Someone asked in a vintage computer forum recently what the correct monitor would be to use with a VIC-20. Commodore never sold a white monitor the same color as the VIC. Its first color monitor was the 1701, which matched the C-64. If you want a period correct Commodore VIC-20 monitor, you have a couple of options.
The VIC-20 will work with any composite monitor or television with RF or composite inputs. But there is one monitor that arguably looks more “right” than the others.
What we would have used
I can tell you what we would have used in 1981 or 1982. We would have used what we then called a portable or bedroom TV. They were small sets with 10-, 12- or 13-inch CRT displays and two dial knobs. A black and white set cost around $150 in 1981, while a color set was closer to $300. But the price on color sets dropped rapidly as production ramped up, so during the VIC’s heyday, you could snag a color set for around $200. While the display over RF wasn’t great, for a VIC-20 it was pretty adequate.
For a period-correct VIC-20 display, look for one of those. Fake woodgrain would be a good touch. Fake woodgrain was still really common on TVs in the early 1980s.
The monitor that matches the VIC-20
That said, there’s a monitor from the period that looks like we would have used it. Magnavox sold a white composite monitor it called the Color Monitor 40. The white case and black bezel were generic enough to look OK with any computer of the period. Its designers probably had the Atari XL series in mind when they designed it, but it looks fine with a VIC as well. By the time this monitor came out, the VIC-20 sold for $99, so I can’t imagine many people pairing a $249 monitor with a $99 computer. But it looks the part. The white case and silver badge match the VIC’s styling, and the black bezel almost matches the VIC’s very dark brown keys.
I’m fairly certain I remember seeing the Color Monitor 40 sold in catalogs alongside Commodore equipment, but I can’t find it in any of the major retailers’ Christmas catalogs now. So maybe I imagined that.
Magnavox monitors in general
I had one of these monitors in the early 90s, but it broke years ago and I threw it out. The idea that 25 years later I’d have a VIC-20 and would want to pair them together would have sounded absurd to me then. Magnavox monitors from that era tend to develop bad solder joints in the side that causes them to cut out and lose power. Slapping the side restores it, but needless to say smacking a monitor around weakens the solder joints even further and makes the problem get worse over time. If you buy any 1980s Magnavox CRT monitor, keep this in mind. There’s a fairly good chance you’ll have to fix it. If you’re not comfortable working on CRTs, find out who in your area still is.
Weakness aside, however, the Color Monitor 40 certainly looks the part, and would also look great with an Atari XL, or a Tandy Color Computer 2 with a composite mod. And since a lot of monitors Commodore sold were made by Magnavox, the Color Monitor 40 looks vaguely like something Commodore would have sold, even if the name is different. It looks like a 1902A or 1084 in VIC-20 colors.