[[quoteright:350:[[Film/ANewHope http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/anewhope_screen_8481.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:Well, it ''was'' a long time ago.]]

->''"We've got screens figured out '''now'''. What happens in the future that makes them worse?"''
-->-- '''Graham Stark''', ''WebVideo/{{Unskippable}}''

This trope is basically {{Zeerust}} applied to the digital era.

The page image represents what a computer display in ''Franchise/StarWars'' looks like. Now look anywhere at your screen, and compare to what your computer can do.

In a ScienceFiction program, the graphics quality of whatever computer is used is that of what computers were available at the time. Therefore, there are no screens in 1960s shows and there are no [=GUIs=] in the 1970s and 1980s.

In earlier eras, the writers probably didn't think computer graphics could improve. As the nature of computer advancements became more apparent, however, such limitations have become more about budget and imagination.

Arguably can be [[JustifiedTrope justified]] in a scenario when functionality is preferable to looks. After all, the last thing you want is to see a graphics driver error on the screen of your spaceship's on-board computer in the middle of a crucial operation. This is TruthInTelevision in a surprising number cases. There are a number of situations where complex graphics are not only unnecessary, but are actually a hindrance, or even ''dangerous''.

See also ExtremeGraphicalRepresentation, HolographicTerminal, MagicFloppyDisk. Related to ScienceMarchesOn and TechMarchesOn.



[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* ''Anime/BubblegumCrisis'' was made in the late 80s and mostly used command line terminals.
* ''Anime/LegendOfGalacticHeroes'', apparently set in the late 3590s, also has bulky computers showing simplistic vector graphics.
** Not to mention floppy disks.
* ''Anime/RahXephon'', set in 2027, has computers with interfaces from [[http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4386762/rahxephon/old_x-windows.jpg Silicon Graphics' Irix,]] whose UI has remained largely unchanged since 1991.
* At least they did better than ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam'', which doesn't even have [=GUIs=] who knows how many centuries in the future.
** [[WordofGod Word of God]] has hinted that the "Universal Century" (the [[AlternativeCalendar main timeline]] of Gundam) begins in the mid-2100s. Given that the [[Anime/MobileSuitGundam first TV series]] was produced in 1979, five years before the Apple Macintosh debuted with a built in GUI, it's not surprise that they didn't show advanced [=GUIs=] beyond handrawn line images.



* ''Film/StarWars'': In Episode IV, the fighters' targeting computers had very plain graphics, as did the Rebels' displays at the Yavin base. In later (and [[{{Prequel}} "earlier"]]) installations, Lucas and company apparently understood how computers were changing. For ''Film/TheEmpireStrikesBack'' and ''Film/ReturnOfTheJedi'', they didn't put any graphics that would actually appear on a computer screen onscreen (though they continued to show holograms). Even for the prequels, they kept such visuals to a minimum, though they likely could have created any interface they liked with effects. Rule still applies, even if taking place "long ago".
** Even so, the holograms are [[HologramProjectionImperfection black and white and flickery]], not half as good an image as any video technology that would've existed when the first ''Film/StarWars'' movie was ''filmed.'' However, it does add UsedFuture appeal.
** On the other hand in ''Film/ThePhantomMenace'', Nute Gunray had a huge TV like transmitter that had very good graphics like a traditional TV.
** The ''VideoGame/XWing'' video game actually used the Episode IV visuals for its targeting computers. Apparently deciding that they could do better, in ''VideoGame/TIEFighter'' Lucasarts gave the [=TIEs=] a targeting computer that showed the target from the perspective of the pilot's ship, including orientation, though the viewpoint of the "camera" was always from the same distance. It might have been a decision to give the [=TIEs=] more advanced equipment, except that all future iterations gave player-controlled craft an identical targeting computer.
* Compare the drab all-text computer graphics from ''Film/{{Alien}}'' with the rudimentary graphics from ''Film/{{Aliens}}''. Seven years is a long time in computer science.
** Also, check out the digital photo that briefly appears in the director's cut of ''Aliens''. It looks to be about .001 megapixel resolution.
** In fact, ''Alien'' did have wireframe 3D animation on some of the CRT monitors in the shuttle craft's bridge. The code for these was written in FORTRAN by British programmers on a Prime 400 microcomputer with 192 kB RAM.
*** Now contrast the graphics of ''Alien'' and ''Aliens'' with the state of the art-looking holograms, projections, and imagery present in ''{{Film/Prometheus}}'', theoretically set long before ''Alien.'' Possibly justified, since the ''Nostromo'' from ''Alien'' was a [[TheAllegedCar low-end old space tug]] and the ''Sulaco'' from ''Aliens'' was a [[StandardHumanSpaceship rugged military transport]], while the ''Prometheus'' was the shiny state-of-the-art CoolStarship
** ''VideoGame/AlienIsolation'' [[TropesAreNotBad deliberately uses the outdated graphics from the first film]] to evoke nostalgia and the feeling of trying to survive against a NighInvulnerable enemy with technology that is outdated even in-universe.
* Averted (a bit) in ''Film/TwoThousandOneASpaceOdyssey'', which used modified cel animation to depict computer readouts that would otherwise be difficult or impossible in 1968, but played painfully straight in the sequel ''Film/TwoThousandTenTheYearWeMakeContact'', with graphics typical of 1984.
** ''Film/TwoThousandOneASpaceOdyssey'' also depicted the astronauts in Discovery watching TV on a paper-thin screen laying casually on a table.
* In ''Film/StarTrekTheMotionPicture'' their scientific advisor took a look at what the effects people had come up with for their viewing screen tactical displays, and told them "I can do better than that on my UsefulNotes/TRS80," so what we see in the movie is what he did on his UsefulNotes/TRS80.
** Some of the displays in ''[[Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan The Wrath of Khan]]'' and ''[[Film/StarTrekIIITheSearchForSpock The Search For Spock]]'' are definitely low-grade computer graphics. Then Michael Okuda came along on ''[[Film/StarTrekIVTheVoyageHome The Voyage Home]]'' and vastly improved the look. It's particularly jarring, though, when one of the bridge displays in ''The Wrath Of Khan'', set in 2285, is primitive compared to the display of a circa-1986 computer in ''The Voyage Home''!
** Averted with the simulation of the Genesis Device, first seen in ''The Wrath of Khan''. Done as a showpiece by what would later become Pixar, it was considered a CrowningMomentOfAwesome for the field of computer graphics of the time, and remains believable as a simulation thirty years later. The Star Trek production team was so enamored with it that they incorporated the footage into the next two sequels.
* The text we see when Franchise/RoboCop [[RoboCam is first activated]] in ''Film/RoboCop1987'' shows that he is running under [=MS-DOS=] 3.3.
* The Franchise/{{Terminator}}'s POV shots have 6502 assembly language code in the first two movies, and Macintosh ones (including "[=QuickTime=] Player"!) in [[Film/Terminator3RiseOfTheMachines the third]]. Also, said RoboCam is not on full-color, but tinted in either red or blue (though it's implied they run just like NightVisionGoggles).
* In ''Film/{{Gattaca}}'', they can make DNA tests in seconds, but they have neither touchscreens nor high resolution.
* ''Film/EscapeFromNewYork'' is set in 1997, but is forced to use 1981 graphics. The effect helps create an UnintentionalPeriodPiece.
** The glider computer's green wireframe graphic was too expensive to do back then so the model of Manhattan made for different scenes in the movie was painted black, outlined with green reflective tape and filmed. Truly, the past is another country.
* Inexplicably done in ''Film/RealSteel'', with a Generation 2 controller that Bailey dug up for Max to use with Atom. Seeing that 2007 was a date mentioned where Charlie was still boxing, the monochrome low-res screen on the G2 controller should be more advanced than that.
* ''Film/SexMission'', made in 1984: It is set in 2044, but computers still use wireframe 3-D green-lined graphics... and, at one point, what is clearly UsefulNotes/ZXSpectrum graphics.
* ''Film/BackToTheFuturePartII'' featured Marty getting scared by a hologram from a poster for ''Film/{{Jaws}}: [[RidiculousFutureSequelisation 19]]''. The hologram looks like [[http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070112173103/bttf/images/4/4b/Jaws19-2.jpg this,]] which makes Marty's "The shark still looks fake." line that much funnier.
** FridgeBrilliance here in that, for a person in 2015, it would look exceptionally fake, and the theater might want to catch the attention of people on the street, but not terrorize them in public.

* {{Foundation}}, set thousands of years in the future in a galaxy-spanning empire with colossal starships and pocket-sized nuclear power plants, makes a big deal about a shipboard navigation computer with ''graphics''.
* In Heinlein's ''Literature/TheMoonIsAHarshMistress'' Luna City's MasterComputer, "Mike" has no monitors, but he does have mic pickups and can access Video Phones. Eventually he is able to generate a CGI avatar for video calls that is indistinguishable from real life, after some adjustment, but it takes up the majority of his processing power, and he's a sentient AI.

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]
* Many a Trekkie has suffered brain damage trying to explain the dichotomy between the ViewerFriendlyInterface on computers in ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' and the flashy lights and hand-made slides in ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'' -- we get a little help from the fact that we almost never see the screens of video displays on TOS showing anything other than fullscreen video. We get a better look at a TOS-era display in the ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", where it appears to be a sort of art deco version of the TNG-era LCARS interface.
** ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration'' and ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' suffered from the same problem mentioned in the trope description of frame rate refresh being visible on screen. For that reason, only specialised TV monitors whose refresh rate could be adjusted to match that of the cameras were used, which meant that there you rarely saw an animated display in the background, only the ones necessary for the plot.
** While [=DS9=] has considerably more animated displays than TNG, it makes it look like the Cardassians [[SaltTheEarth trashing the station on their way out]] replaced [[http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/File:Bajoran_Intelligence_net.jpg certain displays]] with 377-year-old {{Macintosh}}es, if the Chicago font is any indication. At least some of us wouldn't put it past those AffablyEvil Cardassians....
** ''Series/StarTrekVoyager'' retconned this by having a time traveler introduce computer technology to the 20th century. The result was an alternate timeline similar to our own.
* In ''Series/KnightRider'', all of KITT's "complex" displays are source listings of BASIC programs.
* Even worse, in ''{{Timeslip}}'', a futuristic (evil) computer can output ''directly as brainwaves'' or on a video screen. The video screen ''shows the image of a teletype printing out the computer's output.''
* The makers of the original ''Series/{{Battlestar Galactica|1978}}'' made an effort to avoid (well, delay) this trope by using the top-of-the-line graphics systems then available for the bridge display of incoming enemy fighters. They looked rather impressive for about five years.
** Oddly enough, the [[Series/BattlestarGalactica2003 re-imagined series]] [[InvokedTrope made a point of this]] with the computers on Galactica, which [[WordOfGod have been described as]] being far below the specs of today's systems.
*** It is presumably due to trying to avoid this trope that you don't really see the computer displays on the Pegasus (which is a more up to date battlestar) or any of the civilian ships, all of which would be running the "current day" (or at least more modern) colonial computers as opposed to the obsolete systems on the Galactica.
*** The spin-off ''Series/{{Caprica}}'' used much more flashy looking displays and technology in general - for instance, the tablet device Zoe uses and then rolls up to put back in her pocket.
** When the film ''Film/SpaceMutiny'' (which used classic ''Galactica'' scenes) was featured on ''Series/MysteryScienceTheater3000'', Mike and the 'bots took notice of this easily.
-->'''Tom Servo:''' Graphics made by ''Creator/{{Kenner}}''.
* In ''Series/TheSarahConnorChronicles'' we learn that at least part of [=SkyNet=] is written in Visual Basic and that Terminator [=CPUs=] plug into small subsection of PCI bus. No wonder they want to kill humanity.
* ''Series/LookAroundYou'', keeping with its {{Retraux}} theme, makes use of BBC Micros, using one in the first series opening titles to run a laughably simple BASIC program. The second series features a BBC Micro with glitchy voice software welcoming viewers to the future of "Look Around Yog", while a toaster with a BBC Micro attached is a "futuristic toasting system".
* ''Series/TheHitchhikersGuideToTheGalaxy'' (BBC miniseries)'s producers looked at what the BBC's own effects department offered for the guide. It wasn't pretty. So they averted this by using very painstakingly detailed cel animation and clever rear projection tricks to show "advanced" computer displays (such as the tiny non-flat flatscreen of the guide, the gigantic widescreen display on the Heart of Gold, etc).
* Played with in ''Series/{{Bones}}'' where Angela has a holographic display, with amber graphics resembling some types of 80s CRT monitors. The resolution was way better, though.
* ''Series/MaxHeadroom''. Everything is in wire frames. Then again, it ''was'' the TropeNamer for TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture....
* ''Series/DoctorWho'':
** In the 1982 episode ''[[Recap/DoctorWhoS19E1Castrovalva Castrovalva]]'', it turns out that the fantastically advanced TARDIS computer has a display that is outperformed by a UsefulNotes/ZXSpectrum. Justified in that later it turns out that the whole interface was a phoney produced by the Master so that Tegan and Nyssa would ''think'' they were piloting the TARDIS.
** The other anachronisms in the TARDIS interface were later retroactively justified when the Doctor changes the TARDIS's "desktop theme" into a more organic, steampunk, retrotech look. Apparently, the Doctor is enough of a BunnyEarsLawyer to actually prefer that look over proper graphics.
** Unlike their ''Hitchhiker's Guide'' counterparts, the ''Doctor Who'' creative team were quite happy to use BBC Micros to generate their on-set graphics for most of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors' runs. Sometimes they could get away with it if the stories were set in the present or near-future, but stories set further in the future ended up fitting this trope to a tee.
* In the first series of ''Series/RedDwarf'', Holly's appearance was very pixelated.

[[folder: Tabletop Games]]
* Monitors of any sort are rarely seen in ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'' (it being a miniatures wargame, after all) but the graphical quality of what little we do see [[ZigZaggedTrope tends to vary]]. Often justified since most races, especially humans, are living in a UsedFuture. The most recent example (at time of writing) is the ColdOpen in the tie-in video game ''VideoGame/Warhammer40000SpaceMarine''. The Imperial command's monitor has a fully functional GUI and supports a click-and-zoom map of the galaxy, but can only display yellow, red, and black.
** Crazy juxtapositions of high and low technology are a big part of 40k's design aesthetic, especially for the Imperium of Man. Sometimes advanced computer monitors are even lit up with tallow candles, lacking any kind of internal illumination of their own.
** Completely averted with the Tau, whose tech is far more advanced than humans, to the point where it creeps them out to see holograms that ''don't'' require PercussiveMaintenance every five minutes.

[[folder: Video Games ]]
* Ansem's Computer in ''VideoGame/KingdomHeartsII'' is supposed to be highly advanced and storing all of his and his students research data. Yet, it uses 8-bit graphics and a user-interface which looks like the most primitive form of Windows the world has ever seen. Not even a mouse is used. It's somehow justified by the fact that this computer is the gate to "Space Paranoids", a world based on the '80s movie ''Film/{{Tron}}'', and the fact that it ''is'' at least twenty years old already by the time ''[=KH2=]'' takes place, and there hasn't exactly been anyone around to upgrade the software.
* The computers in ''VideoGame/GrimFandango'' appear to be teletypes hooked up to enormous amber-monochrome screens. It fits with the Art Deco theming everywhere.
** It's also never explicitly stated just when the game is set; if anything, it seems to be around the Forties or Fifties, which would make them ''advanced'' for their time.
* In ''VideoGame/MegaManX'', the intro has Dr. Cain working on a circa-2114 machine with 8 ''Petabytes'' of "real mem" (probably RAM) and 32 PB of "avail mem" (probably space in the swap partition of the hard drive) whose power-on self-test sequence still looks like [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoIR4dFwfwk this.]] (By contrast, a [[AppleMacintosh Mac Pro]] can be configured with 64 gigabytes of RAM (1[=/=]131,072th) of the fictional computer) and 8 terabytes drive space (1[=/=]4096th the fictional) and, [[ExtremeGraphicalRepresentation well...]]
* Used in ''VideoGame/{{Startopia}}''. Most likely intentional given how the game is a love letter to 'classic' sci-fi.
* In the ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}'' SNES game (which takes place in the 2050s), office computers don't have any graphics at all! Whenever you use your cyberdeck to jack into the Matrix, you get a screen full of command lines in classic green-on-black monochrome scheme while the connection is established.
* In the mid-90s UsefulNotes/{{Amiga}} adventure game ''VideoGame/DreamWeb'' (taking place in the near future), home computers similarly have no graphics at all, and no user interface either! the user is stuck with a clumsy DOS-like interface to access everything from his eMails to fetching the latest news broadcast (which consists of text, too, of course).
* The prevalence of text-only monochrome CRT screens in the ''VideoGame/{{Fallout}}'' setting, which simultaneously employs laser weapons and intelligent computers, establishes that it takes place in a parallel universe.
* In the ''Franchise/MassEffect'' series, we have whizzy holographic monitors, with monochrome visuals (usually amber, sometimes blue).
** Even non-holograms tend to be grainy, full of static, or blurry.
*** ME 2 and 3 justifies this in-game by explaining that all of the important holographic conversations occur instantly across pan-galactic distances via Quantum String technology, which is still very much in it's infancy. Quite literally, it looks crummy because only a tiny handful exist in the galaxy, and most of the ones used by the Alliance had to be reverse engineered from what they could steal from Cerberus and the Normandy SR-2. Getting it to run in 1080p before the Reapers arrived probably wasn't their highest priority....
*** Given every other computer display in the series is just as bad, they did a pretty good job.
*** The regular work space holographic displays look like they were specifically made to cause seizures or otherwise injure their operators. They're pointlessly layered (making text illegible), out of focus, and flicker constantly.
* In ''VideoGame/VampireTheMasqueradeBloodlines'' all the computers run on DOS in a game taking place in 2004.
* Played with in ''[[VidoeGame/GrandTheftAuto Grand Theft Auto]]: [[VideoGame/GrandTheftAutoViceCityStories Vice City Stories]]'' with the advertisement for the Fruit LC personal computer, with features like 18 kilobytes of memory and a two-tone, 8-inch display. In 1984, when the game is set, this would have been nearly revolutionary, but when the game was released in 2007, the computer seemed hilariously primitive.

[[folder: Real Life]]
* Many processor and memory intensive tools- 3d art programs, for example- use extremely primitive interfaces. The fraction of a second of lag as a computer renders the high res font and dropshadows of a typical program's interface can become several seconds when a computer has 90% of its resources dedicated to rendering a high-poly mesh or HD resolution image. Multiply that by an entire day's work of opening and closing menus and panels and you begin to see why the typical GUI in an art program looks typical of the early 90's.
* Similarly, many business applications are extremely primitive, but in this case it's often for the comfort of employees who have been using the same program for decades and companies that don't want to lose work hours while they get used to a new interface- changes between versions tend to be "under the hood" and simply add new features without changing the familiar, outdated, look. If they do update the interface, there will often be an option to use the old look as a shell over the new interface.
* If properly designed, a simple graphic can convey all necessary information in a glance. Compare the HeadsUpDisplay in a video game- simple icons and colored bars are used to represent large amounts of complex information quickly.
* Interfaces for tasks like [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_060505-N-9079D-025_Air_Traffic_Controller_3rd_Class_David_McKeehe_works_approach_controller_in_Carrier_Air_Traffic_Control_Center_%28CATTC%29.jpg air traffic control]] tend to be extremely primitive looking simply because it reduces the number of distractions, increases the speed at which the viewer can understand the information, and allows the screen to be updated in near real-time. This is critical when lag for either the operator or the computer can result in a firey mid air collision!
* [=AutoCAD=] programs use the same blueprint shorthand that has been used for nearly two centuries, in a standard format. This prevents mistakes which can lead to injuries and deaths, because it is familiar to anyone in the engineering and construction industry, regardless of language. An engineer from the 1800's could pick up a blueprint printed from an [=AutoCAD=] program and would only be moderately unfamiliar with the notations for advanced electrical wiring.
* Many programs written for scientific research purposes tend to be simplistic in terms of graphics because they are written purely for utilitarian purposes, sometimes as a home-brew solution which may only be used a few times by the researcher for a single experiment. Even on high budget projects, more money tends to go toward hardware and staff than toward designing an aesthetically pleasing interface.
* In one of the most epic dual-[[SubvertedTrope subversions]]/[[JustifiedTrope justifications]] in human history, as [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Heacock Ray Heacock,]] spacecraft systems manager for the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_program Voyager program]] once explained,
-->''Any good...PC, today, will have [[TechnologyMarchesOn several hundred thousand words of memory]], and no one would think of buying a computer with the limited capabilities that the ''Voyager'' systems have. And of course, today, no one would think of building for spaceflight computers with such limited capabilities. But the thing that these computers had was reliability. And being programmable from Ground Operations, we can still have them perform very complex and sophisticated operations.''
-->-- interview, ''The Infinite Voyage'' series, ''Sail On, Voyager!'', 1990
::NASA engineers chose computer systems for the spacecraft that were not the absolute most advanced even in their own day (1977), in favor of systems that were intended to never have the slightest chance of failing while in-mission. [[LongRunner Over 35 years later]], the still-functioning [[http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-nasa-confirms-voyager-1-has-exited-the-solar-system-20130912-story.html first spacecraft to ever leave the solar system]] bear testament to their constructors' foresight of valuing proven endurance over cutting-edge yet uncertain technology.
** There are other concerns that keep computers in space slower as well. The first is the problem of cooling; space isn't actually cold, it's a void, so operating temperatures have to be minimized. The second is the sheer amount of radiation shielding and/or redundancy in design required to keep delicate electronics from being fried outside the natural protections we have on Earth. This also adds to the cooling problem. e.g. You can box your computer inside lead to prevent charged-particle radiation from scrambling the memory, but then the lead acts as a insulator...
* Modern (2014) UI design languages are merging to simpler, 'flatter' appearances. While your millage may vary on whether these look better or not, with people claiming how, for example, Microsoft's Metro is the suck over Aero, a [[http://daringfireball.net/2013/01/the_trend_against_skeuomorphism theory posits]] that the reason we're going this route is because fancy skeuomorphisms were set in place because they made for nice eye candy to mask the fact that screen resolutions were lower, and trying to scale those elements up either takes a lot of work or produces ugly results.
* Many companies still use old software because everyone is already trained on it and it is reliable. A potential time traveler going forward in time from the past may indeed think this trope when visiting a company.