Video Terminal 100 was the first terminal to use a general-purpose processor for interpreting ANSI control codes.

vt100 was introduced by DEC in August 1978, quickly became popular, and the ANSI control codes embodied in the vt100 became a de facto standard. Eventually, IBM adopted them for its line of PCs.

VT100 is indeed old, but it is not without usefulness in this modern world. In fact, it is through a vt100 terminal emulation program that I am even able to write this.

Having been offline for some time, it seems fitting that I bring the internet back into my own personal space with such an archaic method. Based on the percieved delay from each keystroke I type, and the fact that I can read faster than the words unfold across the screen, I would say I'm connecting at around 300 Baud. I may be overestimating the incredible lag I'm experiencing here, but let's just say I logged into the free dial-up access number provided by the Maryland Library Community (whatever the hell that is), and logged into a shell account running Lynx, a text-only browser, over a half hour ago, and it's taken me this long to get here to type this message. I realize I have to go back and link everything, but I figure you all will understand that it's not easy accessing the way I'm accessing.

Ugh, this IS hard work. I'm afraid I'm going to disappear again until I find a better modem or go to the library when the sun comes up.

BTW, you may be interested to know some of the more esoteric details of exactly how I'm connected to the internet. I'm running a Cyrix 486 running around 40mhz, with only two floppy drives installed for disk space. There is NO hard drive. I boot up on a: which has a distribution of Pocket-Linux which loads a compressed image into 6 or so of the 8megs of ram in this baby. I then have to mount the second floppy, run a script on that floppy that copies /etc/termcap and a few other files lacking in this distro into their proper places, as well as copying minicom to /bin. I then run minicom, and give it the dial command, to which I enter a local access number provided by SAILOR www.sailor.lib.md.us.

The DEC VT100 was the first ANSI X3.64 standard compliant terminal ever. Released in 1978, the VT100 was powered by an Intel 8085 microprocessor and weighed 41 pounds. Like a primordial iMac, the unit consisted of a bulky monitor case that housed the logic board, plus a detached keyboard. The VT100 allowed one to connect to the outside world at speeds as low as 75 bps all the way up to 19200 bps.

While the VT100 was capable of understanding the DEC VT52 control codes, the new VT100 ANSI sequences became much more widely supported. Since the VT100, almost all terminals and terminal emulation programs handle the base VT100 ANSI control sequences.

The following is a summary of the most important control sequences. ESC represents the escape character, 0x1B, and spaces are added for clarity and are not part of the sequences.

Cursor Movement Commands

Cursor up                     ESC [ n A
Cursor down                   ESC [ n B
Cursor forward (right)        ESC [ n C
Cursor backward (left)        ESC [ n D
Direct cursor addressing      ESC [ y ; x H  or
                              ESC [ y ; x f
Save cursor & attributes      ESC 7
Restore cursor & attributes   ESC 8

n is replaced by the number of positions to move. y and x represent the line and column number to move to.

Line Size (Double-Height and Double-Width) Commands

Line to double-height top half     ESC # 3
Line to double-height bottom half  ESC # 4
Line to single-width single-height ESC # 5
Line to double-width single-height ESC # 6

Character Attributes

Set current attribute         ESC [ a;a;a;...;a m

The a characters refers to a selective parameter. Multiple parameters are separated by the semicolon character. The parameters are executed in order and have the following meanings:

0 or None All Attributes Off
1 Bold on
4 Underscore on
5 Blink on
7 Reverse video on

Erasing

To end of line                ESC [ K  or
                              ESC [ 0 K
From beginning of line        ESC [ 1 K
Entire line                   ESC [ 2 K
To end of screen              ESC [ J  or
                              ESC [ 0 J
From beginning of screen      ESC [ 1 J
Entire screen                 ESC [ 2 J

Character Sets (G0 and G1 Designators)

The G0 and G1 character sets are designated as follows:

Character set                 G0 designator   G1 designator
United Kingdom (UK)           ESC ( A         ESC ) A
United States (USASCII)       ESC ( B         ESC ) B
Special graphics characters   ESC ( 0         ESC ) 0
and line drawing set
Alternate character ROM       ESC ( 1         ESC ) 1
Alternate character ROM       ESC ( 2         ESC ) 2
special graphics characters

Scrolling Region

Set scrolling region          ESC [ t ; b r

t is the number of the top line of the scrolling region; b is the number of the bottom line of the scrolling region and must be greater than t.

Tab Stops

Set tab at current column     ESC H
Clear tab at current column   ESC [ g or ESC [ 0 g
Clear all tabs                ESC [ 3 g

Modes

Mode Name                     To Set                  To Reset
Line feed/new line New line   ESC [20h      Line feed ESC [20l
Cursor key mode Application   ESC [?1h         Cursor ESC [?1l
ANSI/VT52 mode                ESC [?2l
Column mode 132 Col           ESC [?3h         80 Col ESC [?3l
Scrolling mode Smooth         ESC [?4h           Jump ESC [?4l
Screen mode Reverse           ESC [?5h         Normal ESC [?5l
Origin mode Relative          ESC [?6h       Absolute ESC [?6l
Wraparound On                 ESC [?7h            Off ESC [?7l
Auto repeat On                ESC [?8h            Off ESC [?8l
Interlace On                  ESC [?9h            Off ESC [?9l
Keypad mode Application       ESC =           Numeric ESC >

Reset

Reset causes the power-up reset routine to be executed.

Reset                         ESC c


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Depicted: VT100-AA Glass Terminal.

The VT100 is a physically imposing beast, and I have never seen a larger terminal. In contrast with the sleek, rounded ADM3A's case (which looks like something out of the seventies was supposed to look, according to movies from the sixties) the VT100 looked like a piece of mainframe equipment. In short, it looked like it came from DEC.

Dimensions

    Monitor
  • Height: 36.83 cm (14.5 inch)
  • Width: 45.72 cm (18 inch)
  • Depth: 36.20 cm (14.25 inch)
    Keyboard
  • Height: 8.89 cm (3.5 inch)
  • Width: 45.72 cm (18 inch)
  • Depth: 20.32 cm (8 inch)

Minimum table depth: 51.4 cm (20.25 inch)

    Weight
  • Monitor 13.6 kg (30 lbs)
  • Keyboard 2.0 kg (4.5 lbs)
  • Shipping Weight 18.6 kg (41 lbs)

The hardware was designed for longetivity, and it shows. The keyboard is amazingly solid (and large). It is connected to the terminal via a 1/4" stereo plug, and contains a speaker for generating system beeps. The system board of the VT100-AA (the original VT100) slides out for easy replacement by technicians, alleviating most of the headaches gained by those using IBM systems rather than those available from DEC at the time. Generally speaking these terminals were sold to interface to VAX systems, much as IBM's terminals were sold for interfacing to their various mainframes (System 390, AS/400, etc.)

The VT100 was the terminal (and control set) of choice for many geeks in the late eighties and early nineties because it included such niceties as multiple scrolling areas, without which tasks such as IRC became a real pain. Today there is scarcely a dumb-term emulator which does not support VT100. Essentially every DOS, Amiga, and Macintosh terminal emulator (for the purpose of dialing out with a modem) since the dawn of time supports VT100 emulation.

A peculiarity of the VT100 is its BNC video in and out jacks. The video input is actually underlaid with the terminal's video such that you could use it to do video titling and such, a definite possibility given the double-height fonts available on the vt100. The video signal is a 75 ohm, dc-coupled signal running from 0v to 1v, black to white. The result is both displayed on the CRT and piped to the video out jack. The video output is standard composite video; the input is a 0-1v DC signal which must be synchronized to the VT100's video, which you can do by referencing the sync on the composite output.


References:

  1. VT100 User Guide. Digital, June 1981.

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