It's true: playing modern games on an old CRT monitor offers really fantastic results, subjectively superior to those we get with any LCD era monitor, including the most modern OLED panels. Especially appropriate for PC players, getting an optimal CRT configuration is not a simple task, with prices that vary dramatically, but the results can be phenomenal.
The advantages of CRT technology over modern flat panels are more than known. CRTs do not operate with a fixed array of pixels just like an LCD does, and instead three rays of light are emitted directly to the tube. This implies that there is no blurring of scaling and that they do not have a specific native resolution. With low resolutions you can see more scanlines, but the truth is that even with resolutions like 1024×768 or 1280×960 the games look great. Obviously high-end CRT monitors accept higher resolutions, but the important thing here is that getting rid of the native resolution totally changes the situation. Why waste so many GPU resources on the number of pixels drawn when you can focus on quality without worrying about the blurring produced by rescaling?
The second advantage is the resolution of the movement. All LCD technologies use a technique known as 'sample and hold', whose results when rendering motion are of a significantly lower resolution than static images. Have you ever noticed how the movement from one side of the camera to another in a football match seen on an LCD makes the image more blurry than an static camera? That is a classic example of a poor movement resolution, something that never occurs in a CRT. The management of the movement in a CRT is at another level compared to modern technologies because each frame is rendered identically, to the point that even a 768p presentation can offer more detail in motion than a 4K LCD.
And then there is the lag, or rather, the total absence of it. The images are transmitted directly to the screen at the speed of light, so the delay is non-existent. Even if you compare it with a 240Hz LCD panel, the typical mouse response feels different, faster. Advantages at the response level – especially in an entry mechanism as precise as the mouse – need no explanation.
In general terms there is the feeling that games and hardware grow with CRT technology. The graphics are increasingly realistic, and there is something in the presentation of a CRT that emphasizes even more that realism. Aliasing, for example, is much less problematic than on an LCD with a fixed grid of pixels. Secondly, PC hardware has evolved to the point that using refresh rates above 60Hz is relatively simple, and many CRT monitors can operate at higher frequencies, up to 160Hz or more, depending on the model and resolution. All this is quite good for a technology that became obsolete when we changed millennium.
And with this the negative aspects of playing with a CRT begin to appear. The technology is outdated and this produces some defects. The most obvious is the format: CRT monitors are large, bulky and weigh a lot. I bought what is generally considered one of the best CRT jams manufactured: the Sony Trinitron FW900, 24 inches and 16:10 format. As you can see in the video, the image quality it offers is enormous, but also what the monitor occupies. It weighs 42 kilos and with a size of 600x550mm also requires a lot of space at home.
Then there is the problem of tickets. The monitors use VGA, DVI-I or RGB BNC for components, and the most modern graphics card that supports these inputs is the GTX 980 Ti or the Titan X Maxwell. Fortunately there are converters from HDMI, USB-C and DisplayPort to VGA, but you will spend a lot of time searching the internet for the correct configuration if you intend to go beyond 1920×1200 to 60Hz. There are few panoramic CRT monitors, and even the Sony FW900 has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which makes it not the most appropriate to play with consoles – and 4: 3 monitors, still less. Yes, you can play your consoles on a CRT, but I think for many reasons it is much more appropriate if you play with a PC.
Finally there is the issue of cost, as well as the quality of the screen you get to buy. The FW900 is a legendary monitor with a high price at the height of its fame. However, the 19-inch Sony Trinitron G400 4: 3 bought by our partner John Linneman cost him only ten euros, and also offers great results. What is common for both John and me is that the monitors were not in the best condition when we bought them second-hand, something expected being items with more than twenty years behind them. Also keep in mind that monitors are made of glass and that reflection can be problematic. To record the video that accompanies this article I had to film at night so that the reflections on the screen were not a problem.
There are a few hits, of course, but the results when you play with very satisfactory. Modern games can be seen sensationally in a CRT, with the advantages of a high refreshment and the possibility of putting the detail to the maximum by not having to worry so much about the resolution as a fundamental factor in the image quality. The current premium LCDs are trying to recover the great benefits offered by the CRT of yesteryear – low latency, high refreshment and little input lag – but, good as they are, we believe that even the best LCD in the market is now capable of surpassing A good tube monitor when playing with your PC.
Translation by Josep Maria Sempere.