The last scan
Behind a nondescript Manhattan storefront, Chi-Tien Lui is stockpiling objects many people wouldn’t think twice about trashing: cathode ray tube televisions. The first floor of CTL Electronics — whose clientele includes the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and other museums across the country — is lined with a rich mix of vintage TVs, from tiny boxes to big, looming screens. In his bedroom upstairs, Lui has a 1930s mechanical television, an early image transmission system that passed light through a spinning metal disc. In his workshop, there’s a grid of old screens that once sat inside the Palladium, an iconic New York nightclub that closed in 1997. “They used to have 16 of these, rotating in the club — everybody danced underneath,” Lui recalls. “When they went out of business I took all the equipment back. And right now, I’m restoring them.”
CRTs were once synonymous with television. By 1960, nearly 90 percent of American households had one. But at the turn of the millennium, their popularity rapidly decayed as LCD panels flooded the market. Even though CRTs comprised an estimated 85 percent of US television sales in 2003, analysts were already predicting the technology’s demise. In 2008, LCD panels outsold CRTs worldwide for the first time. Sony shut down its last manufacturing plants that same year, essentially abandoning its famous Trinitron CRT brand. By 2014, even stronghold markets like India were fading, with local manufacturers switching to flat-panel displays.
Despite all this, picture tube televisions continue to linger. You’ll find them in museums, arcades, video game tournaments, and the homes of dedicated fans. But as the CRT slips further into obsolescence, devotees like Lui are navigating a difficult transition between simply maintaining an aging device and preserving a piece of technological history.
The concept of television predates the electronic CRT display by decades. Scholar Alexander Magoun’s book Television: The Life Story of a Technology describes it as a natural extension of the telegram, fax machine, and telephone. In 1879, a cartoonist envisioned families communicating across continents via a wall-mounted “telephonoscope.” In the 1880s, German inventor Paul Nipkow imagined capturing slices of an image through holes in a spinning disk, then projecting the light patterns through an identical disk on the other end. Russian scientist Constantin Perskyi reported on this new theory of “television by means of electricity” at the 1900 Paris world’s fair, coining the term that we still use today.
The first actual working television, demonstrated by Scottish inventor John Baird in the mid-1920s, used Nipkow’s mechanical disk idea to show dim, fuzzy images of a ventriloquist dummy named Stookie Bill. Several similar devices followed, some backed by major companies like GE and AT&T. By 1928, Americans could pay for a mechanical “radiovision” kit from inventor Charles Jenkins, and tune in for thrice-weekly “radiomovie” pantomimes on his broadcast network. But these TVs were inherently limited by the number of holes you could put on a disk, and the incredibly bright lights that were required to capture an image.
When the Great Depression hit, support for mechanical TVs petered out, and companies began funding versions that scanned electronic lines across a screen. Over the next several years, these experiments produced a technology that would last for almost a century.
Electronic CRT TVs flourished in the years after World War II, and for the rest of its lifespan, manufacturers looked for ways to iterate on it. Perhaps the most obvious advance was color television, which took off in the 1960s after a bitter standards war between Columbia Broadcasting System and the ultimately victorious National Broadcasting Company. Once these standards were set, individual companies built loyalty with technological tweaks. Sony’s iconic Trinitron abandoned the perforated metal “shadow mask” that most color TVs used to keep their electron streams separate, for instance, using vertical wires that produced bright, clean colors and a flatter screen.
Toward the end of the CRT era, manufacturers began directly competing with the plasma and liquid-crystal displays that were threatening to overtake the market. The mid-2000s saw a brief enthusiasm for “ultra-slim” models, which touted tubes as miraculously thin as 15 inches. Some manufacturers adopted new high-definition HDMI connections. These machines maintained a tenuous advantage at first: new flat-panel TVs cost thousands of dollars, and consumers had to sort through a confusing assortment of unproven display technologies. But as these screens got cheaper, bigger, and had higher-resolutions, there was no way for the CRT to win. Its design relied on a fat glass tube, which became deeper and heavier with every added inch of screen space. Sony’s hulking 40-inch Trinitron from 2002, one of the biggest consumer CRTs ever produced, weighed over 300 pounds. A modern 40-inch Sony TV, the second-smallest option in its current lineup, weighs less than 20 pounds.
But flatscreens haven’t won everyone over. Ian Primus, an IT repair technician and CRT aficionado, has amassed a basement and storage unit full of old TVs. He has a reputation as one of the increasingly few people who will take CRTs off people’s hands. “If you let people know that you’re looking for old TVs, suddenly you’ve got three or four people calling you,” he says. He gives out his number to thrift stores that have decided the bulky sets are more trouble than they’re worth and want to direct donors elsewhere. Sometimes he simply drives around at night before garbage collection, looking for castoffs.
Primus says he doesn’t just hoard old TVs; he uses them constantly in his daily life. “I don’t have an LCD computer monitor, and I don’t have an LCD TV. Everything is CRTs,” he says. “I know I’m crazy.” Most new devices exclusively support current TVs, including one of Primus’ newer tech purchases — Nintendo’s NES Classic — which, ironically for such a retro-looking device, only features a modern HDMI adapter. But it’s still possible to use adapters with many of them. As long as that’s true, Primus says he’ll probably stick with CRTs.
“I’m not going to try to be one of those guys who says, ‘Yeah the picture on a CRT is better than the LCD,’” he says. But he likes the deep blacks and high color contrast and the sturdiness of old hardware. Primus, like Lui, is also helping keep CRTs available to the people who can’t do without them. In his case, that’s the retro gaming community.
A video game’s look and feel is often highly dependent on specific hardware setups, and for most of the medium’s history, those setups often involved a CRT. The iconic black scanlines we associate with old games, for instance, exist because consoles would tell a TV to only draw every other line — thus avoiding the flickering that interlaced video could produce, and smoothing out the overall image. (For more detail, retro gaming enthusiast Tobias Reich maintains an exhaustive guide about scanlines and other CRT rendering issues.) Old games may look torn or feel laggy on a new TV. That’s in part because LCD screens process an entire frame of an image and then display it, rather than receiving a signal and drawing it right away.
Some games are completely dependent on the display technology. One of the best-known examples is Duck Hunt, which uses Nintendo’s Zapper light gun. When players pull the trigger, the entire screen briefly flashes black, then a white square appears at the “duck’s” location. If the optical sensor detects a quick black-then-white pattern, it’s a hit. The entire Zapper system is coded for a CRT’s super fast refresh rate, and it doesn’t work on new LCD TVs without significant DIY modification.
A less extreme — but much more popular — case is Super Smash Bros. Melee, a 2001 Nintendo GameCube title that’s become one of the most beloved fighting games of all time. Originally designed for casual players at parties, Melee upends the conventions set by series like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat: instead of memorizing combos to chip down an opponent’s health bar, players try to knock each other off the screen using careful positioning and improvised, super fast moves. Despite its age, and the increasing difficulty of finding a copy, it’s a mainstay at fighting game tournaments.
Melee’s frantic pace has kept players coming back year after year, even after Nintendo released subsequent Super Smash Bros. games in 2008 and 2014. But it also makes the game exceptionally unforgiving of lag. On CRT monitors, which were dominant when the game launched, a character will react almost instantly when you push a button. On a newer TV, the animation may start just a little later, forcing players to adjust their timing, which can put them at a disadvantage.
As with many debates in the gaming world, there’s disagreement over whether new TVs are truly unusable. Not everyone believes the lag is bad enough to justify keeping an old CRT around, especially as flat-panel displays have gotten more responsive. But for now, visiting the Melee section of an e-sports tournament is a little like stepping back in time, as sleek LCD screens give way to bulky black boxes. Some of those boxes belong to Primus. He leases them out to gatherings around his hometown of Albany, as well as larger events across the region, like the Boston-based tournament Shine.
Shi Deng, co-founder of Shine’s organizing body Big Blue Esports, estimates the tournament used about 100 CRTs last year. Some events let players bring their own displays, but Shine doesn’t; they’re a pain to set up, and there’s too much liability if someone drops a 50- or 100-pound television on the ground. (An abandoned CRT caused real panic at one Detroit tournament last year, when police shut down the surrounding block out of fear it might be a bomb.) Instead, they rent from a handful of providers, who might truck the screens in from hundreds of miles away, coordinating tournament dates so there are enough TVs to go around.
Deng has his own small CRT, a hand-me-down from his mother. But rounding up old TVs is one of the most inconvenient parts of running a tournament, he says, and he’d love to see Nintendo come out with a remake so the Melee community could move on. That may not happen anytime soon. Some Smash players have rallied around the 2014 Wii U sequel, but it’s still a sideshow. A Nintendo Switch remake was widely rumored last year, but so far, it’s proven elusive.
Even if it does come out, CRTs will have a place in gaming for years to come. Speedrunners, for instance, use them to get the absolute best reaction time on old games. And CRTs aren’t just a pragmatic consideration for experts, either. They’re also the only way to give people a sense of how a game’s original players would have experienced it.
The CRT’s slow extinction is also becoming a pressing problem for arcades, especially with the rise of arcade bars over the past decade. Establishments like San Francisco’s Brewcade, Portland’s Ground Kontrol, and Chicago’s Emporium Arcade Bar all line their walls with dozens of nostalgia-inspiring cabinets and by extension, dozens of CRT displays.
Barcade, one of the largest — and most strictly retro-focused — chains, has about 350 games spread across seven locations. It has almost an equal number in storage. The company carefully preserves original, untouched cabinets for games like Centipede and Tetris. But it also buys a lot of sloppy “conversions” — machines that arcade operators hacked to install new games, with different paint jobs and controls. It strips these down for parts, operating out of what Barcade co-founder and CEO Paul Kermizian jokingly refers to as a “secret lair” on the outskirts of New York City. They give the cabinets to collectors for restoration, swap individual components into vintage machines, and hold onto the tubes until they can’t possibly be fixed.
Arcades generally have in-house teams of employees with varying levels of expertise. Ground Kontrol, which describes itself as a “hands-on museum,” is owned by two electrical engineers and two software specialists. They initially repaired machines themselves, until finally hiring a full-time technician. Barcade employs two dedicated repair specialists, and a number of other staff can do some work on the machines.
The Barcade. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
These places may eventually have to start installing LCD monitors in cabinets, and the results might not be disastrous. Software filters can approximate a CRT’s trademark image distortions, like scanlines or the curve of a screen, and a tinted glass panel can enhance the illusion. Not all arcades are so dependent on CRTs, either. Classic arcade series like Street Fighter switched to LCD-based cabinets years ago. A wave of indie game developers have designed a host of cabinet-based games with modern displays, ranging from weird, arty experiments to traditional-looking two-player boxes.
Barcade, for one, will hold onto CRTs as long as possible — and Kermizian thinks that will be a while. “I think there’s plenty around for at least 10 years, before anyone even stresses about it,” he says. It’s still cheaper to buy old parts than to retrofit a cabinet for LCD, a process Kermizian says would cost about $350. And paradoxically, he says fear of an impending shortage could free up more tubes, as some competitors preemptively adopt LCD displays to get ahead of the curve.
“The day maybe will come when we have to do an emulation of a CRT. We’ll be pretty sad,” he says. “But there are a lot of tubes out there. It’s not dire at this point. Not for us, anyway.”
It’s one thing to round up screens for a video game tournament, or even swap out the tube in an arcade cabinet. But what if an artist has turned a mass-market television set into something truly one-of-a-kind and that television set is about to wear out? This is the question that Chi-Tien Lui has built his life around, and one that few people are so well equipped to answer.
When Lui started CTL Electronics in 1968, he and his customers were working in the vanguard of film and video. He had learned to fix TVs as a teenager in Taiwan, and he came to America working as an electrician in the merchant marines. He opened his shop just after Sony released its first Portapak system, a comparatively tiny video camera that attracted artists like Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik, the Korean-born father of video art. Paik and others came to CTL for help with their work, and as their installations aged, shaping the future of media became less important than preserving its past.
Today, Lui specializes in maintaining pieces like Paik’s Untitled (Piano), a player piano piled high with televisions displaying closed-circuit footage of its interior workings. He’s been fixing TVs for so long that he knows exactly which brands have compatible parts, across decades’ worth of hardware, including the now-rare Korean monitors that Paik favored. That’s particularly important for the museums that hire him to help replicate the precise original look of video art installations. It’s a task that’s much easier if you can just replace a broken tube with one of the right shape and size, rather than replacing the entire set. When he eventually retires, the prospect of losing that expertise makes the future of CTL Electronics — which employs Lui’s daughter and a handful of other employees — uncertain.
CRTs are tough pieces of hardware, but as they age, plenty of things can go wrong. The electron gun can weaken, giving screens a dim, yellowish tinge. An electrical transformer can blow out. The phosphor can burn away unevenly, leaving permanent, ghostly outlines of images behind.
Lui works with a German engineer who helps refurbish tubes — by installing a new electron gun to fix yellowing, for example. Much of his work involves sifting through the vast but shrinking pool of CRT detritus. He scours eBay for old TVs and parts, snapping them up in bulk, and hopes that most of them will work when they arrive. “It’s getting harder and harder, and the price goes up and up and up,” he says. He gestures toward a sizable Sony Trinitron, one of his prize finds. “Ten years ago, I could get them under $100. Now it’s $2,000. Certain TVs, everybody wanted to grab.”
Getting rid of the broken or unwanted CRTs, though, is a nightmare. “CRTs are essentially the bane of the electronic recycling industry,” says Andrew Orben, director of business development at Tekovery, one of the companies Barcade uses to dispose of irrevocably broken hardware. The tubes contain toxic metals that could leach into a dump site, and 18 states specifically ban sending them to landfills. They’re made of raw materials that are often impossible to sell at a profit, primarily glass that’s mixed with several pounds of lead. When CRTs were still being made, that was a useful resource, but recyclers have struggled to find other uses. Companies could once export the tubes abroad, but as LCDs become more commonplace, CRTs are becoming less and less attractive.
Tekovery doesn’t dismantle the CRTs it receives, and Orben says few e-waste companies in America will handle that part of the operation. Over the past few years, several supposed CRT “recyclers” have been caught secretly abandoning their old displays in vast television graveyards. Iowa’s attorney general sued the now-defunct company Recycletronics in January for storing 4.6 million pounds of leaded CRT glass, along with other e-waste, across eight facilities in two states. A lawsuit last year targeted a former partner of Recycletronics, which kept a staggering 113 million pounds of glass in two Ohio warehouses.
The problem isn’t going away anytime soon, either. A 2011 EPA-commissioned report estimated that over 580 million CRT televisions (not counting computer monitors) had been sold in the US since 1980; the average CRT was used for 11 years and kept in storage long after that. Recyclers don’t want to deal with them, and even if TVs are dismantled correctly — and not dumped in a landfill — the dust from leaded glass can have long-term health effects on workers and their families, including birth defects in children.
“There are companies in the industry that are specifically looking for long-term solutions” to the CRT recycling question, says Orben. But they’ve faced their own difficulties. Nulife, a company that legitimately smelted down old tubes for commercial sale, was ordered to scrap its backlog of glass after failing regulatory checks. It pulled out of the US market last year.
The CRT television has had a vast impact on American culture, but it’s come at a cost — and the companies that created this crisis aren’t the ones paying it. “The manufacturers made their money on this type of stuff,” complains Orben, “and now, they’ve basically left all these private recyclers to clean up.”
The few people still using CRTs are trying to preserve the best experiences these machines made possible — to prolong the lives of objects that don’t die gracefully. “We as a society have developed this mentality where everything CRT-based is obsolete and needs to be trashed,” Primus says. “They’re a lot more robust than people think they are.”
Aging televisions will eventually stop feeling merely old and start feeling vintage. It’s unlikely that CRTs will enjoy a sudden resurgence in popularity like vinyl records have. They’re extraordinarily large and heavy, and depend on other obsolete technologies like VCRs and old gaming consoles. But people may start thinking more carefully about how to maintain or donate them, rather than just throwing them away — something that would be good for both preservationists and the environment. For now, Lui sees the bright side of our nearly century-long love affair with CRTs. “America’s a good place to collect antiques,” he says. “It’s much easier to get old equipment in this country than anywhere else.”
In the meantime, he has no intention of moving into the world of repairing flatscreens. “When the iPod, iPad came out, I quit learning new things,” he says. The new generation of electronics, he says, is fundamentally different from the old one. You could go to a factory training program and learn how to repair a CRT. “The new TVs, they don’t want you to repair.”
But when it comes to actually watching television, Lui is less nostalgic. Across from the grid of Palladium monitors, he shows off a Chinese TV station playing on a massive screen above his desk. “This is an LG, Korean TV, OLED monitor,” he says. “I think this is the best TV I’ve ever seen.”
Vintage TV Parts
We have a small stock of older vintage TV parts for sets manufactured before 2002. We have RCA, GE and Zenith parts. Sorry, NO Projection/LCD/PLASMA/DLP parts.
ECG113A Dual Common Cathode Horizontal AFC Diode
Replaces 100471, 100581, 109308, 103-20, 34-8037-1, 34-8037-2, 34-8037-3, 93A5-2, 93A5-9, 93B5-6, 93A5-10, 93B5-1, 93B5-10, 93B5-2, 93B5-3, 93B5-4, 93B5-5, 93B5-7, 93B5-8, 93B5-9, 93C5-1, 93C5-2, 93C5-3, 93C5-4, 93C5-5, 93C5-6, 93C5-7, 103-32, 93C5-8
GECR-1 Selenium High Voltage Rectifier 6500V, 500uA
GE Replacement Focus Rectifier. R3eplaces RCA 113397, ES57X36, 48-66653A05, 16-500, S-6000, S6000, 61-8969, K122J176-1, 212-85, EGC118, NTE118, SK3066
All prices are as listed on the website.
Series of CRT televisions and monitors manufactured by Sony from 1968 to 2008
Trinitron was Sony's brand name for its line of aperture-grille-based CRTs used in television sets and computer monitors. One of the first truly innovative television systems to enter the market since the 1950s, the Trinitron was announced in 1968 to wide acclaim for its bright images, about 25% brighter than common shadow mask televisions of the same era. Constant improvement in the basic technology and attention to overall quality allowed Sony to charge a premium for Trinitron devices into the 1990s.
Patent protection on the basic Trinitron design ran out in 1996, and it quickly faced a number of competitors at much lower prices. Sony responded by introducing their flat-screen FD Trinitron designs (WEGA), which maintained their premier position in the market into the early 2000s. However, these designs were surpassed relatively quickly by plasma and LCD designs. Sony removed the last Trinitron televisions from their product catalogs in 2006, and ceased production in early 2008. Video monitors are the only remaining Trinitron products being produced by Sony, at a low production rate, although the basic technology can still be found in downmarket televisions from third parties.
The name Trinitron was derived from trinity, meaning the union of three, and tron from electron tube, after the way that the Trinitron combined the three separate electron guns of other CRT designs into one.
See also: Color television
Color television had been studied,[when?] but it was only in the late 1940s that the problem[clarification needed] was seriously considered. At the time, a number of systems were being proposed that used separate red, green and blue signals (RGB), broadcast in succession. Most[which?] systems broadcast entire frames in sequence, with a colored filter (or "gel") that rotated in front of an otherwise conventional black and white television tube. Because they broadcast separate signals for the different colors, all of these systems were incompatible with existing black and white sets. Another problem was that the mechanical filter made them flicker unless very high refresh rates were used. In spite of these problems, the United States Federal Communication Commission selected a sequential-frame 144 frame/s standard from CBS as their color broadcast in 1950.
RCA worked along different lines entirely, using the luminance-chrominance system. This system did not directly encode or transmit the RGB signals; instead it combined these colors into one overall brightness figure, the "luminance". Luminance closely matched the black and white signal of existing broadcasts, allowing it to be displayed on existing televisions. This was a major advantage over the mechanical systems being proposed by other groups. Color information was then separately encoded and folded into the signal as a high-frequency modification to produce a composite video signal – on a black and white television this extra information would be seen as a slight randomization of the image intensity, but the limited resolution of existing sets made this invisible in practice. On color sets the signal would be extracted, decoded back into RGB, and displayed.
Although RCA's system had enormous benefits, it had not been successfully developed because it was difficult to produce the display tubes. Black and white TVs used a continuous signal and the tube could be coated with an even deposit of phosphor. With the compatible color encoding scheme originally developed by Georges Valensi in 1938, the color was changing continually along the line, which was far too fast for any sort of mechanical filter to follow. Instead, the phosphor had to be broken down into a discrete pattern of colored spots. Focusing the right signal on each of these tiny spots was beyond the capability of electron guns of the era, and RCA's early experiments used three-tube projectors, or mirror-based systems known as "Triniscope".
See also: Shadow mask
RCA eventually solved the problem of displaying the color images with their introduction of the shadow mask. The shadow mask consists of a thin sheet of steel with tiny holes photo etched into it, placed just behind the front surface of the picture tube. Three guns, arranged in a triangle, were all aimed at the holes. Stray electrons at the edge of the beam were cut off by the mask, creating a sharply focused spot that was small enough to hit a single colored phosphor on the screen. Since each of the guns was aimed at the hole from a slightly different angle, the spots of phosphor on the tube could be separated slightly to prevent overlap.
The disadvantage of this approach was that for any given amount of gun power, the shadow mask filtered out the majority of the energy. To ensure there was no overlap of the beam on the screen, the dots had to be separated and covered perhaps 25% of its surface. This led to very dim images, requiring much greater electron beam power in order to provide a useful picture. Moreover, the system was highly dependent on the relative angles of the beams between the three guns, which required constant adjustment by the user to ensure the guns hit the correct colors. In spite of this, the technical superiority of the RCA system was overwhelming compared to the CBS system, and was selected as the new NTSC standard in 1953. The first broadcast using the new standard occurred on New Year's Day in 1954, when NBC broadcast the Tournament of Roses Parade.
In spite of this early start, only a few years after regularly scheduled television broadcasting had begun, consumer uptake of color televisions was very slow to start. The dim images, constant adjustments and high costs had kept them in a niche of their own. Low consumer acceptance led to a lack of color programming, further reducing the demand for the sets in a supply and demand problem. In the United States in 1960, only 1 color set was sold for every 50 sets sold in total.
Main article: Chromatron
Sony had entered the television market in 1960 with the black and white TV8-301, the first non-projection type all-transistor television. A combination of factors, including its small screen size, limited its sales to niche markets. Sony engineers had been studying the color market, but the situation in Japan was even worse than the U.S.; they accounted for only 300 of the 9 million sets sold that year. But by 1961, dealers were asking the Sony sales department when a color set would be available, and the sales department put pressure on engineering in turn. Masaru Ibuka, Sony's president and co-founder, steadfastly refused to develop a system based on RCA's shadow mask design, which he considered technically deficient. He insisted on developing a unique solution.
In 1961, a Sony delegation was visiting the IEEE trade show in New York City, including Ibuka, Akio Morita (Sony's other co-founder) and Nobutoshi Kihara, who was promoting his new CV-2000 home video tape recorder. This was Kihara's first trip abroad and he spent much of his time wandering the trade floor, where he came across a small booth by the small company Autometric. They were demonstrating a new type of color television based on the Chromatron tube, which used a single electron gun and a vertical grille of electrically charged thin wires instead of a shadow mask. The resulting image was far brighter than anything the RCA design could produce, and lacked the convergence problems that required constant adjustments. He quickly brought Morita and Ibuka to see the design, and Morita was "sold" on the spot.
Morita arranged a deal with Paramount Pictures, who was paying for Chromatic Labs' development of the Chromatron, taking over the entire project. In early 1963, Senri Miyaoka was sent to Manhattan to arrange the transfer of the technology to Sony, which would lead to the closing of Chromatic Labs. He was unimpressed with the labs, describing the windowless basement as "squalor". The American team was only too happy to point out the serious flaws in the Chromatron system, telling Miyaoka that the design was hopeless. By September 1964, a 17-inch prototype had been built in Japan, but mass-production test runs were demonstrating serious problems. Sony engineers were unable to make a version of Chromatron that could be reliably mass-produced.
When sets were finally made available in late 1964, they were put on the market at a competitive 198,000 yen (US$550), but cost the company over 400,000 yen (US$1111.11) to produce. Ibuka had bet the company on Chromatron and had already set up a new factory to produce them with the hopes that the production problems would be ironed out and the line would become profitable. After several thousand sets had shipped, the situation was no better, while Panasonic and Toshiba were in the process of introducing sets based on RCA licenses. By 1966, the Chromatron was breaking the company financially.
In the autumn of 1966, Ibuka finally gave in, and announced he would personally lead a search for a replacement for Chromatron. Susumu Yoshida was sent to the U.S. to look for potential licenses, and was impressed with the improvements that RCA had made in overall brightness by introducing new rare-earthphosphors on the screen. He also saw General Electric's "Porta-color" design, using three guns in a row instead of a triangle, which allowed a greater portion of the screen to be lit. His report was cause for concern in Japan, where it seemed Sony was falling ever-farther behind the U.S. designs. They might be forced to license the shadow mask system if they wanted to remain competitive.
Ibuka was not willing to give up entirely, and had his 30 engineers explore a wide variety of approaches to see if they could come up with their own design. At one point, Yoshida asked Senri Miyaoka if the in-line gun arrangement used by GE could be replaced by a single gun with three cathodes; this would be more difficult to build, but be lower cost in the long run.[how?] Miyaoka built a prototype and was astonished by how well it worked, although it had focusing problems. Later that week[when?], on Saturday, Miyaoka was summoned to Ibuka's office while he was attempting to leave work to attend his weekly cello practice. Yoshida had just informed Ibuka about his success, and the two asked Miyaoka if they could really develop the gun into a workable product. Miyaoka, anxious to leave, answered yes, excused himself, and left. The following Monday, Ibuka announced that Sony would be developing a new color television tube, based on Miyaoka's prototype. By February 1967, the focusing problems had been solved, and because there was a single gun, the focusing was achieved with permanent magnets instead of a coil, and required no manual adjustments after manufacturing.
During development, Sony engineer Akio Ohgoshi introduced another modification. GE's system improved on the RCA shadow mask by replacing the small round holes with slightly larger rectangles. Since the guns were in-line, their electrons would land onto three rectangular patches instead of three smaller spots, about doubling the lit area. Ohgoshi proposed removing the mask entirely and replacing it with a series of vertical slots instead, lighting the entire screen. Although this would require the guns to be very carefully aligned with the phosphors on the tube in order to ensure they hit the right colors, with Miyaoka's new tube, this appeared possible. In practice, this proved easy to build but difficult to place in the tube – the fine wires were mechanically weak and tended to move when the tubes were bumped, resulting in shifting colors on the screen. This problem was solved by running several fine tungsten wires across the grille horizontally to keep the vertical wires of the grille in place.
The combination of three-in-one electron gun and the replacement of the shadow mask with the aperture grille resulted in a unique and easily patentable product. In spite of Trinitron and Chromatron having no technology in common, the shared single electron gun has led to many erroneous claims that the two are very similar, or the same.
Introduction, early models
Officially introduced by Ibuka in April 1968, the original 12 inch Trinitron had a display quality that easily surpassed any commercial set in terms of brightness, color fidelity, and simplicity of operation. The vertical wires in the aperture grille meant that the tube had to be nearly flat vertically; this gave it a unique cylindrical look. It was also all solid state, with the exception of the picture tube itself, which allowed it to be much more compact and cool running than designs like GE's Porta-color. Some larger models such as the KV-1320UB for the United Kingdom market were initially fitted with 3AT2 valves for the extra high tension (high voltage) circuitry, before being redesigned as solid state in the early 70s.
Ibuka ended the press conference by claiming that 10,000 sets would be available by October, well beyond what engineering had told him was possible. Ibuka cajoled Yoshida to take over the effort of bringing the sets into production, and although Yoshida was furious at being put in charge of a task he felt was impossible, he finally accepted the assignment and successfully met the production goal. The KV-1210 was introduced in limited numbers in Japan in October as promised, and in the U.S. as the KV-1210U the following year.
Early color sets intended for the UK market had a PAL decoder that was different from those invented and licensed by Telefunken of Germany, who invented the PAL color system. The decoder inside the UK-sold Sony color Trinitron sets, from the KV-1300UB to the KV-1330UB, had an NTSC decoder adapted for PAL. The decoder used a 64 microsecond delay line to store every other line, but instead of using the delay line to average out the phase of the current line and the previous line, it simply repeated the same line twice. Any phase errors could then be compensated for by using a tint control knob on the front of the set, normally unneeded on a PAL set.
Reviews of the Trinitron were universally positive, although they all mentioned its high cost. Sony won an Emmy Award for the Trinitron in 1973. On his 84th birthday in 1992, Ibuka claimed the Trinitron was his proudest product.
New models quickly followed. Larger sizes at 19" and then 27" were introduced, as well as smaller, including a 7" portable. In the mid-1980s, a new phosphor coating was introduced that was much darker than earlier sets, giving the screens a black color when turned off, as opposed to the earlier light grey. This improved the contrast range of the picture. Early models were generally packaged in silver cases, but with the introduction of the darker screens, Sony also introduced new cases with a dark charcoal color, following a similar change in color taking place in the hi-fi world. This line expanded with 32", 35" and finally 40" units in the 1990s. In 1990, Sony released the first HD Trinitron TV set, for use with the Multiple sub-Nyquist sampling encoding standard.
In 1980, Sony introduced the "ProFeel" line of prosumer component televisions, consisting of a range of Trinitron monitors that could be connected to standardized tuners. The original lineup consisted of the KX-20xx1 20" and KX-27xx1 27" monitors (the "xx" is an identifier, PS for Europe, HF for Japan, etc.) the VTX-100ES tuner and TXT-100G TeleText decoder. They were often used with a set of SS-X1A stereo speakers, which matched the grey boxy styling of the suite. The concept was to build a market similar to contemporary stereo equipment, where components from different vendors could be mixed to produce a complete system. However, a lack of any major third party components, along with custom connectors between the tuner and monitors, meant that systems mixing fully compatible elements were never effectively realized. They were popular high-end units, however, and found a strong following in production companies where the excellent quality picture made them effective low-cost monitors. A second series of all-black units followed in 1986, the ProFeel Pro, sporting a space-frame around the back of the trapezoidal enclosure that doubled as a carrying handle and holder for the pop-out speakers. These units were paired with the VT-X5R tuner and optionally the APM-X5A speakers.
Sony also produced lines of Trinitron professional studio monitors, the PVM (Professional Video Monitor) and BVM (Broadcast Video Monitor) lines. These models were packaged in grey metal cubes with a variety of inputs that accepted practically any analog format. They originally used tubes similar to the ProFeel line, but over time, they gradually increased in resolution until the late 1990s when they offered over 900 lines. When these were cancelled as part of the wider Trinitron shutdown in 2007, professionals forced Sony to re-open two of the lines to produce the 20 and 14 inch models.
Among similar products, Sony produced the KV-1311 monitor/TV combination. It accepted NTSC-compatible video from various devices as well as analog broadcast TV. Along with its other functions, it had video and audio inputs and outputs as well as a wideband sound-IF decoded output. Its exterior looks much like the monitor illustrated here, with added TV controls.
By this time, Sony was well established as a supplier of reliable equipment; it was preferable to have minimal field failures instead of supporting an extensive service network for the entire United States.
Sony started developing the Trinitron for computer monitor use in the late 1970s. Demand was high, so high that there were examples of third party companies removing Trinitron tubes from televisions to use as monitors. In response, Sony started development of the GDM (Graphic Display Monitor) in 1983, which offered high resolution and faster refresh rates. Sony aggressively promoted the GDM and it became a standard on high-end monitors by the late 1980s. Particularly common models include the Apple Inc. 13" model that was originally sold with the Macintosh II starting in 1987. Well known users also included Digital Equipment Corporation, IBM, Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems and others. Demand for a lower cost solution led to the CDP series. In May 1988, the high-end 20 inch DDM model (Data Display Monitor) was introduced with a maximum resolution of 2,048 by 2,048, which went on to be used in the FAA's Advanced Automation Systemair traffic control system.
These developments meant that Sony was well placed to introduce high-definition televisions (HDTV). In April 1981, they announced the High Definition Video System (HDVS), a suite of MUSE equipment including cameras, recorders, Trinitron monitors and projection TVs.
Sony shipped its 100 millionth Trinitron screen in July 1994, 25 years after it had been introduced. New uses in the computer field and the demand for higher resolution televisions to match the quality of DVD when it was introduced in 1996 led to increased sales, with another 180 million units delivered in the next decade.
End of Trinitron
Sony's patent on the Trinitron display ran out in 1996, after 20 years. After the expiration of Sony's Trinitron patent, manufacturers like Mitsubishi (whose monitor production is now part of NEC Display Solutions) were free to use the Trinitron design for their own product line without license from Sony although they could not use the Trinitron name. For example, Mitsubishi's are called Diamondtron. To some degree, the name Trinitron became a generic term referring to any similar set.
Sony responded with the FD Trinitron, which used computer-controlled feedback systems to ensure sharp focus across a flat screen. Initially introduced on their 27, 32 and 36 inch models in 1998, the new tubes were offered in a variety of resolutions for different uses. The basic WEGA models supported normal 480i signals, but a larger version offered 16:9 aspect ratios. The technology was quickly applied to the entire Trinitron range, from 13 to 36 inch. High resolution versions, Hi-Scan and Super Fine Pitch, were also produced. With the introduction of the FD Trinitron, Sony also introduced a new industrial style, leaving the charcoal colored sets introduced in the 1980s for a new silver styling.
Sony was not the only company producing flat screen CRTs. Other companies had already introduced high-end brands with flat-screen tubes, like Panasonic's Tau. Many other companies entered the market quickly, widely copying the new silver styling as well. The FD Trinitron was unable to regain the cachet that the Trinitron brand had previously possessed; in the 2004 Christmas season, they increased sales by 5%, but only at the cost of a 75% plunge in profits after being forced to lower costs to compete in the market.
At the same time, the introduction of plasma televisions, and then LCD-based ones, led to the high-end market being increasingly focused on the "thin" sets. Both of these technologies have well known problems, and for some time Sony explored a wide array of technologies that would improve upon them in the same way the Trinitron did on the shadow mask. Among these experiments were organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) and the field-emission display, but in spite of considerable effort, neither of these technologies matured into competitors. Sony also introduced their Plasmatron displays, and later LCD as well, but these had no inherent technical advantages over similar sets from other companies. From 2006, all of Sony's BRAVIA television products are LCD displays, initially based on screens from Samsung, and later Sharp.
Sony eventually ended production of the Trinitron in Japan in 2004. In 2006, Sony announced that it would no longer market or sell Trinitrons in the United States or Canada, but it would continue to sell the Trinitron in China, India, and regions of South America using tubes delivered from their Singapore plant. Production in Singapore finally ended in March 2008, only months after ending production of their rear-projection systems. Two lines of the factory were later brought back online to supply the professional market.
280 million Trinitron tubes were built. At its peak, 20 million were made annually.
The Trinitron design incorporates two unique features: the single-gun three-cathode picture tube, and the vertically aligned aperture grille.
The single gun consists of a long-necked tube with a single electrode[dubious – discuss] at its base, flaring out into a horizontally-aligned rectangular shape with three rectangular cathodes inside. Each cathode is fed the amplified signal from one of the decoded RGB signals.
The electrons from the cathodes are all aimed toward a single point at the back of the screen where they hit the aperture grille, a steel sheet[dubious – discuss] with vertical slots cut in it. Due to the slight separation of the cathodes at the back of the tube, the three beams approach the grille at slightly different angles. When they pass through the grille they retain this angle, hitting their individual colored phosphors that are deposited in vertical stripes on the inside of the faceplate. The main purpose of the grille is to ensure that each beam strikes only the phosphor stripes for its color, much as does a shadow mask. However, unlike a shadow mask, there are essentially no obstructions along each entire phosphor stripe. Larger CRTs have a few horizontal stabilizing wires part way between top and bottom.
In comparison to early shadow mask designs, the Trinitron grille cuts off much less of the signal coming from the electron guns. RCA tubes built in the 1950s cut off about 85% of the electron beam, while the grille cuts off about 25%. Improvements to the shadow mask designs continually narrowed this difference between the two designs, and by the late 1980s the difference in performance, at least theoretically, was eliminated.
Another advantage of the aperture grille was that the distance between the wires remained constant vertically across the screen. In the shadow mask design, the size of the holes in the mask is defined by the required resolution of the phosphor dots on the screen, which was constant. However, the distance from the guns to the holes changed; for dots near the center of the screen, the distance was its shortest, at points in the corners it was at its maximum. To ensure that the guns were focused on the holes, a system known as dynamic convergence had to constantly adjust the focus point as the beam moved across the screen. In the Trinitron design, the problem was greatly simplified,[how?] requiring changes only for large screen sizes, and only on a line-by-line basis.
For this reason, Trinitron systems are easier to focus than shadow masks, and generally had a sharper image. This was a major selling point of the Trinitron design for much of its history. In the 1990s, new computer-controlled real-time feedback focusing systems eliminated this advantage, as well as leading to the introduction of "true flat" designs.
Visible support or damping wires
Even small changes in the alignment of the grille over the phosphors can cause the color purity to shift. Since the wires are thin, small bumps can cause the wires to shift alignment if they are not held in place. Monitors using Trinitron technology have one or more thin tungsten wires running horizontally across the grille to prevent this. Screens 15" and below have one wire located about two thirds of the way down the screen, while monitors greater than 15" have 2 wires at the one-third and two-thirds positions. These wires are less apparent or completely obscured on standard definition sets due to wider scan lines to match the lower resolution of the video being displayed. On computer monitors, where the scan lines are much closer together, the wires are often visible. This is a minor drawback of the Trinitron standard which is not shared by shadow mask CRTs. Aperture grilles are not as mechanically stable as shadow or slot masks; a tap can cause the image to briefly become distorted, even with damping/support wires. Some people may find the wires to be distracting.
A polyurethane sheet coated to scatter reflections is affixed to the front of the screen, where it can be damaged.
Partial list of other aperture grille brands
- ^"You Guys Can Do It!". Sony Global. Sony. 2002. Archived from the original on 2010-06-25. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
- ^Ed Reitan, "CBS Field Sequential Color System"Archived 2010-01-05 at the Wayback Machine, 24 August 1997
- ^Ed Reitan, "RCA Dot Sequential Color System"Archived 2010-01-07 at the Wayback Machine, 28 August 1997
- ^Gould, Jack (4 January 1954). "Television in Review: NBC Color; Tournament of Roses Parade Is Sent Over 22-City Network". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2019-05-04. (blog about this article, (archived May 4, 2019)
- ^ abSony, pg. 42
- ^Edward Lucie-Smith (1983). A History of Industrial Design. Phaidon Press. p. 208. ISBN .
- ^Sony, pg. 43
- ^ abcSony, pg. 44
- ^Sony, pg. 45
- ^ abSony, pg. 46
- ^ abSony, pg. 47
- ^"Sony Trinitron color television receiver, c 1970" is a common publication claiming that Trinitron and Chromatron are the same.
- ^Albert Abramson (15 September 2007). The History of Television, 1942 to 2000. McFarland. p. 117. ISBN .
- ^Sony, pg. 48
- ^ ab"Trinitron's High Quality Image Wins Computer Displays Applications". Sony History. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-03-29.
- ^ ab"KX-20PS1"
- ^"Sony PROFEEL"
- ^"Sony Pulls Plug on Historic Trinitron TV"Archived 2008-08-21 at the Wayback Machine, IEEE Spectrum Online
- ^ ab"Sony to stop making old-style cathode ray tube TVs", Wall Street Journal MarketWatch', 3 March 2008
- ^James, James; Hansell, Saul (10 March 2005). "Samsung Is Now What Sony Once Was". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-05-27.
- ^Shu-Ching, Jean Chen (26 February 2006). "Sony Jilts Samsung For Sharp In LCD Panel Production". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03.
- ^spectrum.ieee.org, 5 March 2008, "Sony Pulls Plug on Historic Trinitron TV", retrieved 9 June 2020.
- ^"Maximum PC". July 2003.
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