Knight TV system

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Knight TV station

The Knight TV system was one of the very first bit-mapped display systems. It consisted of two UNIBUS devices, built onto a PDP-11/10 (the 'TV-11'), which was connected to the MIT-AI time-sharing KA10 system, through the Rubin 10-11 interface to the PDP-10.

One was the bit-mapped display unit, which contained a large amount of DRAM (using the then-new Intel 1103 chips), enough to provide 16 independent frame buffers. The outputs from these were run into a video switch, which could drive up to 63 stations (about 30 were actually installed, on the 3rd, 8th and 9th floors of the Technology Square building), each consisting of a relatively square CRT (resolution 576x454 pixels) displays. Associated with each display was a keyboard; these were all connected to the other device in the system, a keyboard multiplexer.

Display of a world map on a simulated Knight TV display

The code running in the PDP-11 read keystrokes, and fed them to the PDP-10. The PDP-10 could either send text to the TV-11, which wrote the appropriate pixels into the frame buffers to display it; alternatively a frame buffer could be mapped into the address space of a process on the ITS machine, which could then write directly into the hardware frame buffer.

This may all seem commonplace to modern computer users (i.e. essentially everyone), but it was a revelation to computer professionals at the time; no other contemporary display technology, not even vector graphics displays, could produce the kind of detail seen in images such as the world map (to the left; the simulation is a very good approximation of what a contemporary user would have seen on an actual Knight TV display).

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