The sad slow death of cathode ray tubes

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Here’s the gold standard for replacement:

But you can probably rig your own for significantly less:


I have two tube monitors and one TV sitting in my living room right now. The TV is for my old game consoles when I want to be reminded how they are actually supposed to look, one of the monitors is for the arcade cabinet I built and haven’t re-assembled yet, and the second monitor I think I just have because I never got rid of it.

I honestly don’t know if the TV works anymore since I haven’t turned it on in a couple years. I should probably check on that. Ditto for the arcade cabinet monitor.


My pets have been very pleased with the upgrade to LED.


Mine have not. The cat has lost his catwarmer:


Nothing sad about it. Those babies were full of lead, that was why they were so heavy. The fewer neurotoxins we have to mine, process and bring into our homes, the better. And then there’s the disposal issue, both for the lead, and the big heavy box.

But this nostalgia is nothing next to the coming nostalgia for the “sad, slow” death of the internal combustion engine vehicle, with its memory-inducing stimuli of loud noise and that particular smell, and all the lovely machinery like a 19th century brass clock is full of.

The sad slow death of cathode ray tubes

You mean those heavy, expensive pieces of fragile glass that also emit x-rays?


I wonder whether LEDs and emulators have the refresh/processing rate sufficient to port games like Tempest well.

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Yes, the ones that images in a particular way that really can’t be imitated on modern hardware.

Tempest is vector, there’s currently nothing besides a vector CRT that will display it well. I’ve had an idea of using lasers and a phosphor screen to try and do it, but I couldn’t figure out a method to get the deflection rate fast enough.

Hey now, CRTs really aren’t that fragile. And x-rays? I thought that was a net positive! Mutants unite!

I wouldn’t call that a replacement in most cases. I don’t know if it has decent 4:3 restriction in the panel, but it won’t fit in many cabinets (they are made for 4:3 screens), upscaling from 15kHz/25kHz modes is going to look meh without shaders to do the heavy lifting, and the worst aspect of all: FLICKERING.

The flickering is a problem for all emulation and using LCDs instead of CRTs for old games. Almost all games that had any sort of transparency back in the day would flicker the sprite instead of using an alpha channel (what’s an alpha channel? oh, you want me to do that? lol no, not spending that much CPU time on that!). The persistence of the CRT would give the sprite a bit of a transparent effect. It’d be nice to try and do this in a shader on modern hardware for emulation, but I don’t think it’d work too well. :confused:


There’s also sub-types of CRT’s that are getting hard to find and save. CGA and RGBI specific vintage computers (Commodore 128, TI-99 etc.) need the older monitors that will sync at 15khz and accept TTL voltage levels.

Those computers were obsolete in the very early 90’s and the CRT’s that supported them ceased manufacture shortly thereafter.

It’s not as simple as just plugging them into a VGA monitor. There are adapters, but they are typically expensive, frequently wonky and render colors wrongly. (Also, please no links to the Ebay listings of Chinese made, arcade specific, RGB to VGA adapters, those do not support the resolutions, framerates or RGBI for that matter.)

Vintage monitors that were curb trash 15 years ago are selling for $300 - $400 to Gen Xers wanting to relive their youth.


I thought every CRT eventually succumbed to burn-in, especially on an arcade machine. I remember seeing a a title as modern as House of the Dead III that had the HUD and attract-mode graphics permanently ghosted into the background.

There’s no practical way to restore the phosphor once it’s decayed, is there?


I’m of the opinion that flat screen displays are fine in something like a MAME cabinet but are a crime in vintage hardware. A greater crime, however, is tearing apart a perfectly good cabinet to make your MAME machine. Building your own is way more rewarding.


Theoretically at a high enough resolution you could emulate a vector CRT…I’m not sure that 4k would be enough but it would be interesting to see… But of course rendering at UHD is going to take lots of processing power and I suspect that a lag of 0.1 seconds would be noticeable…So a vector game like Space Wars or Major Havoc might be playable but Tempest wouldn’t

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This would have been a different movie with LCDs.


No, you can’t emulate a vector CRT with an LCD screen, no matter what the resolution. The flicker is vector-based. You’d need a screen with 10 kHz refresh rate to achieve the look.


Too bad that we can’t take the best of those millions of old CRTs that are moldering away in warehouses and give them to the hundreds of folks who run arcades. Surely there’s some model of mass-produced TV set that uses a tube that would fit in a Pac Man cabinet?


Thing is, there’s a lot that you’d need to emulate in shaders and I don’t think anything would be able to keep up. There’s a lot of effects that you get on vector monitors, especially B&W ones, that are probably impossible to faithfully reproduce on an LCD panel; in particular the beam intensity dynamic range. You just can’t get that kind of brilliance with anything but a vector CRT. (I’m still in search though)

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Yeah, I agree. That way you can build or modify a cabinet to suit if you’re going for a MAME machine. Upon that you can shove in enough GPU grunt to handle BGFX to emulate a CRT almost convincingly.

the horizontal resolution varies between arcade games, even if they are using “CGA” timings. That stretching results in weird artifacts (aliasing) on LCDs and OLED displays that have discrete pixels.
Also I see a lot of advertisements for “LED monitors” that are just LCDs with LED backlight (instead of CCFL). Not really the the same thing.