Datamax UV-1

Researchers: Thomas A. DeFanti

The Datamax UV-1 was a pioneering computer designed by a working group of computer graphics artists at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The group, then known as the Circle Graphics Habitat, fostered an environment for the creation of experimental computer graphics, video production, and educational materials development. Over time the group became what is now the current EVL lab.

The basis for the Datamax UV-1 was the GRASS programing language, originally developed by Tom DeFanti for his 1974 Ohio State University Ph.D. thesis.

In 1977 DeFanti was introduced to Jeff Frederiksen, a chip designer working at Dave Nutting Associates. Nutting had been contracted by Midway, the videogame division of Bally, to create a standardized graphics driver chip. They intended to use it in most of their future arcade games, as well as a video game console they were working on which would later turn into the Astrocade. Midway was quite interested in seeing the GRASS language running on their system, and contracted DeFanti to port it to the platform.

The goal was to create a GRASS machine that could be marketed at a personal computer price point, a project that became known as the Z-Box. The version of the GRASS language running on the machine was GRASS3, which would become known as Zgrass. The work would never be released by Midway, but the Circle would produce machines based on it as the Datamax UV-1.

The project eventually evolved into a machine intended to to generate high-quality color graphics for output to videotape, and later as a titling system for use by cable television companies. In this capacity, it represents the first dedicated graphics workstation.


Date: January 1, 1980 - January 1, 1981
Datamax UV-1R, with the associated analog breakout box on top - EVL

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