CRT monitors are driving a wave of nostalgia fueled by the explosive popularity of retro gaming. Unfortunately, most of the reviews, spec sheets, and comparison data that ever existed have disappeared from the internet, making it hard to know what to look for when scanning eBay and Craigslist ads.
If you’re looking for a new monitor full of the latest and greatest goodies, our guides to the best PC monitors, best 4K monitors, and best gaming monitors can help Find the perfect fit for your needs. But this particular guide will keep you up to date on what’s going on with burn-in, but still desperately needed CRT monitors.
Why you (yes, you!) should buy a CRT computer monitor
CRT monitors to work with portable CDs Players and vinyl records disappeared from fashion with the same incredible speed. Three-quarters of monitors sold in 2001 were CRTs. But in 2006, Sony kicked off an era of discontinuing production of new CRT TVs and monitors.
CRT still has its advantages. Compared to modern LCD monitors, most monitors have better contrast ratios and higher refresh rates, so content looks richer and deeper. There’s a subculture of first-person shooter fans who swear that FPS games always look their best on high-end CRT monitors.
CRT is also a window into the whole media age. Movies, movies, and games made from the inception of television until around 2004 were created with the CRT in mind. You can enjoy old media on a modern LCD or OLED, but it will never be the way it was originally intended. CRT computer monitors are the most versatile and practical option for nostalgia.
A quick note: This guide is for CRT computer monitors, not professional video monitor. PVM is a high-end CRT TV. They’re great for retro console gaming, but aren’t designed for use with computers.
Which CRT monitor brand is the best?
Sony’s Trinitron As in the world of retro CRT TVs and PVMs, dominate the conversation. Trinitron computer monitors are excellent, easy to find, and come from Sony, a brand that people still recognize today. Other standout brands include Mitsubishi, Hitachi, LaCie, NEC, Iiyama and Eizo.
Dell, Gateway, HP and Compaq monitors are less popular, but this could be an opportunity. Instead of making monitors in-house, the big PC makers rebranded monitors from other manufacturers, some using the same CRT tubes as Trinitron and others. However, deciphering what’s in a rebrand can be difficult, so you may need a boost of confidence.
If this is your first CRT, I don’t recommend considering make and model. Trying to find a specific monitor is frustrating and depends on what you dream of Displays, which can take years (or cost thousands of dollars). However, keep the brand in mind when negotiating the price. A Gateway Monitor with mysterious specs might look great, but it’s not worth the high price.
CRT monitors are old, but newer and better
Over the years, the CRT has been improved and refined. The oldest CRT monitors commonly sold are 40 years old. They have lower maximum resolutions, lower refresh rates, and smaller physical display sizes.
Newer CRT monitors, such as those produced in the mid-90s and 2000s, look sharper, handle reflections better, and they display lines in the image or the gap is less obvious. You can also find better on-screen menus with extensive image quality options.
Fortunately, CRT monitors usually have a label that indicates the year or even the month of manufacture. This is printed on the back of the display, or may be found on a sticker in the same location. The newer the better, the best CRTs made over thousands of years.
What size CRT monitor is best?
Most CRT computer monitors have a display size between 13 and 21 inches. However, if you follow my advice and stick with newer monitors, you’ll be comparing monitors between 15 and 21 inches.
I don’t recommend going below 17 inches unless you’re trying to replicate the experience of a late 80s or early 90s computer, or if space is very limited. Smaller CRT monitors feel small by modern standards. They also tend to support lower resolutions that are only suitable for enjoying older content.
is also too problematic, so use large CRTs with caution. A 21-inch CRT monitor can weigh 50 or 60 pounds. You’re unlikely to encounter a CRT computer monitor larger than 21 inches, and if you do, it can weigh closer to 100 pounds. The Sony GDM-FW900 is a truly epic 24-inch 16:9 CRT, the most famous of these rare beasts.
19 inches is the best choice. A CRT monitor of this size is still manageable. It’s about as tall as a 24-inch LCD (and narrower, of course), and it’s not hard to find. Having said that, 17-inch monitors are more common and cheaper, so if you find one, don’t hesitate.
What is the best resolution for a CRT monitor?
The resolution on a CRT computer monitor is not the same as that on a modern LCD. CRT monitors are an analog technology and do not have native resolution. CRT monitors are sometimes guided by “recommended” resolutions, but CRT computer monitors support a range of input resolutions and refresh rates.
Take Hitachi SuperScan 751 as an example. This 19-inch CRT computer monitor lists a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1200 at 85Hz, but supports 1024 x 768 at 130Hz and 640 x 480 at 160Hz.
Generally, the best resolution is the highest you can find. Displays with higher maximum resolutions will also support lower resolutions, and generally have higher refresh rates. The 2048 x 1536 resolution is the highest resolution you can possibly see. 1600 x 1200 is more common.
The importance of resolution depends on your usage. I use my CRT monitor to run Windows 95/98 in a virtual machine, play PC games from the late 90s, and emulate console games. All of these are designed with lower resolutions in mind, so what I’m viewing is usually 1024 x 768 or lower.
If you want to play with a CRT monitor
Doom: Eternal with amazing refresh rates and near-perfect response times, however, you’ll prefer the highest resolution you can find. Resolution is not the final decision on the sharpness of a CRT monitor, but generally speaking, the higher the resolution, the sharper it will be.
What is point spacing and why is it important?
Resolution does not determine the sharpness of CRT monitors. But if this is true, what is it?
Now the answer is a specification, nothing more than a memory: point spacing.
Dot pitch is the distance between dots in a shadow mask or between lines in an aperture grid. More on that later. Remember, CRTs emit electrons in front of the display. A shadow mask or aperture grid filters the electrons so that they hit the phosphors on the front of the display and produce a usable color image. Gaps in the shadow mask or aperture grid can affect the clarity of the image.
The dot spacing is in millimeters. I recommend a monitor with a horizontal dot pitch of about 0.28mm or less. The dot spacing between 0.24mm and 0.21mm is very good. Lower is better, but you probably won’t find a monitor with a dot pitch lower than 0.21mm in your search.
If you care about sharpness at resolution, please give priority to dot pitch over 1600 x 1200. Displays with darker dot pitches may support high resolutions, but will appear
blurry High resolution is better than low resolution. This happens when the dot pitch of the CRT monitor is not up to the task.
If you only care about using the CRT at lower resolutions, the dot pitch is less important. The latest models of CRT monitors can be used at 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 resolution regardless of the dot pitch listed on the spec sheet.
Hood vs. Aperture Grille: Which Is Better?
A shadow mask or aperture grid is a filter used by a CRT computer monitor to ensure that electrons end up where they should be. Shadow masks use a metal mask with evenly spaced holes to do the job. The aperture grille uses a row of wires instead. Sony was the first company to introduce aperture grille technology under the Trinitron brand, but Sony isn’t the only company selling CRT monitors with aperture grilles.
In general, displays with aperture grilles will be preferred over grills with shadow masks. Aperture grids block less light than shadow masks, which translates into a brighter, more colorful picture. Aperture grids are also more suitable for flat CRT displays, although flat shadow mask CRTs are produced.
This is not to say that shadow masks are garbage. Hitachi and NEC have put a lot of effort into shadow mask technology to compete with Sony’s Trinitron, and have been successful. The new Hitachi ErgoFlat or NEC ChromaClear is an excellent monitor. However, if you were to compare two random mid-range monitors, the aperture grille would probably be brighter and more attractive.
What refresh rate is best for CRT monitors?
As mentioned earlier, CRT monitors support a range of resolutions and refresh rates. The higher the resolution, the lower the refresh rate. Most recent models of CRT monitors have a refresh rate of at least 75Hz at their maximum resolution. Lower resolutions come with higher supported refresh rates, up to 200Hz on the best models.
Refresh rate and resolution are related. The CRT monitor with the best refresh rate also supports the highest resolution. If you want the best refresh rate, you’ll want to keep an eye out for a top-of-the-line CRT monitor, and you should expect to use it at lower than the maximum resolution it supports.
Obsessing over the refresh rate of a CRT is usually not worth it. CRT monitors feel smooth not only because of the refresh, but also because of a fundamental difference in how the image is generated. Almost all recent models of CRT monitors support refresh rates of at least 75Hz at the maximum resolution they support, and look surprisingly smooth.
Should you buy a CRT monitor with a curved or flat screen?
Most CRT TVs and monitors have curved (also called convex) glass. This is necessary to solve some problems of CRT technology. CRT manufacturers found a way to overcome these problems in the mid-1990s, and flat-panel CRT monitors entered the market. Shoppers loved them, and flat panel displays dominated the last few years of CRT production.
The biggest difference is the most obvious: curved CRT monitors are curved, while flat CRT monitors are not. Your choice should come down to the “feel” you want. For PCs from the mid-90s or earlier, curved CRTs would feel more accurate, while flat screens were more common after the millennium. Those who wish to use a CRT for modern software and games will also prefer a flat screen.
Connectivity: All VGA unless not
The vast majority of CRT computer monitors you will encounter have a VGA video input. This may be the only input on the monitor. This is an analog technology that most modern computers don’t support, so you’ll need a powered DisplayPort or HDMI to VGA adapter. I use Amazon’s StarTech adapter.
Be careful with the adapter you buy. Many, including the one I bought, have a lower maximum resolution and refresh rate than the best CRT monitors available. It works for me because I mostly drive lower resolutions and my CRT monitor is a mid-range model. However, if I buy a better CRT, I will need to upgrade.
While VGA is dominant, it’s not the only input you’re likely to find. A few of the latest models of CRTs support either DVI-A or DIV-I versions of the analog signal. CRT monitors from the 1980s may use different video inputs. For example, Commodore 1701 and 1702 monitors can use composite inputs (like you see on CRT TVs).
How to Buy the Best CRT Monitor: Cheat Sheet
You now have the knowledge to find the right CRT computer monitor for you. But if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, she’s cheating etc.