don was also a prolific author of hobbyist projects for Popular Electronics and Radio-Electronics magazines. The video project gave Don the inspiration for his most influential project, a low cost video terminal known as the TV Typewriter. The design used TTL digital logic and shift register memory. (Microprocessors and RAM were new and very expensive.) With professional terminals costing over $1000 this $120 kit looked like a bargain. Southwest Technical Products sold the set of bare circuit boards for $27 and the eight major integrated circuits for $49.50. The hobbyist had to acquire the rest of the components on their own.

In the November issue, the editors apologized for the delays in shipping the TV Typewriter booklets to the thousands of readers that ordered them. They also listed electronics parts sources for the difficult to find components. Don Lancaster also answered a series of reader questions and gave ideas for additional functions and uses for the TV Typewriter. The December issue had a page of corrections for the TV Typewriter booklet. Both of the notices were included in later printings of the booklet.

The compact design and complex circuitry made the TV Typewriter a challenging project for hobbyists. But many finished the project and some even connected it to their Intel 8008 based computers. The April 1975 issue of the Micro-8 Newsletter has 6 pages of user modifications and interface designs to connect the TV Typewriter to Mark-8 or SCELBI computers. The original TV Typewriter design did not include a serial interface, modem connection, or offline data storage on cassette tape. Don Lancaster wrote about these in the September 1975 issue of BYTE magazine and his TV Typewriter Cookbook. A serial interface board designed by Roger Smith was published in January 1975 issue of Radio Electronics.

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