1982 Vectrex: A Vector-based Home Game Console



I've always been intrigued by the Vectrex console but until this year never had one of my own. It is one of those systems that is hard to appreciate without witnessing it on the original hardware. The system is driven by a 9" X/Y black and white CRT so it has more in common with oscilloscopes than other game consoles or home computers at the time.

While other platforms were sprite or pixel-based with the signature chunky look back in the 70s-80s due to memory and CPU constraints (with most having a very low technical resolution, often 40x24 or similar tile grid system), the use of vectors allowed a tiny hardware footprint to perform a huge amount of visuals and computations. Since all graphics are drawn mathematically in real-time, it's a lot more efficient storing X/Y coordinates than it is storing screen pixel-by-pixel data in memory.

This allowed the Vectrex to debut arcade-quality games with real-time graphic scaling, rotation, extraordinarily fluid movement and more alongside the popular AY-3-8912 sound chip all in 4-8K ROMs and 1KB of RAM. It used color overlays to offer a more immersive experience and mitigate flickering, but even without them it's a pretty great experience.

Each drawn vector can have a custom intensity level, which is why I say it's hard to appreciate without seeing it on the real system. It is very similar to playing Asteroids for the first time in an original arcade cabinet after only playing emulated versions or pixel-based remakes. When you shoot a bullet, it emits at 100% screen intensity and looks like a glowing flare drifting through space. With the Vectrex when you teleport in the built-in game Minestorm it's just a brilliant light display.


I have spent the past 3-4 months becoming extraordinarily familiar with the internals of these sets while repairing and restoring to perfection. They are pretty fragile systems with both a power board and logic board hard-soldered together and affixed to the case and CRT. It's also risky because if you remove the logic board the weight of the power board and CRT combo can cause it to fall back, immediately busting the neck of the picture tube.

One of the highly debated elements of the system is the buzz it gives off as soon as you turn it on, regardless of volume. According to one of the engineers, that buzz was not present in their prototypes but happened during the mass production phase overseas. They corrected it in late model releases, but almost every Vectrex had this defect. Many prefer to keep them this way as it is authentic to the original experience, while others opt to "de-buzz" it with a mod. I have done three different mods of this nature while experimenting, and they are medium to difficult mods depending on the Vectrex revision. Often involving desoldering, soldering, rerouting pins or components, cutting traces or so on. I do like the non-buzz audio for general use as it allows the sound to shine more crisply.

Seen in the photo above is a fun woodgrain vinyl decal I applied playing the Star Trek game that @Performa graciously donated to me. The overlay was purchased separately and is a reproduction, which Sean Kelly supplies on his website VectrexMulti.com for $10. Sean Kelly also has a multicart containing the full set of original titles (with permission) and a lot of homebrew and other collections. There are other multicarts out there and a few SD solutions. There is also a PiTrex project that plugs a Raspberry Pi into an original Vectrex and then acts as a beefed up CPU to support actual arcade titles in addition to original Vectrex games. And finally there are some PCBs for constructing a Vectrex for use on an oscilloscope. I actually have those boards and eventually when I have time would like to construct it to see how I can get it to run on the 1950s-60s Oscilloscope from @Performa.

I also constructed my own light pen for it out of a dry erase board marker and breadboard based on schematics available. It works well but there were only ever three titles made for it. There was also a 3D Imager headset released for it at the time that had several games and created a true 3D experience. They go for a whole lot of money these days, there have been some reproductions but none that I managed to get a hold of yet!


When I was repairing my Vectrex I discovered a gap in guides online covering the many facets of restoration and calibration. As a result of that, I took the time to make a detailed video walking through more than 12 calibration tasks and troubleshooting strategies.


Blog (Text Version of Video): https://mattpilz.com/vectrex-console-complete-screen-calibration-guide/


Active member
Always thought the Vectrex looked super cool! I almost got one around 8 years or so ago at a local video game store, but didn't have the funds at the time as I was only 14 or so haha!