What is a CRT?
A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) is a vacuum tube that sends beams of electrons down towards a phosphor screen via electron guns. These electron beams are magnetically deflected at the speed of light towards a screen to display various images that can form electrical data, pictures/videos, etc. While some CRTs are black & white, others can display color by sending three electron beams (red, blue, and green) to form images that utilize a full color spectrum. CRT technology has been surpassed and replaced over the past couple decades, replaced with more modern technology displays such as LCD, Plasma, and OLED, due to cheaper manufacturing costs and ease of manufacturing in mass quantities. However, there are many reasons that the use of CRT technology lives on today, and why good quality CRTs are necessary to preserve. The rest of this page serves to describe many of these reasons.
Reasons to Use a CRT Display Today
(Retro) Gaming Consoles
Many gamers, primarily retro gamers, have flocked to re-acquire CRT displays over the past ten years, to make up for the difficulties that many experience when trying to play video games on modern displays. This resurgence in popularity for gamers is akin to the what the music industry is seeing today with vinyl records. Many gaming consoles that would be considered retro by today's standards output video in 240p and 480i resolutions, which modern displays are incapable of reading signals and outputting video for. Many of these consoles were developed and sold with CRTs in mind, as opposed to LCDs, given that the industry made a transition around 2004 - 2006.
Older Video Formats & 4:3 Aspect Ratio Content
Similarly to video games, older analog media formats, such as VHS, LaserDisc, etc. were all designed, built, and sold with CRT display technology in mind. While there are VCRs that are compatible with modern LCD displays, various difficulties are often experienced when trying to view analog video media on modern displays.
Analog Technoloy is Both Nostalgic & Awesome!
To put it plain and simple, many people seek out owning a CRT today for nostalgic reasons, or as a result of having an appreciation for older analog technology. For decades, televisions and computer displays were exclusively built using Cathode Ray Tubes. It is likely that for anybody born in the last century, many memories of consuming visual media relate to CRTs. Also, unlike modern technology, analog technology was often designed to last for decades, and many CRTs from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are still being used today. Additionally, servicing and repairs can often be made to older analog technology with much greater ease than modern technologies, much of which is designed around being as slim or compact as possible.
Main Benefits of Using a CRT Display
Proper Display Resolution
As mentioned previously, modern displays often struggle to display or are entirely incompatible with lower resolutions, such as 240p and 480i, which is known as NTSC (NA/JP) or PAL (EU), depending on the global region. Many CRTs were built around these resolution standards, and are able to display them naturally.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using CRTs as opposed to LCDs would be the differences in motion clarity. While there have been major improvements to motion clarity on modern display technology over the past decade, due to the nature of CRTs and how they work, with electrons of light being sent down the cathode ray and shot at the tube display, they are objectively superior to LCDs when it comes to frame rate lag. While not particularly relevant for viewing media such as shows or movies, for many gamers frame rate lag being as low as possible is preferred to support natural human reaction times while playing games.
Scanlines, also known as blanking lines, result from the way that the cathode ray scans and sends light in lines across the tube. Many retro video games were developed and designed with scanlines being a consideration, and when these games are played on modern displays that use technology different from CRTs, the image displayed can appear incorrect or wonky. Visual examples can be found in many online videos explaining the benefits of CRT technology.
Conversion Avoidance (Cost Savings)
Converting older analog media formats, whether it be video games, movies, etc. can be expensive and require modern devices that were designed to upscale and convert to more modern input formats, such as HDMI or DVI. Finding a CRT for cheap or free can help avoid costs that would be incurred trying to play retro game consoles or older media on newer displays that lack resolution or input compatibility.
Main Drawbacks of Using a CRT Display
Weight, Size, & Space
Of course, it would be naive to disregard the argument that CRT technology was moved away from due to the weight and size of displays that utilized this technology, as well as the space required to store and use one. Smaller CRTs between 9 inches and 14 inches are typically easy to pick up and store and can range from weights of 25 - 60 pounds. Larger CRTs, such as 20, 24, 27, 32, and even 36-inch CRTs are MUCH larger, and can weigh anywhere from 70 - 300 pounds. If space or the ability to move a CRT from one place to another are a concern, it may be in your best interest to look for a smaller set, or avoid CRT displays all together.
Deterioration of Quality from Time & Usage
Although CRT displays are capable of displaying beautiful pictures as a result of the technology used to make them work, they can also develop various issues over time. While many issues relating to picture quality or geometry (the way that an image fills the space on a tube) are solvable through service menu adjustments made on the display with a remote or button set, replacement of worn capacitors, or even with magnetic adjustments, some issues such as tube burn in, or a tube being worn down can be difficult or even impossible to fix.
Doing repair work on CRTs can also be dangerous for those who are uninformed about proper/necessary precautions to take when doing so and should be deeply researched prior to pursuing. If you are new to CRTs, PLEASE DO NOT OPEN THEM UP WITHOUT THE NECESSARY TOOLS AND INFORMATION!