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. If you want a holy grail story, the matching monitor for the VIC-20 is a good one.
Commodore cancelled the VIC-1510 monitor for the VIC-20. But there were some third party monitors from the 1980s that look the part.
The Commodore VIC-1510
Commodore did announce an official monitor for the VIC-20. Dubbed the VIC-1510, it was a rebranded BMC Industries color composite monitor. The 1510 was silver and brown, like many VIC-20 peripherals. It wasn’t white like the VIC-20 case.
No known VIC-1510s survive. It’s unclear how many were even produced, and if Commodore ever actually sold any. If they did, it was only available in Japan, and in very limited quantities.
Not only that, only a few images of the VIC-1510 ever surfaced. It showed up in a Commodore product brochure in 1982, and on the front cover of a Japanese computer magazine, The Magazine for Computer Age: VIC!, volume 7. It also appeared in an ad and in the new products announcements in volume 5 of the same magazine.
The VIC-1510 is so rare, it wasn’t even known to exist until 2006.
The chances of finding a VIC-1510 are remote. But if you like chasing holy grails, this one would be a find. Even promotional materials mentioning the VIC-1510 would be a tremendous find.
Commodore’s market research probably indicated there wouldn’t be a lot of demand for the monitor, so they were better off producing and marketing other peripherals.
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.
Monitors that match the VIC-20
While Commodore didn’t produce a matching monitor for the VIC-20, a couple of other companies did produce monitors that look the part, though it’s unclear whether that was intentional or by design.
Amdek Color I
While we most closely associate Amdek with Apple, Amdek’s color monitor matches the VIC-20 better than it matches the Apple II and Apple II+. The white case is a nearly perfect match for the VIC-20’s case, and the black bezel is a close match for the brown-black keyboard on the VIC-20. And the styling is exactly right for the VIC-20. It doesn’t look like anything Commodore would have sold, but it looks like 1981.
An Amdek Color Monitor I isn’t exactly the easiest thing to find today either, but if you want a period-correct color composite monitor for a VIC-20, it would be a good find. During the VIC-20’s prime, this was the color composite monitor to get. If I were going to keep a VIC-20 set up permanently, this is the monitor I would want to pair with it.
The Magnavox Color Monitor 40
While not quite as period correct as the Amdek Color Monitor I, there’s a Magnavox monitor that’s worth keeping an eye out for. It 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 or less, 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.
It looks for all the world like a VIC-styled Commodore 1084. And that’s not far off from what it is.
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. That said, any CRT monitor is going to have reliability issues today, and Magnavox monitors are easy to work on, so that helps make up for the weakness.
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.