The quiet death of the CRT monitor

We all know that when advertisers on TV say “Hurry…while supplies last!” they are actually sitting on a warehouse full of plastic choppers or steak knives or tomato plant seeds. There is little need to rush your order. And I suspect if they get close to somehow selling out, they’ll simply make more.

So when I got a press release from Dream Arcades saying that they were running out of CRT monitors, I didn’t pay it much heed at first. But the press release went on to say that companies that used to make CRTs either went out of business or are now only selling LCDs and other display types.


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Dream Arcades simply can’t find any new CRTs to buy, so its custom arcade machines will have to be based on LCDs from now on. That sounded reasonable, though it still seems a stretch that the CRT would disappear even in arcades, where it had seemed to find a permanent home.

I still didn’t quite believe it. CRTs were everywhere not that long ago, and some agencies hung onto theirs for a really long time. Could the supply really be all used up?

As an experiment, I did a Google search for “buy CRT monitor” and the first 10 listings were all from eBay and sellers of used equipment. Then I found a page from ViewSonic that touted a 15-inch CRT it was selling. I read about the monitor and then clicked on the button to begin the purchase process. File not found.

The same thing happened with page about a Dell CRT. It looked like it was available at first, but really wasn’t. In fact, other than used and refurbished dealers, I could only find a handful of companies that still sold them, and most of those were based in Asia with names I’ve never heard of before.

You won’t catch me crying about the loss of these not-so-gentle giants. The lab still has a few in boxes, but mostly for posterity’s sake. Back when they were the norm, my eyes were strained to the point where I almost needed glasses (switching to all-LCDs saved the day), I injured my back lifting one of the 30-inch heavies, a few broke for no obvious reason, and a really bad one we were testing actually caught on fire.

And that doesn’t even go into the many annoyances in terms of visual quality, the fact that you could see the grounding wires behind the tube, or that they didn’t look right until you warmed them up for a good 15 minutes or so.

No, if the CRT era has in fact finally passed, even from its arcade stronghold, I say let it rest in piece. I knocked a few of them into pieces over the years, and this seems a better fate. Like an old soldier, they just faded away.  


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Feb 25, 2015 TruthInSound

Another tip to extending CRT TV/monitor life: Settings!! The Contrast(Picture or White Level) should NEVER be left at the Max setting. On a tube, Contrast simply regulates the total output. Lower it to 3/4 at first, and watch it for a few days. The first thing you will notice is that the picture is actually sharper than before. This is because the cathode ray guns tend to blur less at lower output levels. Go for 1/2 on the Contrast, and you'll be at the ideal setting. After a few days, you can self-calibrate simply by the following steps: 1. Warm up display for 15-20 min on a good source(evening network news). 2. LOWER Color and Sharpness, but leave Tint(Phase) in the middle. Set Contrast at the middle, if it isn't already there. 3. TURN OFF "scan velocity", if equipped. 4. Select "Normal" or "Warm" Color Temperature if available. 5. Adjust Brightness(Black Level) up to just below point where picture begins to look foggy. You should now see detail on the news anchor's dark suit. 6. Raise and lower sharpness until you find the point where it just starts to add edges to images and graphics(stock market numbers, for instance). This setting may end up well below the middle point. 7. You know have a very good Black&White picture! Slowly raise Color(Chroma) until skin tones look like someone IN PERSON, not like a cartoon. On most TVs, even flat panels, color will end up set slightly below the middle point(internal color settings exxaggerate color & contrast to make the TV stand out on the retail floor). 8. Adjust Tint(Hue, Phase) ONLY IF you detect slight green or purplish in skin tones. 9. Congratulations! Now you're ready to really enjoy that old tube set. :)

Sat, Aug 9, 2014 London, UK

CRTs have been around for at least 80 years. They've had a long time to evolve. In the short period of time that we've had LCDs & alternative flatscreen displays in the mainstream (about 10 years), we've been able to supercede all but the very subtle features of CRT (hmm no dead pixels, and support for any vertical resolution - not horizontal resolution as that is cemented by the RGB strips of phosphorous). So we'll certainly iron out any of those issues, but we're still in a rapid period of display technology evolution. Flexible, Transparent, OLED displays will be the big thing, and when these have really high pixel density, it won't matter how bad your eyesight is, if you can read a newspaper then you'll be able to read from such a screen. Lets not forget the many advances of LCD and other alternative display technology from the weight, and size savings, environmental conservation, making modern laptops and smart phones possible. None of us really want to go back to that era where a 46" TV weighs a ton, and costs $10,000 - Can you just imagine if plane's in-flight entertainment systems relied on CRTs instead of LCDs, the added fuel just to carry all that added weight???

Sun, Jul 6, 2014

CRT displays are not power hogs. LCD generally only consumes slightly less power. LCD is not green. LCD contains toxic mercury.

Fri, May 30, 2014 Hedgey Hogg

I have a 19" Sony Trinitron Multiscan 420GS crt monitor, built in the 1990's and given away to me free after spending most of it's life in storage in an old fella's garage. I wouldn't give it up for anything. A friend of mine spent many hundreds of pounds on a flat screen Samsung and frankly, it looks terrible. I'll be using thiss monitor until either it dies or I do.

Fri, Apr 4, 2014 Bongo San Diego

(April 2014) I'm writing this on a ViewSonic p225f CRT. I've had for 6 years and the guy before me had it for 6 years. It cost him $900 new and cost me $50 used. ;) It has 20" (4:3 viewable) weighs 64 lbs and is 23 inches deep. It can do 2048 x 1536 @ 60 Hz, but I run it at 1024 x 768 @ 100 Hz. I think one thing a lot of people don't realize is that a good CRT can do ANY resolution below it's maximum PERFECTLY CRISP. LCDs suck at that unless you do EXACTLY 1/2 resolution. So why am I STILL using a CRT in 2014? I HAVE BAD EYESIGHT. You can do all the font adjustment stuff you want but if you don't see well then the ONLY SURE WAY to make EVERYTHING bigger is to LOWER THE RESOLUTION of your monitor. I have 20/25 vision with hard contacts but I can only use them a few hours a day. With glasses, I only see 20/60. At 1024x768 I can BARELY see things and still need to increase font size on websites and sometimes use a magnifying glass to see something small. A good way to understand this is "pixels per inch" (PPI). The HIGHER the PPI the SMALLER everything gets and harder it is to see. 1024x768 @ 20" (4:3) = 64 PPI 1920 x 1080 @ 27" (16:9) = 80 PPI 1920 x 1200 @ 27" (16:10) = 84 PPI 1920 x 1080 @ 24" (16:9) = 92 PPI 1920 x 1200 @ 24" (16:10) = 94 PPI So you see the only way to get everything bigger with the 'standard' monitor resolutions is to buy a HUGE monitor, and you can't put it farther back on the desk because that defeats the purpose. So for us people with bad eyesight we have to buy a junk monitor below HD (1366x768), a massively expensive 4k monitor and run it a 1/2 resolution (2560x1440->1280x720), or a huge expensive monitor that's bigger than my television (32"+). Last but not least, despite my bad eyesight, I CAN seen the difference between 100Hz and 60Hz on 3d games. Once you've seen 100+ Hz YOU WILL NEVER GO BACK to 60 Hz. LCD Monitors have been out for TEN YEARS and FINALLY they are offering decent 100+ Hz monitors but with horrible color quality and viewing angles compared to CRTs from the last century. :P Also CRTs had NO ghosting/motion blur, NO light bleed, EXCELLENT darks/contrast, and perfect color quality. Just my 2 cents as I shop for a new monitor and see nothing I really like. I might have to buy 2 monitors, one for gaming with 120Hz but terrible image, and one with high resolution (to do 1/2 res) + good color for office work. I suppose I will have to wait ANOTHER 10 years to get a monitor that does BOTH. Like my CRT does NOW. ;(

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