Non-backlit, Monochrome LCD or other good displays for shell use

BC pencileraser at
Mon Feb 8 01:37:59 UTC 2010


This question is not Ubuntu-specific, but as an Ubuntu and Linux user, I
thought I would turn here first.  I would appreciate any leads about where
better to ask this question.

I find using modern-day CCFL-powered LCD displays (tethered or external) to
be exhausting because of the intensity of staring at a focused light source
for so long (I also have an eye condition).  To some extent CRTs were a
little easier on the eyes for me back when, but I'd like to dig deeper to
use a more antiquated tech.

I primarily am in the shell all of the time, so I'd like to find a very
lo-fi solution that is both easy on the eyes and, ideally, more
'environmental' in the sense of having low power usage, low footprint, etc.
I would also prefer a much smaller display (think early IBM/Apple sized
screen.)  Since I would be using plain white on black text all the time,
considerations of resolution, fidelity, etc., happily go out the window.

Now, as a point of comparison, I have a Japanese electronic dictionary that
uses a dot-matrix monochrome FSTN LCD display.  It is not backlit and can
only be read under direct light.  See here for an image -  The one on
the left, labeled FSTN, is what I'm talking about.  The newer ones have
gleefuly inserted backlights and high-contrast stuff.  These use a
technology that is reminiscent of calculators and other monochrome devices.
Note that the link is for their newer TFT display, which they are touting as
better in comparison to the traditional FSTN style.  Significant engineering
has gone into this, though, so the screen is not gray or green or washed out
like old GameBoys and other devices of yore.  It's essentially like e-ink,
only with a much better refresh rate.  Why this never caught on is beyond

For a little more English-language background, we're talking about
super-twisted nematic displays -  They remain in
use in electronic dictionaries (largely a Japanese phenomenon), so my
concern is that digging up some antique Western laptop with STN isn't going
to have nearly the excellent response time or contrast that these do.

As far as I can gather, these kinds of display are prohibitively expensive
(or there is no demand) to produce, so they are rarely seen outside of small
handheld devices.

Antique laptops used to use monochrome LCDs, but what little I've been able
to find about them suggests they were very washed out or very small (e.g. HP
Portable Plus), though I'd be happy to be proven otherwise.  This technology
was alive and well in Japanese word processor devices in the 80s and 90s (

I'm not above going a DIY/mod route, but obviously it would be easiest to
have a small device or display that I can relatively easily get a shell
running on.  Does anyone have any thoughts about certain older displays that
are non-backlit monochrome LCDs?  The no-backlight is an important caveat
for me.  A lot of monochrome LCDs incorporated a backlight, but I want to be
able to use something that can only be read under diffuse lighting, not by
staring _into_ a light source.

Alternatively, what are your experiences using the shell on older EGA/VGA
monitors (monochrome, green, orange, etc.)  I am too young to have used one
of these except only glancingly.  I realize that most would advocate bigger,
brighter, non-refreshing displays as easier on the eyes, but I would really
love to hear your opinions about using first-generation CRTs.

Thanks for your feedback and suggestions of where to look further.

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