Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Wither the poor CRT

Posted by Trixter on July 17, 2006

My wonderful, trusty, always perfect six-year-old Sony G400 19″ Trinitron CRT monitor expired this evening. (I’m typing this on the company laptop.) Which leads to a very interesting problem: How to buy a new CRT?

The question isn’t really a serious one, since you can still order CRTs via the web. But the number of models produced, along with their quality level, is diminishing almost down to nil because of LCDs. I haven’t bought a monitor since the G400, and in those six years the landscape has completely turned 180 degrees: LCDs are now the preferred monitor for new computer purchases. There are new models out all the time, their prices are dropping while sizes are increasing, and they have greatly reduced energy consumption and radiation levels.

My problem is that, for my needs, they all suck.

There is no LCD that can do what I need out of a display device. Before you scream “gaming!”, I am already aware that response times have gone down to 16ms and below, making a true 60Hz refresh rate possible. But I have two very basic needs, one old and one new, that LCDs cannot accomplish today — and, in the case of one need, will never be able to accomplish:

  1. Color depth: I need full 24-bit color out of my display device because of the video work I do (yes, I also have an external broadcast monitor, but I like to work in resolutions greater than 720×576, thanks), and LCDs today are capable of about 18-bit (cheap) to 20-bit (expensive) color output. If you don’t believe me, create some (non-dithered!) gradients in Photoshop of red, green, blue, and luma (black to white) of levels 0-16 and 236-255. Make those gradients go all the way across the screen. You should be able to pick out each level, right? Well, try. You’ll see that some of them are getting posturized.
  2. Multiple resolutions: LCDs have a fixed resolution. If you want to work in a different res than what the LCD provides — like, oh, I don’t know, lowres oldskool gaming — you have to settle for some stretching of individual pixels. No matter how good the algorithm, it looks like ass.

My CRT hunt begins. If you know of any decent, professional 19″ or 21″ trinitron CRTs for sale under $400, lead me to them :-)

March 3rd 2009 Edit:  I was able to repair my Sony G400, but it sits under my desk unused as I have to use a widescreen LCD for my MindCandy 3 HD work.  However, this isn’t terrible; while the LCD has a few issues that bother me, it is indeed 24-bit color (and cost $$$ appropriately to get that).

Also, here are some PNG files for Brolin who wanted to see what the difference was between a good LCD and cheap one:

What you will see on a decent LCD monitor

What you will see on a decent LCD monitor

What you will see on a crappy LCD monitor

What you will see on a crappy LCD monitor

12 Responses to “Wither the poor CRT”

  1. T Zenios said

    I have the same issue with multiple resolutions and gaming since I have 5 computers connected to my 19″ SONY 420GS (From a 386 to an Athlon XP system using a KVM). I suggest you look into repairing the G400 (if its just a blown chip) or finding a used one locally via ebay. You are going to have the same problem people buying VCR’s have now, you can find new ones buy they are built very cheaply and cannot compare to the quality of 5-10 years ago when they were the best you could buy.

  2. T Zenios said

    Oh, I forgot to mention I don’t think SONY has made a new trinitron screen in a few years so anything new will be shadowmask or a clone.

  3. Matt Hite said

    NECs were always pretty decent, no?


  4. Trixter said

    Not really, NECs are shadow-mask. In a shadow-mask crt, the dots are round and aligned in triad clusters; in trinitrons, the triads are flat (skinny) and aligned like they are in LCDs so text is crisper.

  5. Trixter said

    T Zenios: (I keep finding you all over the place :-) Are you sure about Sony not making any more trinitrons? If so, that’s incredibly depressing :-(

  6. Trixter, I’m stupid. I’m trying to recreate the gradients you list. Could you whip up something more specific or point me a general direction? Part of the problem has got to be that my Tablet PC is at home (with Photoshop) and my work PC only has Macromedia Fireworks.

  7. Kaminari said

    I would add another case (which is actually related to case 2).

    3. Custom resolutions: CRTs are a must when you need to create a custom res (say, 512×448) with a tweaking tool like PowerStrip. LCDs are great for productivity work, but they just suck for us poor retrogaming sods.

  8. T Zenios said

    So did you ever find a CRT?

  9. Trixter said

    Turns out the wall had a short (!!). Monitor is fine and still kicking after 7 years.

    Luckily for me, at least one of these comes up on ebay every month, so things could be worse. And my employer recycles CRTS every years so I will always have a steady supply, if I can be less picky (currently standardize on Trinitrons).

  10. T Zenios said

    I would be upset if my SONY 420GS died on me, I use it daily and it must be 8+ years old by now. Snagged a couple free 17″ monitors for my old Mac video editing systems on freecycle, they still work just fine. I think LCD for TV and monitors is a step back in a way, you give up the most important feature (video reproduction) to save on space.

  11. Trixter said

    Exactly. Plus, as Kaminari noted above, LCDs suck ass for retrogaming since you never get an image that fills the screen unless you get lucky and display an image that is an exact multiple of the LCD res. But even then it’s not the same, since older game graphics were authored with scanlines in mind, so the non-scanlined graphics look too bright/harsh.

  12. Trixter,

    Now that I am using Windows again (I am using Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 i386 on my new Dell OptiPlex 960 minitower PC), I felt nostalgic by wanting to play with Photoshop again. I am using Photoshop 7, since that is the greatest version I have. I have been playing with gradients, trying to recreate your LCD posterisation demo. Can you please provide a .psd file? I want to view it on both a CRT and LCD monitor for comparison.

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