The Last Scan
February 7, 2018 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Despite spending the majority of last decade as a piece of unwanted trash left on the curb, there are now desperate measures being taken to keep CRT monitors and televisions alive. Vintage arcade games need them, and you'll need to keep one around if you want to use that old Zapper. If you can't think of anything else, why not turn one into an oscilloscope? posted by selfnoise (43 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Obvious advice, hopefully: don't hack about with old CRTs unless you know how to safely discharge them.
posted by pipeski at 8:47 AM on February 7 [10 favorites]


I swear I've heard people say that for competitive FPSes, CRT monitors have better something-or-other for those frame-perfect hitscan headshots or whatever.
posted by inconstant at 8:51 AM on February 7


Or maybe it was some other kind of outdated monitor technology. What do I know, I was playing FPSes on a toaster laptop with a trackpad.
posted by inconstant at 8:52 AM on February 7


I'll take these dual 24" HD monitors over that old 17" CRT monitor any day.
posted by mikelieman at 8:55 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


desperate measures? i got rid of a 17" inch monitor and had to pay 7 bucks to do so - and it was still working

seems like if they were desperate, they'd have paid me
posted by pyramid termite at 9:00 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I swear I've heard people say that for competitive FPSes, CRT monitors have better something-or-other for those frame-perfect hitscan headshots or whatever.

I believe the claim is that there's less latency than even ultra-fast gaming LCDs.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:02 AM on February 7


I'll take these dual 24" HD monitors over that old 17" CRT monitor any day.

I have quite a few vintage computers and old crt monitors to go with them. It all depends what you are doing with them. I wouldn't go back to a CRT to watch teevee or to use with a modern computer, but they are just right for vintage video games and computers. For example, using my Apple IIc with the original tiny green-phosphor monitor is part of the experience. My ti99/4a just looks wrong hooked up to a modern flat-screen, as does the NES. The CRT is part of the arcade experience. Even if you want to switch to a modern screen, there is also the issue that it is getting really hard to find new LCD panels that have a 4:3 aspect ratio.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:05 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Or maybe it was some other kind of outdated monitor technology. What do I know, I was playing FPSes on a toaster laptop with a trackpad.

I think you've come across a cliue of the gaming community's answer to audiophoolia.
posted by ocschwar at 9:07 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I think I've heard of a charity organization that could help with this...
posted by demonic winged headgear at 9:19 AM on February 7


I believe the claim is that there's less latency than even ultra-fast gaming LCDs.

There's always latency, but the issue isn't so much how much latency there is and more how predictable that latency is. There's a not entirely predictable amount of lag between a game console and the end product of an LCD, more than with a CRT (which is what old games are designed and timed for).

Remember starting up Rock Band or Guitar Hero and having to calibrate the timing of your TV? That's to compensate for those unpredictable milliseconds of latency, which would make a rhythm game unplayable and makes old games designed for CRTs frustratingly difficult. Take Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, a game which is all about responding as quickly as possible to tells or attacks- I can reliably get further on an NES connected to a CRT than I can on an NES connected to an LCD. (My performance on the 3DS Virtual Console version of the game is the same as on the CRT, because the 3DS has a known and consistent lag that Nintendo clearly built the software to account for.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:19 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I still have an old CRT tv in my classroom, and I hooked up my PS1 to it so I can play Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy... games that are harder on HDTVs because of latency issues. Thanks, California, for underfunded tech in the classroom!
posted by Huck500 at 9:21 AM on February 7


My little NES on a giant TV is great. I missed so many small details on a tiny CRT screen. Goodwill around me has a "no CRT" policy, working or not. You have to pay to dispose of them. I hope this trend does become popular enough because I would like to save the money and not have them taking up space in my closets.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:22 AM on February 7


I've actually always wondered what they do with Nam June Paik's works--if one of those CRTs burn out, do they replace it? Do they leave as-is?
posted by anem0ne at 9:23 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


This has been on the radar of my research community for the last decade or so, ever since computer CRTs basically vanished from the market. For quite a few visual perception experiments, we're really concerned with stimulus timing, and the predictability of CRTs is often considered preferable (also, the control over luminance, but mostly the timing).

Many research labs pretty much horde CRTs when they can get good ones, particularly the more esoteric high refresh rate (> 100 Hz) models. For a while, it was possible to find them through secondary channels, but they're nearly impossible to come by now. My graduate advisor had a couple shelves of them in the lab, waiting for when they would be needed.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 9:23 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


CRTs are fun and nostalgic. I've built some dumb terminals out of reclaimed ones. It's entertaining to interact with one for an hour or so. That said: they're such a terrible technology. They're piercing and loud (or so I'm told; my hearing is too shot to notice), they're heavy, they're fragile, the frame rate and resolution are limited, they're hell on the environment, etc. and I'm glad they're dead.

What I do miss is the industrial design cues that CRTs gave us-- look at the VT05, or the TCV 250. A designer couldn't try to "hide" the display with a CRT the way they will with a modern flat panel; it had volume and the support electronics took a bunch of space. The only solution to stuffing all that junk in a trunk was to find some elegant way to make it look nice. Nowadays user-facing electronics design comes down to "how fat a bezel", "how bright are the blue LEDs", and "where do we hide the power cord". I love modern displays, but CRT displays for me are like Brutalism: it can be lovely, ugly, moving, and surprising but for fuck's sake please don't make any more of it.
posted by phooky at 9:27 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Surely it's only a matter of time before someone starts making handmade artisanal CRTs, in the way that they do nixie tubes and Edison lightbulbs. Exotic varieties like vector displays (think Vectrex, old Atari arcade cabinets or old-school oscilloscopes; either round or rectangular) may be first, followed by VT100-style green screens with that funky extra-persistent phosphor that's not really practical (though if you want practical, buy a LCD for 1/20 of the price), though I'm sure someone will soon turn to making big old RGB glass bottles with extra-chunky colour bars for rich people's Galaga cabinets.

And as for winding CRTs being a lost art, I'm not sure that's insurmountable. This is not Damascus steel we're talking about. Also, I remember the dire prognostications from a decade or so ago about how the one guy in the world who could fix the lathes used to cut vinyl record masters was in his 80s, and when he died, there'd be no more vinyl records ever.
posted by acb at 9:29 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has one of Nam Jun Paik's last works. It was not aging well, as a result of tape degradation and the loss of CRTs, so they had to take it down. The Brooks is planning on moving to a new facility right now, so there's no word on what might happen to Vide-O-Belisk. I hope it's restored to its former glory.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:30 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


The library I lived near had an e-waste recycling day and had just stacks and stacks of CRTs and unfortunately the very clearly stated rule is This Is Not A Fleat Market, You Asshole so I couldn't just dive in there and dig around for a Sony PVM or BVM that I desperately want to own even though I don't really have any reason to.
posted by griphus at 9:33 AM on February 7


I recently ran across this tale of fixing Computer Space, which used a black-and-white GE Adventurer II TV, the last model with tubes (except for y'know, the big one.)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:37 AM on February 7


My hearing has probably deteriorated enough now that it wouldn’t be an issue, but I always used to hate the sound that crts made. I don’t miss them at all.

That said, the issue of supporting bygone technologies is interesting, because as noted there are still purposes for crts.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:37 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I've actually always wondered what they do with Nam June Paik's works--if one of those CRTs burn out, do they replace it? Do they leave as-is?

According to this article, although the Paik Estate Archive has made efforts to maintain his artworks with CRTs, apparently Paik himself was not such a purist:
According to Hanhardt, Paik didn’t want to limit his work to cathode ray tubes, but envisioned his work on flat screens and in various kinds of projected formats. “That’s a quality as a Fluxus artist: believing in change, morphing and moving and not being the same,” Hanhardt said. “He was very pragmatic,” he added. Paik would ask, “What’s the best way to keep things alive and relevant, and to keep things working?”
Here in Cincinnati, one of Paik's public artworks -- "Metrobot" -- was recently brought back out of storage to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Contemporary Arts Center's current location. The reinstated Metrobot was given a few technological upgrades to its message board and internal electronics, supervised by Paik's original collaborators.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:41 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I built a MAME cabinet about 15 years ago that uses a 20" CRT monitor that weighs a ton and is deeper than it is wide. They were throwing it out at work one day so I took it home. I bet some researcher paid $2000.00 for it when it was new and it looked pretty sweet attached to his 386 with VGA. I've been seriously considering replacing it with a flat panel, assuming it would work on the Pentium III the system runs on. My reasoning is it would weigh less and I could potentially modify the cabinet so it wasn't as deep. I'd still have the feeling of standing in front of an arcade machine but without two extra feet of wasted space behind it.

I know purists would say playing Donkey Kong or Tetris on a flat panel wouldn't be the same as on a CRT, but I think it would be good enough and worth the trade off.

I also have an old 17" TV that I use with an Atari 2600 and a TRS-80 Color Computer. I'm sure there's a way to run these things off an HDTV but I haven't looked into it yet. I have one of those old silver switchboxes that screw into where the antenna goes on the back of the TV. From there a single RCA type connector goes to the console.

I would very much like to rid my life of CRTs once and for all, but I gotta get my retro gaming on.

If anyone has any thoughts on these important matters, I'd love to hear them.
posted by bondcliff at 9:41 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


You can scan
Every line on the screen, pixels red, blue, and green
From the left to the right

You can dither and raster
At 50Hz or faster
The phosphors dim and bright

But don't forget the vsync,
The luminance, Cr, and Cb
And darlin, save the last scan for me.

I know the fields are interlaced,
with 75 ohm you're interfaced
to the balun upstream

As the image is projected
By the e-beam, deflected
All over the screen.

But don't forget the format
Be it PAL or NTSC
And darlin, save the last scan for me
posted by 7segment at 9:46 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


why not turn one into an oscilloscope?

Naw, the way more funner project is a music-driven lissajous scope.

- Take an old stereo receiver and an old tv set
- disconnect the X and Y deflection coils on the yoke from their driver circuits
- hook them up to the left and right speaker output channels of the stereo.
- link the receiver's line inputs to the line outs of your main stereo system.
- put on some Pink Floyd and zone out, man.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:52 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I mean if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, you can spent a ton of money for that authentic classic gaming experience. Here’s an episode of Retronauts where they talk about it.
posted by Huck500 at 9:53 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I have an old 15" Sony broadcast video monitor that I use for retro gaming. It is indeed awesome. I worry about what I will do when something in it finally fails. I've had that thing for a couple decades now.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:56 AM on February 7


Yeah, they say the old things are no good any more. Well, let me tell you they may not be efficient as the new things, but the old things had heart, they were warm, they were part of the family. Why, I used to pat my old thing and talk to it almost like it was alive. You can’t tell me anyone could do that with the new things. The new things are cold and functional and the world is a less joyful place than when me and my old thing were doing our stuff.
posted by Segundus at 9:57 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Uh, just don't pat your old thing out here on the porch, ok? Do it inside.

(I'm starting to realize that more and more of what I'm doing-- ripping the guts out of older electronics and putting new brains inside-- isn't so much "restoration" or "retrofitting" so much as "taxidermy".)
posted by phooky at 10:00 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Now I can tell the SO what a genius I am for keeping that CRT in the garage.

Genius, I tell you.
posted by Splunge at 10:19 AM on February 7


I think you've come across a cliue of the gaming community's answer to audiophoolia.

UGH!

CRTs have three relative advantages for FPS games:
1) As mentioned, latency is guaranteed to be low. Of course low latency LCDs also exist, but you have to pay attention to specs and reviews to get one, and they sometimes cost more.
2) Refresh rate. Not all CRTs have high refresh rates, but almost all CRTs are essentially free for the taking, so picking one with better specs is easy. Of course high refresh rate LCDs exist too, but they are relatively expensive.
3) Motion blur. Motion blur is a HUGE issue. Yes, expensive LCDs can also compensate for motion blur.

And, you do know that audiophilia isn't all BS, right?
posted by Chuckles at 10:21 AM on February 7


Aha, part 2 has a fantastic visualisation of Motion Blur.
posted by Chuckles at 10:30 AM on February 7


I really should have included this in the OP, but here's a long primer on why retro consoles on modern TVs is such a mess. (The author does ultimately seem to have enjoyed the journey more than the destination, though).
posted by selfnoise at 10:40 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


If you want hilarious, try connecting an Apple IIgs to a modern monitor. Sure, they have composite output, but it was clearly designed by Sean Connery because it's composhite output. Horrible wobbly colour blobs everywhere. Its analogue colour output talks to nothing made this century, and the purported workarounds require weird driver boards sourced direct from Shenzhen with snappy names like GBS-8220 or SG-VC9900. I'm determined to get this IIgs working because for such an expensive machine at the time, it's hilariously crap now.

The whole latency-CRT-is-better totally sidesteps the “you're getting older, maybe you don't have the same reactions as you did” issue.
posted by scruss at 11:47 AM on February 7


The whole latency-CRT-is-better totally sidesteps the “you're getting older, maybe you don't have the same reactions as you did” issue.

No, the latency issues affect everybody. Age is irrelevant.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:14 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I will admit I have never been good enough at gaming for it to matter to me and my love of CRTs is totally due to being a purist, but display lag is a thing. It isn't just people being weirdly nostalgic about CRTs or thinking back to their youthful gaming glory days.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:27 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I miss degaussing
posted by whuppy at 12:34 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


Display lag on LCDs versus CRTs is like one of those YouTube videos comparing the sound of a Stradivarius to the sound of a $150 beginner violin. Turns out, talent accounts for 99-point-some-large-number-of-nines percent of the final sound quality, rather than equipment!

So unless you're Fatality or whatever, you've got ten million other things you should be working on to improve your gameplay before you worry about tens of milliseconds of input lag from using an LCD.

Of course, if you just like using CRTs, more power to you, but as with all things "gamer" there's an obsession with tiny percentages over basic core competence.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:56 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


This is so absolutely dead wrong that it's a little depressing reading it. Forget lag, it exists, but it's a red herring. Motion blur on a 60Hz LCD means that you can not read "fast" scrolling text. Try reading as you scroll through a list of items on eBay, for example. You can't! You have to stop scrolling and leave the image static and read the page and then scroll again.

I do game on a CRT, but I don't use it for reading text. It's a little out of focus, a bit dim, not very great contrast. But, the motion blur is good enough that reading scrolling text is possible. I keep thinking about spending $600 on a monitor just so that I can reduce every day motion blur like scrolling through MetaFilter's front page, or lists of eBay items, or whatever. I wouldn't be using that monitor for gaming, that would probably still happen on the CRT, but if you've never seen an A-B motion blur comparison, you just don't know what the fuck you are talking about.

Like, can you read the text on this scrolling map? On a CRT you can!
posted by Chuckles at 4:04 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


I mean, for what it's worth, nobody in that particular scene was saying "y'all should just get CRT monitors, that'll make you win more", it was more like "so-and-so top competitive player prefers CRT monitors because blah blah blah" (i.e. literally about the top 0.1% or whatever).

Personally, I doubt I'd be able to read text scrolling that fast even if it was literally a long paper scroll -- but my eyesight is not exactly the greatest to begin with, I'll grant you.
posted by inconstant at 4:47 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I miss degaussing
I miss having a degausser and sneaking up behind someone using a CRT.
posted by MtDewd at 5:44 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Chuckles: "Try reading as you scroll through a list of items on eBay, for example. You can't! You have to stop scrolling and leave the image static and read the page and then scroll again. "

Or one could just shit can "smooth scrolling", configure your system to scroll a page at a time the way $Deity intended and get nice crisp letters on an LCD. Also give you something to rant about when some lousy web page has navigation/branding/ad banners that cover the page instead of being distinct entities.
posted by Mitheral at 6:15 PM on February 7


A while ago, I built an arcade cabinet using a Raspberry Pi and a HDMI LCD screen. It is somewhat comforting to know that the decline in my performance in Gyruss and Bubble Bobble as compared to playing them in arcades a few decades ago is a result of LCD latency rather than age-related cognitive decline. (Of course, it's probably a combination.)
posted by acb at 3:13 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Motion blur on a 60Hz LCD means that you can not read "fast" scrolling text. Try reading as you scroll through a list of items on eBay, for example. You can't!

This is what I miss the most about CRTs. I held onto my last late 90s 19" monitor with a knock-off Trinitron tube (from after Sony's patent expired) for years (probably until 2010 or so) but eventually LCDs got good enough that I stopped taking it out of storage for gaming and after a few years of seeing it squatting in the back of my closet I made myself get rid of it.

Yeah, I can't play Duck Hunt, and screen lag and blur do bother me, but there's only so much stuff you can hold onto because it did one thing well. Plus now I'm used to gaming at 1920x1200 (or 5760x1200) and I think it would feel both cramped and low-res.

I used to have a home-made Fresnel lens (the flat plastic kind) hood made from cardboard that would attach to the front of it for flight and space sims, such that the lens was held a few inches from my face and looking through would mostly fill your field of vision. Now I have three screens on arms instead, and when not pulled out they're a few inches away from the wall. Whereas, the CRT was probably about a foot deep.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:47 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


« Older A start, not an end point.   |   "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ORANGUTAN?" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments