My beloved Sharp PC-1211 – Part 3 (is there a future out there?)

If you have the chance to own a Sharp PC-1211 (or it’s OEM version, the TRS-80 Pocket Computer – or PC-1 – sold in the US by Radio Shack), there is only one thing you are dreading: the black oil!  No, the PC-1211’s liquid crystal display is not leaking when held downward, nor its keyboard is using oil for lubrication.

No, black oil comes from the alien virus popularized by the X-Files series. That black oily substance hosting the alien virus that made your life pretty miserable if you came in contact with it. Remember? Well, for the PC-1211, it is almost the same. The LCD turns black over the years. And it often does it very quickly. One day your machine is pristine, the next time you take it out of its case, damn! You are black oiled…

This is a creeping disease that usually grows from the edge of the display and invades its entire surface. Although the machine is still usable when infected, in extreme cases, you simply cannot read the display anymore, and your faithful sidekick has gone. No one really seems to know what it is. Maybe someone in the community can shed some light on our ignorance? There are many theories around. The LCD technology was so new that Sharp didn’t master it yet. The molecules are decaying over time. The environment seems to play a decisive role in the growth of black oil. Heat and hydrometry are finger pointed. Some also theorized on the yellow color of the display that makes it sensitive to UV. They have been proven wrong since, where un-boxed system presented the defect, and when first grey LCDs started to show signs of infection. So what is it? Any ideas? I’ve even contacted Sharp and some LCD experts, but until now, no one really seems to know (or care). PC-1211 owners can only hope. But besides the black oil, this 35 years old pocket computer is still working as a charm and as a time machine to trip down nostalgia lane.