Video screens in the USSR (historical perspective)

Michael Borbich
Director of SPF “Planet-M”, Ukraine, Vinnitsa
Photos credit by the author

Nowadays when video screens can be seen in most large cities around the world, people interested in history of technical equipment might have many questions about appearance and development of display units. If someone studies history of video screens searching for accessible Internet-materials he can have an impression that these devices appeared in CIS countries only in the beginning of 1990-ies and the domestic production was begun only in the second half of 1990-ies. Not true. Actually that direction appeared in our country quite a long time ago and has its own, a little bit forgotten, history.

USSR’s first home-produced video screen was installed in 1973 in Moscow on Kalininsky prospect. It was a full color “TV set” based on car filament lamps covered by red, dark blue and green optical filters. That model was called “Elin”. The Central Design Bureau of Information Technology equipment (CDIT), which was a part of Ministry for electronic industry of USSR located in Vinnitsa, manufactured and developed this screen. This enterprise was one of the biggest manufacturers of electronic message boards (“ESIL”, etc.) in Soviet Union, stadium boards (including the one installed on “Dynamo” stadium where grass hockey matches were being held during the 1980 Olympic Games). This lab also produced boards (called “ESICH”) for Moscow underground and various boards used for civil and military purposes. It is necessary to note that in 80-ies this factory serially produced alphanumeric boards on gas-discharge indicators.

In 1979 the monochrome video screen was installed on the central square of Vinnitsa city. 127 V filament lamps with capacity of 30W served as an indication element. Image area was 8x6 m, resolution - 128x96 pixels, brightness gradation – in the beginning 8, then upgraded to 16. KU202 thyristors were used as switching elements. The indication module represented structurally and functionally finished device including the printed-circuit-board with thyristors including control units and with filament lamps, which were inserted into cartridges (matrix 8x4).

Halftone video screen on gas-discharge display panels Halftone video screen on gas-discharge display panels
The experimental sample of halftone video screen on gas-discharge display panels with direct current of white color luminescence. Prototype panels were manufactured by scientific research institute GRP. Approximately in 1987-88.

The received experience from working on this product and also the overall successes of electronic industry enterprises in the area of element base creation allowed to begin projects on full-color video screen on vacuum-luminescent indicators and also allowed to upgrade video screen on Kalininsky prospect in 1983. The project was called “Elin 2”. CDIT was the headquarter plant. The main co-authors were Saratov factory of receiving-intensifying lamps (the manufacturer of indicators) and the Nikolaev factory “Transformer” (the manufacturer of high-voltage power supplies). The indicator was elaborated in scientific research institute “Platan” (Fryazino) under supervision of V. Ulasjuk and represented, roughly speaking, a kinescope without extending part, but with focusing system and was covered with phosphor on the end face of a flask. Indicators were made with three types of phosphors - red, dark blue and green.

“Elin2” started its work in summer 1985. The screen size was 17x13 m, with resolution 192x144 pixels, number of gradations - 16 per color, formation scale - nonlinear. The screen consisted of 1728 display modules - 48 pieces horizontally and 36 pieces vertically. The display module included a power unit (the converter from 90 V to 6 kV), the logic block and 64 indicators grouped into 16 pixels. The pixel consisted of four indicators - dark blue, red and two (located diagonally) greens. By the way, for the first time in the USSR (and probably, not only in the USSR), “virtual pixel” principle (which is so widely discussed today) was applied in this product. Television analog video signals were taken from “JVC” monitor and then were digitized. The information about the image frame was stored in control device memory, from where it was transmitted to the screens’ adapters using three channels simultaneously. Each of these adapters carried out further diversion of data channels to downturn the frequency.

Later on, CDIT carried out works on perfection of control subsystem (in particular, the created device allowed to broadcast images with 32 gradations of brightness per color, formed by a nonlinear scale), but this product has not been put into operation.

The very first halftone board on gas-discharge indicator

The experimental sample of the very first halftone board on gas-discharge indicator of a direct current. Summer of 1983. Resolution - 128x96 pixels. Number of halftones - 16. Color of a luminescence - green. The main goal is to prove practically the possibility of showing dynamic halftone pictures on a gas-discharged panel. As a result of this work, Main Scientific and technical department assigned a task to Ryazan scientific research institute GRP to create a panel with white color of luminescence (and to improve some specific characteristics, important for formation of brightness gradation), and also to research an opportunity of panel creation, suitable for color images.

Sign-graphical screen on gas-discharge indicator panels

Screen in the Control centre of space flights. Situated near Moscow Kaliningrad. June, 1981. Sign-graphical screen on gas-discharge indicator panels of direct current. Resolution - 512x256 pixels. Color of a luminescence - green. The manufacturer - Ryazan scientific research institute of gas-discharge devices.

It is necessary to mention that in the 80-ies, CDIT researched an opportunity of halftone pictures reception on LED indicators (pre-production models of light-emitting diodes from Experimental Construction Bureau “Start” were used in the researches) and on several types of gas-discharge devices, including gas-discharge display panels of direct current. Due to the positive results, the scientific research institute of gas-discharge devices “Plasma” (Ryazan) has intensified the works on creation of gas-discharge panels with reduced time of gas discharge and with application of television phosphors. Research results were known to the interested enterprises, which in certain degree stimulated the development of given direction, giving the factories better chances and opportunity of manufacturing and sales of gas-discharge video screens in “market époque”.