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Old Computers, New Monitor

Over the years I have set up and broken down my old gaming systems and computers many, many times. Sometimes — often times, actually — it seems like I spend more time connecting and configuring and reconnecting and reconfiguring them than I do actually playing games on them. When it comes to old hardware I have a softer spot in my heart for old computers than old console gaming systems, but the biggest problem with them is that they take up so much space. At one time in our old house I had over 20 video game consoles sitting on a relatively small set of shelves all hooked up to one single television. In that same room I had my three favorite old computers (a C64, an Amiga, and an Apple II) hooked up to three separate monitors tying up an entire 8′ table.

The other day I decided, why can’t I do that with my computers as well? Almost every flat screen television on the market now has multiple connections that would support these old computers. Last night while shopping at Sam’s Club I decided to pull the trigger and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now.

For just under $350 I purchased a Sanyo 40″ flatscreen LCD television. They had bigger and smaller models with more and fewer features (actually there were few there with fewer features than this one), but it had all the right inputs for the job and the price was right.

As I said last night on Facebook, “the milk crate is temporary.” The television’s stand isn’t tall enough by itself so I needed to lift it up a bit. I’ll replace the milk crate this weekend with something else, but in the meantime it’ll do. My old trusty Commodore 64 plugged right into the television’s composite input and looks great. I did have to figure out how to set the default picture size on the television to 4:3 instead of 16:9 letterbox to keep the picture from being stretched out.

With the C64 up and running, the Amiga was next. The Amiga looks particularly crappy when connected via the composite cable. I found a couple of “VGA Flicker Fixers” in the ~$100 range that I will research and look into purchasing. So it’s not a great picture at the moment, but it’s working.

With the two Commodore products out of the way it was time to hook up the old Apple II. In a recent episode of You Don’t Know Flack I talked about the CFFA 3000, a compact flash/USB card reader for the Apple II. After reconnecting the composite cable from the Apple into the television and selecting a disk image, I was immediately greeted by the familiar sounds of Karateka. I don’t mind saying, the project took a back seat for a few minutes as I kicked and punched my way through a few enemy combatants.

That’s what they all look like now, sans any real cable management and with a milk crate in the picture. This weekend I’ll re-run all the cords and replace the milk crate with a proper stand.

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7 comments to Old Computers, New Monitor

  • I’m going to appoint myself the voice of crazy (and cheap) here, but here’s a wild thought: I do see that the base of the TV stand is bigger than the milk crate, and that looks a little crappy. But… look at the milk crate. Lots of holes on all sides. There’s your cable management right there! So long as the thing isn’t in danger of buckling under the weight of the television or allowing the television to tip over easily, maybe consider a coat of glossy black spray paint; if width/stablility is an issue, and the single crate’s holding up fine, maybe a second crate to more evenly distribute the weight and the width of the stand (plus the aforementioned glossy black paint).

    This kind of goes back to the same mentality as “run a bunch of light ropes through a bunch of $3 grated shelves and display marquees in them!” – a philosophy my dad drilled into me as “go with what you’ve got.” A couple of milk crates and a some black spray paint will be a lot cheaper than anything that says “TV stand” on the box, and perhaps just as functional. (Sort of like the “kickstand” I have for my tablet – it’s a $2 foldable stand for a picture frame I got at Michael’s. I shopped around for actual tablet stands, and the moment that you look for something that’s designed specifically to go with a high dollar item like a tablet or an HDTV, you might as well quadruple the price (and then triple it again if it supposedly goes with an Apple product).

  • If you want to go the other way and be fancy you could mount it to the wall with one of those pivoting wall mounts. Then you could adjust the monitor to point more towards whatever keyboard you are sitting at.

  • Heck, going further down that path, you could cut a trapezoidal table so you could sit facing your keyboard and monitor straight on. :-)

  • Rob, if that’s an Amiga 1200, it has a monitor driver called “VGAOnly” that may work with your TV’s VGA input. The question is whether you want to put the effort into making an adapter to try it. I made one way back when; it probably took me about an hour to do. I had to saw the last two positions off a DB-25 connector to make a 23-pin connector for the Amiga video.

  • Rob

    @Earl: Now that you mention it, I have a black milk crate out in the garage holding “something.” The milk crate’s not so bad in person but it just looks stupid in pictures. And, it’s just a tad too tall. I’ll have to see if there’s something a little better out in the garage that’ll work.

    @Brian: I love the idea of the trapezoidal desk!

    @Dave: Yeah, it’s a 1200. I found a 23-to-15 VGA adapter for sale, but it’s in the UK. I need to scour eBay and some of the Commodore/Amiga forums for one. With that, the flicker-fixer is $89. It’s more than I wanted to spend on the project but if it’s a one time investment that gives perfect video, I’ll probably do it.

  • Awesome! +1 for the Commodore goodness, however I did notice in your original setup picture you have an Apple IIc, but in your current setup picture it’s just an Apple IIe. What happened to the IIc?

  • Rob

    I still have the IIc, but the CFFA 3000 is an internal card so I had to downgrade to use it.