CRT or LCD? A Discussion About Arcade Monitors

Shaggy March 16, 2008 16

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Ever since Computer Space came along until recent times, most arcade machines have used a traditional CRT monitor to display the graphics. Like any display technology, CRTs have advantages and disadvantages – the image quality varies depending on the age of the monitor but typically the quality is good with high contrast ratios and all the colors a game could need and most importantly, CRTs are cheap. The major disadvantages are weight and burn-in – something that most home users don’t experience but you often will encounter this with older arcade titles.

While the home market is moving away from CRTs to technologies that work better for high-definition needs, some new arcade games still use CRTs. But recently we have begun to see LCD (and in one or two cases from Japan plasma) sets come integrated into new games, especially with some of GlobalVR’s newest titles. Parts distributors are also now offering specially made LCD sets that can be used for replacing your old CRTs. So the question is, should you switch out your old CRT for a new LCD? Traditionally LCD monitors produce a lower quality image than a CRT but that has been rapidly changing as the technology behind such monitors has improved. The primary concerns people may have with LCDs are cost, resolution, contrast ratio and viewing angle, all of which are improving or as is the case with viewing angles, not even a major concern. Resolution is one that is typically hindered by the size of the monitor and the physical limitations of the pixels in the screen themselves. Hit the post break for a look at the new arcade LCDs one can buy with links to distributors that are currently selling such monitors (no I’m not being paid for this – I just want to throw it out there

There are three places that I have seen offer an LCD replacement for CRTs: Betson, Happ and Wells-Gardner. All three offer LCDs in a variety of sizes, generally 15″, 17″ and 19″ and they support CGA, VGA, SVGA and XGA resolutions; contrast ratio can varylcdmonitor.jpg between 500:1 to 700:1 (the higher the better) and response times are pretty good. They even offer touch screen LCDs (which will be good to have around for games like Primeval Hunt) although they are expensive. Prices seem to be hovering between $300-$400 for standard 19″ LCDs – more expensive than a CRT and more expensive than your LCD computer monitor of the same size but those weren’t made to go into arcade machines (although I’m sure you could find a way). And finally LCDs eat up less electricity than a CRT does (no worries about getting zapped to death by an LCD) so in the long run you’ll save on that cost.

So for those that own an arcade game or two, what are your thoughts? Personally I am considering it – I have three games sitting in my garage that have dead monitors that will need to be fixed and I like the thought of saving a little extra cash when it comes to my electric bill as well as freeing up some weight. Obviously it would be cheaper at the moment to simply fix them although at the same time all three have some burn-in as well.

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16 Comments »

  1. Blaine March 17, 2008 at 2:41 am - Reply

    Just because an LCD ‘supports’ a resolution, doesn’t mean it’ll look good. Personally, when using an LCD at any resolution other than the native resolution, I find the results to be blurry and soft regardless of how much the monitors cost (I’ve seen this on $7,000 LaCie color calibrated monitors).

    That’s the reason I still have a Samsung CRT that I use for my Xbox 360 and Wii… because you can run it at any resolution and the picture is still razor sharp.

    It drives me nuts that I can’t find a 1080p CRT monitor, let alone a reasonably priced one if they did.

    My Neo cab is in need of a new monitor and it’ll just wait until I can get a nice 19″ WG CRT.

    The day they make LCDs with pixels the size of electrons on phosphorous is the day I think they’re better.

    • Frank October 26, 2010 at 12:42 am - Reply

      Dude no man think of the good LCD moniters are doing to the world.
      Dont just worry about what it looks like on xbox and Wii worry more about the future.

      CRT screens use up to 50000 Volts of electricity to a LCD that uses not even 5 volts.

      CRT contain large amounts of lead that is bad for your health.
      CRT screen flicker.
      They also couse Head pains and reduces your eye site.

      A lCD screen does non of the above so LCD is Beter than CRT and you must think about the future more.

      Peace out.

  2. Shaggy March 17, 2008 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Good point Blaine – I forgot about the resolution concern so I added that to the post. You are dead on about that point – you don’t start to see decent resolutions until you get above 20″ LCDs but it still doesn’t match a CRT. CRT’s also look much better at lower resolutions, LCDs tend to have a lot of macroblocking when there is movement which I also forgot to mention.

    I actually have a Samsung CRT HD set myself, I’ve been pleased with it. My next HD set will probably be a laser projection TV, if they live up to their promises.

  3. Normandy SR2 March 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    Got tot this late, BUT THERE IS NO WAY I will ever use any LCD on a 80s arcade machine. Its looks terrible! the CRT is the only way to view those games, especially in cocktail cabs. The low res is smoothed out by the CRT. THE LCD just looks too sharp and blocky, and still has bad view angles!

  4. Loren April 15, 2012 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Since posting this, did you end up replacing any of your old monitors with LCD screens?

    • arcadehero April 16, 2012 at 6:41 am - Reply

      Not on any of those older machines no but since that post I have opened a professional arcade and I have swapped out a few – I have Tokyo Drift kits in some Crusin’ USA cabinets that the CRTs eventually died on so I replaced them; Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and I am trying to convert my Namco Classic Collection over but I need to find the correct power adapter for the video conversion board to make that work.

  5. Mark May 31, 2012 at 7:32 am - Reply

    What about 27 inch monitors for fighting games that are 4 4 ratio?

  6. rafael May 31, 2013 at 4:56 am - Reply

    What about 27 monitors for games support ?

  7. Chris March 24, 2014 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    I love CRT monitors in classic arcade machines. No flat panel display will ever come close to match the low resolution CRT arcade monitors in classic games. I know for sure CRT arcade monitors will come back to the production line and there will be a way to rebuild old CRT arcade monitors in the future. I have a strong gut feeling I will see new CRT cga and vector monitors in classic arcade games in the future.

    • Rob November 27, 2014 at 11:44 am - Reply

      I wish you were right about CRT’s coming back to the production line but they are gone forever. The supply of used crt arcade monitors is becoming short too. There are still plenty of crt tv’s going cheap and a 15khz one with component inputs makes a good home arcade monitor.

      While I am no fan of lcd monitors for old arcade games, I think that the main issue is poor scaling. Using a 1080p panel for a 240p game without a decent scaler is a recipe for a terrible image. It doesn’t help that newer lcd’s are widescreen instead of 4:3.

      Unlike crt monitors, lcd panels have a fixed native resolution that all other resolutions need to be scaled to. The further you get from the native resolution, the worse the problem. Arcade games look a lot better on 640 x 480 or 600 x 800 resolution 4:3 lcd panels than they do on 1080p monitors. Buying an external scaler helps too.

      For mame use, HLSL makes lcd monitors look ok too, once you have adjusted the colors which typically have too much green on the default settings for lcd’s.

  8. nathan November 20, 2015 at 3:02 am - Reply

    real arcade machine that had a crt in it! keep it crt.
    if making your own cab using a pc use a lcd.

  9. voltz March 31, 2016 at 12:11 am - Reply

    I know from the retro scene there is a real interest in DIY scalers and scanline generators, which will hopefully address the issue of getting old games to look great again. Also I don’t know if we still get any 4:3 panels manufactured, but if they were sub 1 frame like today’s PC standards, getting one with good scaling capabilities would be the answer. Look at that YourMKArcadeSource guy on youtube. He had a Makvision in his mame machine, then later upgraded to some kinda large PC monitor for his custom cabinets.

  10. GoodGod January 15, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    LCD screens are very blurry and have lag in video processing.

    • arcadehero January 16, 2017 at 10:37 am - Reply

      Perhaps if you mean LCD screens from 15 years ago but current models can be very sharp (perhaps too sharp in some instances) and they have many models with low input lag (such as IPS screens). The one place you might run into lag that goes beyond the screen is with the convertor board as some of those have very poor quality. Get a good screen with a good convertor board and all you have to deal with is the aspect ratio settings.

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