Are CRT Monitors Better than LCDs for Gaming?

Crt Vs Lcd Cover

If you have searched the Internet for a TV-buying guide, chances are you have come across videos and discussions singing praises of CRT TV technology. It sounds absurd to even speculate that the obsolete technology can possibly come close to modern LCDs, let alone surpass them. But that is precisely the case.

LCD technology has serious quality issues, and the Internet has only just started to take note of the vocal minority of videophiles explaining how ditching bulky CRTs for modern flat-panel-display technology was a compromise. The notion being, LCDs continue to exhibit deal-breaking flaws that everyone has come to accept like a consumer-electronics version of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Let’s take a look at the compromises LCDs entail compared to their CRT predecessors.

CRT Displays Trounce LCDs in Black Detail

It’s easy to get tangled in the technicalities underlying poor black detail of LCDs, but nothing beats a real-world example. Not long ago, the Pentagon was forced to replace the LCD screens within the $400,000 Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD) of the F-35 fighter jets with OLED panels. The LCD panels relaying critical avionics and target acquisition/fire-control system data straight to the pilot’s helmet were plagued with a distracting green glow. The problem was so bad that the U.S. Navy restricted night landings on aircraft carriers.

Crt Vs Lcd F35 Hmd

This phenomenon can be blamed on the transmissive nature of LCDs. The individual pixels don’t emit light. LCDs form an image by manipulating the liquid crystals within the individual pixels to either transmit or block the backlight, which is never really switched off. Some of the backlight tends to leak out. Emissive displays such as CRTs and OLED can simply switch the individual pixels on or off.

Interestingly, it was backlight bleed that prompted the Pentagon to ditch the LCD screens integral to F-35’s HMD systems in favor of OLED panels.

Crt Vs Lcd Working

LED Backlighting Is Terrible for Color Accuracy

CRTs reproduce colors by firing electrons to light up the red, green, and blue phosphor elements coated onto the glass substrate. This inherent accuracy allowed CRTs to achieve a level of color reproduction that was only limited by the video-processing hardware prevalent at that time. LCD manufacturers often specify what percentage of the standard color gamut their displays can reproduce. But full gamut color coverage was so effortless for CRTs that it would have been an exercise in futility to compare them by that metric.

Crt Vs Lcd F35 Phosphor Shadow Mask

LED lights are inherently impure and incapable of reproducing accurate white light. That’s why the color-accurate LED lights used by professional photographers involve blue LEDs coated with red and green phosphors to generate pure white light. Phosphors are pretty important for accurate color reproduction. The picture tube of a CRT is coated with just that and is critical for rendering the displayed image. Not surprisingly, OLED displays also use phosphor-based emissive illumination to achieve great color reproduction.

Quantum Dot Technology Is Better but Not Nearly Enough

The more expensive quantum-dot LCDs achieve wider color gamut and improved color accuracy in a similar manner. These blue LEDs shine onto what’s essentially a plastic sheet containing nanoparticles that glow red and green when illuminated by the blue LED backlight. However, achieving a pure white backlight is great but not nearly enough.

Even quantum dot LCDs must reproduce colors with the same old LCD technology, which cannot faithfully reproduce colors. Worse yet, the bending of light by the liquid crystal panel and its passage through myriad arrays of color and polarization filters makes LCDs susceptible to parallax issues, which leads to color shift and poor viewing angles.

Home Theatre Display Buying Guide Gaming Display

Color reproduction suffers if you don’t spend the big bucks on a fancy quantum-dot LCD. Moreover, the backlight in a traditional LCD isn’t pure white and is marred by hues of pink, orange, and yellow. All these factors further compound the inherent color inaccuracy of LCDs.

Motion Is the Deal-Breaker for LCDs

If pure blacks and nice colors are something that OLED displays also known to achieve, then why do gamers still swear by CRT monitors? The answer lies in motion. Even the cheapest CRT monitor could easily handle a refresh rate of 85Hz, with most average monitors operating at 100Hz. High-end CRTs could easily achieve 160Hz at screen resolutions of 1920×1200. High refresh rate is necessary for a smoother, more enjoyable gaming experience.

CRTs, however, didn’t have to compromise on picture quality to achieve high refresh rates. LCDs, on the other hand, are quite terrible at handling fast-moving content. The liquid crystals within an LCD are slow to reach, which results in long pixel response times. That in turn leads to a chronic case of motion blur, which makes high refresh rate gaming a tricky affair.

Higher-quality LCDs featuring IPS panels can’t achieve faster response times without compromising color gamut and accuracy. That’s why gaming monitors use TN LCD panels, which exhibit poor viewing angles and washed out colors as well as low contrast ratios. Competitive gamers can’t use LCDs without compromising on picture quality.

A Better Alternative on the Horizon

There is still a lot more to discuss, and there are many things that CRTs get right. For example, the raster-scanning nature of a CRT plays well with the human persistence of vision and naturally eliminates motion blur. Or that CRTs aren’t restricted to native resolutions and can move between them without losing image clarity or sharpness, unlike modern flat-panel displays.

At the same time, it is naive to turn a blind eye to the merits of LCD technology. Feats such as better brightness, higher resolution, ever-improving pixel density as well as sharpness, and longer service life as well. While LCD technology has clearly been a compromise, OLED has flaws that prevent it from being a viable replacement as well.

However, there’s hope in the upcoming MicroLEDs which combine the best aspects of LCDs and OLEDs and don’t seem to be a compromise compared to the CRTs.

In addition to the display technology, there are other things you should check out when getting a gaming monitor. Check it out!

4 comments

  1. Very well written and easy to understand. Many thanks for answering a lot of questions that I’ve had about monitors for a long time!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. That’s also why I left out the deeper aspects of how these displays work and instead focused on explaining their impact through examples perceivable to the common folk.

  2. I said this 10 years ago at least. I could *SEE*, easily, that the new ‘LCD’ monitors, though nice and lightweight and room saving, were not able to hold their wind when compared to a CRT when watching a movie or playing a video game or for security camera work. One would have to be blind, stupid, on drugs and not getting enough oxygen to their brain while it was so far up their rear-end to not see the difference and that LCD’s (and LED’s) were and are useless for these things.

    The *only* reason I still don’t have my old 17″ CRT is because when I became disabled I simply couldn’t carry the damned thing when I wanted to or when I had to move or whatever. The weight was way too prohibitive for me anymore. I damn near cried when I gave it away to a friend of mine because I *knew* I was going to miss it for the reasons above.

    1. I began professionally reviewing displays around 2006. That was around the time CRTs were being rapidly phased out in favour of LCDs. The new LCDs that came in for review looked downright horrible compared to the CRT monitors used by our design team. The stark contrast between the display quality was shocking, especially when compared side by side.

      Modern flat panel displays have come a long way since then, but they still cannot match CRTs when it comes to motion. Gamers can still benefit the most by “downgrading” their displays to CRT technology.

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