Hunting a CRT TV for Retrogaming
So, it is 2016 and the latest crop of PS4/XboxOne doesn't do it for you. DLC? Bluetooth joypads? Pffft. You want to play games on your PlayStation 1/2, Gamecube or Xbox. Keeping it simple is what it's at.
The only snag is that some years back you sold the big, boxy CRT TV that you hooked it up to. It did free up a lot of space but you've discovered that hooking those consoles up to your 4K 50" TV makes the picture look like garbage :(
What to do? You cannot buy these TVs new anymore. Where can you source one of these bad boys and what do other retrogamers recommend?
I can give you the benefit of my experience in this problem, it's in this article you are reading right now. I wrote from the viewpoint of reflecting back on my quest for a good CRT.
I'm assuming some things first:
- you are in the United Kingdom (but some of this advice transfers whatever country you are in)
- you want to use PlayStation 1 or 2, Gamecube or XBox. While I dearly love the Megadrive/Genesis,
Super Famicom/SNES and N64, I simply do not use those consoles these days.
OK! With that in mind lets continue...
Now there are a lot of CRT models out there but I'm going to recommend one of two models:
- Sony 21" Trinitron FD with stereo speakers
- Sony 24" Trinitron FD Wide/WEGA
You cannot go wrong with these two. They also have the added bonus of being able to be lifted by one average guy. So relatively easy to transport and move around. I'd recommend a pair of rubber-grip builders gloves to protect your hands when moving these.
The FD Trinitrons were made from late 1990s to early 2000s and assembled in the UK or Spain (Sadly I've yet to see a Japanese made one of this era). They are normally grey/silver in colour and have a clear, easy to use settings menu. The FD stands for "Flat Display" and this means that the screen is flat not curved. It's easy to confuse the word "flatscreen" with modern LCD/LED TVs so be careful when talking to sellers about what you are looking for!
I specifically list 21" as the optimal screen size for retrogaming. This means you can sit a metre or so away from the screen and get all the action. I say this as I've tried a Sony Trinitron FD 14" model and in my opinion it is just too small to see all the detail unless you are close to the screen - which is not healthy!
I also specifically mention stereo speakers, most 21" models had mono sound (normally identified by a single speaker grill below the screen) but there were a few made with stereo sound. I would avoid the mono sounds variants unless one appears locally at the right price. I found they sound anaemic and that is at odds with the superb picture. The stereo models sound very good although I think the Wide/WEGA models have them beat when it comes to overall stereo punch. If you have the room them you might favour the Wide/WEGA models.
The Wide/WEGA variant is the widescreen model - even though you'll probably do most of your gaming in the 4:3 screen ratio, these models have the distinction of superior sound. I think this was because they were designed to be hooked up to DVD players and so they needed punchy speakers to get the best from them. Although some racing games look good in 16:9 (widescreen ratio) you sacrifice some definition and sharpness since it is not an anamorphic widescreen signal. I prefer 4:3 in all things.
That being said, you can sometimes find a 24" Sony Trinitron Wide with a curved screen. These were dark grey in colour and are a very good CRT - in fact the curved effect is not too strong with these models (speaking from personal experience). If you cannot find a Trinitron FD then go for one of these. They also sound superb.
Now, the main sources I used when hunting are:
This will feature by far the largest range of CRT TVs you will find. Lots of people are selling them to make room or upgrade. Sadly most of them seem to be the heavy 28" or 32" Sony Trintron FD WEGA/widescreens - often with the stand/cabinet. If you have the room and a friend willing to help you risk back-ache to lift them then go ahead but I'd avoid them.
Use these search terms with your chosen radius within your home:
- sony trinitron
- sony triniton
I include both spellings because listing "tron" as "ton" seems to be a common mistake. Set up a couple of search alerts (eBay now uses the term "follow") using these terms. If you get a lot of non-relevant results you can refine it by adding "21" or "24" or "wega", "wide" etc.
Bear in mind though that some sellers do not specify the size so you may miss a good TV this way. The search terms will probably need fine-tuning a bit. If you live in London then you'll have a much larger pool of available TVs to filter through. If you're somewhere more rural then consider simplifying your search to simply "sony tv" and widen your search radius.
Price range - £0.99 - £25
Range of models matches eBay and the same search advice applies. You can also set up search alerts.
A word of caution though, Gumtree has no feedback system. All you have to go on is your "gut feel" when talking to the seller and from reading the description. Gumtree does show how long the user has been active though, someone with several years experience is more likely to list their stuff more accurately and you'll have a smoother transaction. Normally though you're buying from the geezers house so they are less likely to lie about condition. You can also insist on seeing it working beforehand - just arrange that with the seller beforehand.
One other tip that I've found that works strongly: place a WANTED ad for a CRT TV. Make it clear what screen size you want in the advert. You will most likely get at least one call/text a week. Feel free to use some of the images here in your advert to illustrate.
Price range - £10 - £25
British Heart Foundation - Electrical and Furniture
These charity shops rely on donations of stock which they sell for a small profit. A percentage goes to the BHF which is a very worthy charity indeed.
They generally have two classes of store: the smaller high street charity shops selling clothes, DVDs and small items and the larger stores selling furniture and electrical goods: washing machines, microwaves.. and CRT TVs! The bigger stores tend to be found in larger towns, I think there is a store finder on the website. You can also call individual stores and enquire about the TV stock. I have also asked some of the staff to call me back if they get a certain TV model in but I've never had a call back. They often keep stock in a back room until they have been tested for electrical safety. If you can find out what day-of-the-week they do this then you can time your visit to co-incide with fresh stock being put on display. Be really nice to the staff (a donation doesn't hurt either) and they'll even let you into the back room where you can reserve an item.
The TVs here tend to be of the larger (25"+) curved variety from strange Chinese brands that I've never heard of. Occaisonally though you may find a good Sony model. As of this writing (August 2016) some stores have a clearance offer on CRT TVs. I recently took advantage of this to pick up two Sony Trinitron TVs on the cheap (£5 and £10) - they were 14" and were in superb condition - one was like new. Sadly though the small screen size was too restrictive for me and I returned them (another advantage of buying here over private sellers).
Price range: £5 - £25
I placed a wanted ad on Freecycle and got a response the same day - I got a 21" Sony Trinitron with mono sound only but it was my first CRT since starting the hunt and it kept me going until I could upgrade. You also see CRT TVs offered from time to time so just be patient.
Other sources would be work colleagues/friends/neighbours - when I casually mentioned I was looking for a CRT TV several people said they would check their attics or inquire with their parents. You might also want to put the word out on your Facebook and/or Twitter!
There are also other free ad/classified publications out there on the web. Try them out!
What about other CRT models?
While Sony are no doubt in the top-tier of CRT TV makers they are by no means the only ones.
In the 1990s some manufacturers copied the Trinitron "flat display" model to cash in on the popularity of DVD/Home Cinema. Some of them also copied the Trinitron concept inside the TV. Anyway this led to a bunch of good models from other makers, of note are:
- Samsung Plano - I have a very good 21" set with stereo speakers which I really regret selling. It had an amazing vibrant picture.
- Panasonic Quintrix - equivalent to Trinitron picture tube technology
- Mitsubishi Diamondtron - equivalent to Trinitron picture tube technology
- Bang & Olufsen MX4000 (I have an 4002 which is the same model but with some B&O specific connectors)
The Bang & Olufsen deserves a mention all of it's own. This was a luxury set that retailed at £1200 in the early to mid-90s. In appearance it looks just super-cool with a depth about half that of equivalent CRT sets (see photos) - a testament to the skill of the engineers. It has very good stereo sound however the picture tube is curved. I have one of these and although the picture is pretty good I believe the Sony Trinitron and other manufacturers with flat displays have a superior picture. It's not that it's a bad picture, it's just that the curve is more pronounced than the equivalent curved Sony Trinitron.
Still, if you have the space then consider one of these - it can be nabbed for £10-£40 on eBay and is also a work-of-art (I got mine for £10, less than 1% of the original price, but had to travel 200 miles to get it). Make sure you get one with the remote, it does not have many on-set buttons.
Check out these YouTube videos for more info on the MX4000:
One thing I'd avoid is the cheaper brands such as Bush unless you're really starved for choice. You'll find ones from cheaper brands with flat displays and stereo speakers but against a good Sony Trinitron they are inferior in every way. It's not a terrible choice of course but I found they also skimp on connection options and just feel and look cheap.
How about broadcast CRT RGB monitors?
As broadcasters have moved to LCD/flat panel tech, professional-grade RGB CRT monitors have made their way into private hands. They have a pin-sharp picture so if you want the highest picture quality from your console then these are the ones to go for. Be aware that you'll need an adapter to connect an RGB SCART cable to it and I believe they either did not have any integrated speakers or they had a single tinny mono speaker. You'll need a pair of stereo speakers seperately (check out the M-Audio AV32 if you need a good pair with punchy sound).
eBay is probably your best bet for these. Some sellers trade in these as a hobby and will even let you take your consoles to them to test them out. I would go for a Sony 20" model as this would be the closest equivalent to my preferred size. Read the seller description carefully (some have screen burn-in and others have high usage hours). My rule is that if you're paying more than £100 for something then get a warranty - so buy one from a decent sounding seller who offers a warranty even if it is one month.
I don't have one as I didn't want to spend so much. I'm also more of an "audiophile" than a videophile, I definitely notice if sound isn't good. Maybe in the future I'll buy one as a "birthday present" to myself :)
Price range: £100 - £750
I've mentioned RGB SCART but there are some TVs which actually look better to my eyes via composite! The colours are just more vibrant. I found this with the Bang & Olufsen MX4000/4002 which has a somewhat "softer" RGB SCART picture - it might just be something unique to that set though!
Be patient! You might have to wait a while for your preferred type to appear. This is easier said than done of course, you want to play the damn thing RIGHT NOW. If you are impatient then you could go to BHF and buy a decent set until the right one comes a long. Once you've found a good one you could then donate it back and see the (nominal) cost as a "rental charge".
Aim for owning two good sets. This way if one CRT fails then I have a backup. I expect it's not common to find a technician skilled in fixing these sets so it's probably un-economic to repair.
Thats it - hope you found some useful here. Good luck with your quest and shoot me a message if you find something! I enjoy hearing tales of CRT hunting :)