[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Whole Dam Thing

July 26th, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Portrait Display Labs Pivot 1700 Monitor Ad - 1997The Portrait Display Labs Pivot 1700

When I was a kid, I found myself wondering why all monitors didn’t rotate from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. I thought I had invented the idea myself. Turns out, at least one company actually did make a monitor like that — the Pivot 1700 — and you’re looking at it now.

Full-page displays were something of a marketing fad during the rise of the desktop publishing revolution from the mid-1980s to early 1990s. They were designed with a vertical orientation so that someone could read or edit a full 8.5″ x 11″ letter-sized page on screen at one time.

I have no doubt those displays came in handy for certain document designers and secretaries, but their high price and specialized function limited them to a small market. To this day I have never seen one being used in the wild, although I have encountered a few full page displays out of service in my collecting adventures.

In more recent years, I’ve seen some LCD monitors that can rotate on their base to change orientations rather easily. There’s no doubt that it’s a much easier trick to pull off considering the small size and weight of LCD panels verses their bulky CRT counterparts. Now whether anybody needs it or not with today’s super high resolultion 30″ displays, I don’t know.

[ From PC Magazine, March 4, 1997, p.242 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s the largest CRT computer monitor you’ve ever used? How big is your monitor (any kind) now?

21 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Whole Dam Thing”

  1. John Muir Says:

    Still got a ten year old 21″ Belinea CRT hooked up to my Mac Mini home server. Mostly superfluous thanks to remote management but I remember the glory days of the beast a little too well to junk it.
    I used to have another 21″ CRT: one of Apple’s from 1991. DB-15 and all.
    Unlike my £500 Belinea, I didn’t buy that one new – it was a decade old freebie – which is fortunate because it was $7k or £7k from what I’ve heard. Besides weighing more than any other electronic kit I’ve ever had to haul, it also made a quiet but irritating buzz from its transformer. Also, only one resolution, and it’s not a modern day standard: 1152 x 870. It sits in a little tech museum’s back room now, over the river in Fife.

  2. Dezro Says:

    I had one of those, it was great fun. Loved to press that deguass button. 🙂 Of course nowadays you don’t need a special monitor, just a replacement stand or clamp or mount or whatever, and some way to more easily access the OS’s rotation feature.

  3. arlandi Says:

    i haven’t try anything bigger than 17″ crt, because my friend had one, and it was too heavy to move around.
    this may be a dumb question, but can you just turn a crt monitor on its side and you got yourself a full page display? or is there a more intricate technical details involved?

  4. svofski Says:

    My 21″ 16:10 display can be rotated into upright posture. Ideally, the drivers would also update screen resolution etc, if I was silly enough to install drivers from a monitor, that is. It’s just too big vertically to be useful in such position though — I have to look way up to see what’s on top of screen.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    There are some issues with simply turning a CRT monitor on its side, arlandi. The Earth’s magnetic field has an influence on the path of electrons inside the tube, and horizontally-aligned CRT monitors are calibrated with a horizontal orientation in mind. If you turn a normal CRT monitor on its side (vertically), the earth’s magnetic field will bend the electrons’ paths and make them hit the wrong phosphors, warping the colors. Luckily, it doesn’t damage the monitor. A quick re-calibration with a modern CRT monitor that includes an auto-degauss function will fix it and the colors will look correct. You’ll just have to degauss it every time you switch orientations.

  6. XCALIBR8 Says:

    That would’ve been outstanding to have in a MAME cabinet. Instant easy rotation for vertical games. I loved my ProView 17″ monitor. How I miss the Degauss button 🙂

  7. BDD Says:

    The original Xerox Alto had a monitor in this orientation. Of course, this is the computer that helped launch the GUI when Steve Jobs made his fateful visit to Xerox PARC…


  8. SirPaul Says:

    Hmm.. The biggest CRT I ever used was something like… 17″, maybe 19″. It was huge, compared to my old 14″ monitors I used. I almost had zero desk space after the monitor.

    Nowadays, I use a 25.5″ LCD, at 1920 x 1200. Really nice, and I can easily rotate it if I wanted to. I’m sure doing that would make document work very easy.

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    I almost mentioned the Alto, BDD, because this got me thinking: what if PCs had followed the Alto’s lead and had all shipped with full-page portrait displays by default? Obviously such displays wouldn’t have been as useful with command-line PCs that took after the regular ole horizontal 4:3 terminal monitors, but just imagine: the Macintosh could have changed that if Apple had decided on a vertical instead of a horizontal orientation. It could have set the standard for GUI PCs that other PCs might have copied. Maybe. Interesting game of what-ifs, isn’t it?

  10. Geoff V. Says:

    Ergonomics dictated the wide screen vs portrait view. The top of your monitor should be no higher than eye level, or you get neck and eye tension. The larger the monitor, the lower the desk has to be in relation to the user. A portrait view screen would necessitate changes desk design or buying new chairs.

    I’m afraid portrait view monitors were doomed from the beginning.

  11. Xyzzy Says:

    I seem to recall a very similar ad that might have been for the same monitor — instead of “the whole dam thing” the quip they used was “the whole burrito” with the expected picture.

    I’m almost more curious about what the *smallest* size screen people have used is. (Excluding mobile devices like PDAs & netbooks, of course.)

    My current one is just a 22″ 1680×1050 LCD… My largest CRT was a 17″ Viewsonic flat-screen a decade ago that had a top refresh of 120Hz, and kept working after I spilled a can of Sprite soda into it while it was on & hot, though it wouldn’t turn on for about 45 minutes and wouldn’t go above 105Hz after that. My smallest was just a 12″ Apple IIgs RGB CRT and for a short while, the B&W 9″ built into the original Macintosh.

  12. Orsty Says:

    I owned many a CRT monitor in my day. None of them would do this. When you turned them on their sides or upside down they would change colors. Almost like when you place a magnet on the screen.

    I wonder how the solved that issue with this monitor back then.

  13. Orsty Says:

    Wait a min, just read the other comments. DUHHHH! haha

  14. BDD Says:

    Geoff has a good point about orientation vs eye and neck strain, but I think the original Macintosh is small enough that the eye level wouldn’t be much of a factor. However, I don’t think vertical orientation would have lasted as a standard due to the size factor, unless case designs would have evolved to solve the ergonomic problems.

    Orsty- we used to use externally-powered degaussing wands to correct the very issues you talk about, when moving older arcade games around. Just rotating them a little bit would cause the colors to warp. The built-in degaussing coils in those early monitors (G07s, especially) were worthless. A funny story that I remember is my business partner at the time attempting to adjust the convergence on a Space Duel monitor, which was vector. He was about to push the machine over in frustration when I rotated the cabinet and the colors lined up (except for the minor misalignment caused by his adjustment of the convergence magnets). I still remember the “V8” moment he had… funny stuff 🙂

  15. Moondog Says:

    Biggest CRT I used was a 35″ tube that shipped with a Gateway Destination media station. It was a true VGA monitor, not a TV with an rgb plug. For some reason I recall it only going up to 800×600.

    The biggest now I deal with at work is a 60″ NEC plasma. Largest LCD is a 52″ Sharp Aquos. At home it’s my 42″ Sharp.

    Smallest CRT I used is the 9″ monochrome display on my Compaq Portable II.

  16. PS3D Says:

    The PowerWave my family once had 17″ (or less) but it was far bigger than any computer my family had at the time (the Performa, and later the iMac G3, had smaller screens).

    (P.S., if “Fuzzy Memories” is still a series, I left an email to “Ask Red”)

  17. BDD Says:

    I’m trolling through a large collection of old Mac User and Macworld magazines right now, and there are a LOT of variations on this ad from the same company. I’m considering scanning them, when I find time…

  18. Matt Says:

    I had a 17″ CRT monitor which utterly warped the monitor support on my desk because it was so heavy. These days I use a 40″ Sharp LCD as a monitor. And one of my coworkers keeps a 22″ monitor mounted vertically for full-page reading to this day!

  19. Matt Says:

    @BDD- I have a Crystal Castles machine running in my office right now and its Electrohome monitor CONSTANTLY needs degaussing, just like you said!

  20. Cody Says:

    One thing often missing from your scans is the year of publication you found the original in. I’m guessing it was the very early 90s.

    I saw these monitors at a computer trade show (the only trade show I ever went to) when I was about 11 or 12.

    One of the other great ideas from that show was a locally-produced windows application that imitated 3M yellow sticky notes. It came in a nice soft plastic box on (I think blue) 3.5″ disks. For some reason that was really distinctive to me. It’s funny to think that same kind of application now comes on every Mac.

    Back to the monitor… at the time I was wondering what kind of application / operating system support was required and was available to actually do the screen tilting, and couldn’t get a straight answer.

    And so I thought it would likely die out quickly, and I was right.

  21. Benj Edwards Says:

    I publish the year and publication for all the scans (and recently the page number too). It’s just hard to see, I guess. This one says “[ From PC Magazine, March 4, 1997, p.242 ]” near the bottom.

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