My Turn

The CRT Isn't Dead Yet

James Kachel
2001.05.15

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Some of the buzz on the Mac Web lately is that CRT-based displays are at the end of the line. One Web writer, Charles W. Moore, has signaled the end of them on numerous occasions. To add to that, Apple has discontinued its own 17" CRT display, possibly ending a long-lasting family of good Apple-branded CRT monitors. (I say possibly here, because, well, isn't it just typical of Apple to kill a product before introducing a new "insanely great" version of it later on? Who knows, they may just have needed to stop Web sales early in order to get the brick-and-mortar retailers' orders satisfied.)

While I respect the opinion of Charles W. Moore, and in quite a few ways agree with him (more on that later), I think we're heralding the end of the CRT display a bit prematurely. Granted, LCDs have numerous advantages over CRTs. First off, they flicker less. This alleviates health problems in many people, including Mr. Moore, who's complained in the past about how CRTs gave him headaches. Indeed, I've heard stories of people who can not use a CRT display at a refresh rate below around 85 Hz - and it would seem that this hypersensitivity to flicker may become more prevalent as time goes on. (I'm not completely sure this is fact, however. I myself can stand refresh rates of 43.5 Hz Interlaced with no headaches or appreciable eye strain. The range swings both ways, it seems.) LCDs don't have this problem. And, of course, the more obvious advantages, such as smaller size, less power consumption, and a crisper image are also there.

It seems like CRT displays have been licked, right? Well, CRTs still have a couple of advantages over LCDs. One big one is price. This is a big factor to some people! I know that buying a standard $140 beige 17" screen just ruins the aesthetics of the Cube (and it does - they have a Cube at a local CompUSA set up that way, and it just looks dirty), and that if we wanted cheap, we'd all be using PCs (or, in my case, really old Macs), but there are also a lot of people who can only spend $1,500 on a computer system. That pretty much leaves the nifty Apple LCD displays out of their price range, even with the cheapest model Cube. (I'm specifically assuming here the user is out to buy a desktop system. The same can hold true for an iBook, especially if the user wants to do most of their work on something bigger than a 12.1" display.) Looking at best price (see Pricewatch) new displays, the cheapest 17" is $114, where the cheapest 15" XGA LCD display is $365. That's quite a difference, and it may be a make-or-break decision for people who just plain don't have a lot of money to throw at a new computer. LCD pricing has come a long way, but it still has a ways to go before it catches up with CRT display pricing.

There's another big factor that works in favor of CRT displays as well, and that's resolution. 15" LCD displays may only get XGA (1024 x 768) resolutions. Contrast that to a lot of 17" displays that can comfortably do 1280 x 1024. And even slightly higher-end ones can do 1600 x 1280, like Apple's now discontinued 17".

LCDs don't come close enough for many users even in higher screen sizes - compare the Cinema Display to what you can get in a 19" or 21" screen. Sizes like 1920x1440 and 2048x1536 are available, and then on CRT displays. In fact, I was not able to find more than about two TFT LCD display that were capable of resolutions past 1280 x 1024! Now, while some readers may balk at having a resolution that high, I'm sure a lot of others will be drooling. (Like me, for example.) Some of us just plain run out of desktop space. I do it all the time - I simply cannot work on a Windows PC with less than 1024 x 768 resolution or on a Mac with less than 800 x 600. There's not enough screen space to do what I need done.

Add to that support for lesser resolutions - I'm sure many of us have seen what happens when we switch a 1024 x 768 resolution LCD display into something smaller, like 640 x 480. Quite frankly, it ain't perty. CRTs don't even bat an eye when you do that. So, now you've got two big advantages for CRTs.

The rest of CRT advantages are somewhat more obscure. One is color synchronization. I'm not completely sure that LCD screens can do this yet. And, the people who say they need it (read: print shops and design firms) really do need it. This may be one place where CRTs will keep their foothold for a while.

Another advantage, and my personal favorite, is the range of resolutions you can do with a CRT display. And I'm not talking about "industry standard" ones, here - I'm talking weird ones - resolutions you can't do on Macs or Windows. Under some OSes, most notably those that can run the X Window System (XFree86, specifically), you can tweak your monitor setup to allow you the most pixels your screen can push. I personally had my 17" run at 1368x1026 for many years. (It tops out at 1280 x 1024. I was a Linux junkie long before I started running Macs. Indeed, this is one feature I desperately wish Mac OS and/or Windows had - I'd love to be able to do that resolution on my Mac.) You can't really do that on LCDs.

And, of course, nothing heats up a room like a couple 21" displays. LCDs can't, er, hold a candle to that. No pun intended.

In light of these advantages, it seems, at least to me, that CRT displays will be around for a while.

That said, when they make a 15" LCD that does 1600x1280 for $200, I'm buying.

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