A CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitor is an analog display device that creates a visible image on the screen by directing three electron beams over millions of phosphor dots to make them light up. In a color monitor, the screen is composed of numerous stripes of alternating red, green, and blue phosphor dots, which get activated by the electrons and combine to make countless different hues.
The electron beam repetitively scans the entire front of the tube to “paint” and refresh the image nearly 100 times every second. Computer monitors and televisions that use CRT technology have large, heavy physical casings. The long length between the front screen and the back of the case is necessary to accommodate the length of the vacuum tube.
A Brief History of CRT Monitors
Cathode-ray tubes were commonly used in televisions and computer monitors throughout the mid-to-late 1900s. Throughout that time, manufacturers continually improved performance and resolution. Most computer monitors in the 1970s only displayed green text on a black screen. By 1990, IBM’s Extended Graphics Array (XGA) display boasted 16.8 million colors in 800 x 600 pixel resolution.
In the early 2000s, advances in technology made flat-panel displays more accessible. These newer display types (LCD, plasma, and OLED) don’t require a large casing and are more energy efficient. Manufacturing costs are lower than for CRT monitors, and flat-panel displays can be made in larger sizes than CRTs. These factors make flat-panel displays far more popular among consumers.
- German physicists Julius Plücker and Johann Wilhelm Hittorf first observed cathode rays in 1869.
- The Braun tube was the earliest version of a CRT. It was invented by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1897.
- Japanese engineer Kenjiro Takayanagi demonstrated a CRT television in 1929.
- German manufacturer Telefunken started making CRT television sets in 1934.
- LCD screens surpassed CRTs in 2008.
Is a CRT Monitor Dangerous?
Depending on how old you are, you may remember your parents chiding you for sitting too close to the TV and claiming that it would damage your eyes. However, these fears seem to be largely unsubstantiated. There are some legitimate health and safety concerns with CRT monitors, but none of them link sitting too close to the screen with negative effects on eyesight.
- A CRT monitor emits X-ray radiation, but it’s a small amount that’s regulated by the FDA.
- There is a significant amount of stored electrical charge in a CRT, even one that’s powered off. Breaking a CRT monitor or attempting to dismantle it without proper tools and training can lead to a severe electrical shock.
- Puncturing the vacuum tube will create an implosion that can spray glass shards everywhere.
- CRT monitors contain toxic materials, including mercury, which can leak out if the monitor breaks.
If you have a CRT monitor you no longer want, it’s not safe to toss it in your trash can. You should contact your local authorities for information on safe disposal methods and/or recycling options.
Is CRT Better Than LCD?
While flat-panel LCD and OLED monitors and televisions are more common nowadays than CRTs, the older technology is still superior in some ways. A CRT monitor can display/refresh an image faster than an LCD screen. This means the monitor can respond faster to input and avoid motion-blur issues that are common in LCD screens. The color range and contrast is often better on a CRT, and this type of monitor supports deeper black tones. For some computer gamers, these advantages are enough to warrant scouring the internet for old CRT monitors.
Can You Still Buy CRT Monitors?
If you want to check out the benefits of a CRT monitor for yourself, prepare for a bit of work. Because CRTs aren’t manufactured anymore, you won’t be able to grab one at your local big box store. You’ll probably be able to find a decent selection on eBay or through Craigslist or your local thrift store. CRT monitors can be pricey, especially if you have to pay for shipping, and it’s important to make sure you choose a model that’s compatible with your computer or gaming console.
Will CRT Monitors Make a Comeback?
When LCDs took over the market in the early 2000s, most companies drastically reduced their CRT manufacturing to account for the decreased demand. Sony stopped making CRT monitors in 2005, and 2008 was the last year Samsung introduced new CRT models. Despite pleas from a small number of passionate gamers who prefer CRT screens over LCDs, the lack of adequate market demand will likely prevent any major company from restarting production any time soon.