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Should I upgrade my CRT HDTV? (Morrison's Mailbag)

CNET Reader Chris D wants to know if it's time to upgrade his CRT HDTV. Geoff Morrison helps him out.

CNET Chris D. asks:

I have a CRT HD TV that is 5 and a half years old (one of the last ones they made). In terms of picture quality, it still looks better than any of the LED, LCD, or plasma sets I've seen. Am I right? I watch a lot of 4:3 TV. I'm concerned that if I upgrade I'll be forced to have a distorted 4:3 image (i.e., through "stretch" or "zoom" etc.). Is this still the case? Thanks for any reply.

Normally I don't answer "should I upgrade" questions, but who can resist a good CRT bashing?

Lets tackle your question in two parts: should you upgrade, and if you do, what about 4x3.


The most important aspect of a TV's picture quality is contrast ratio. Check out my article Contrast ratio (or how every TV manufacturer lies to you) for why. In this capacity, the commonly held belief is that CRTs are superior to all other technologies. In theory, this is true. A CRT is able to produce an actual "black," as in an absence of light. Plasma and LCDs can't do this. The few local dimming LED LCDs on the market can sort of do this, but they have a limited number of zones to work with. They can't turn individual pixels "off," only groups.

However, not all CRTs are the same. Some performed better than others. Is it possible a modern plasma looks better than a lesser CRT in this regard...maybe. It's hard to say as most of us haven't seen a CRT in years.

But there's more to consider than just contrast ratio. Resolution, for one. CRTs were 1080i, but not a true 1,920x1,080. They didn't have pixels that made up an image, instead they had scan lines. On consumer sets, these rarely reached maximum HD resolution. So modern 1080p flat panels will have better resolution than any CRT.

Keep in mind that when it comes to movies and most TV shows, 1080i and 1080p are the same resolution.

Then there's brightness. Modern TVs are significantly brighter than CRTs, especially LCD and LED LCDs. Maybe this is important to you, maybe not. If you've been happy with CRT this long, then brightness obviously isn't a priority.

Or how about screen size? The largest CRTs were 38 inch (RCA) and 40 inch (Sony). I had one of the 38-inch RCAs, and like everyone I knew who had one, it went "poof" one night, never to work again. Stepping up to even a 50-inch will be a huge increase in size. Not to mention the gigantic Sharp LCDs available. I'm a huge proponent of huge, swearing by my 102-inch projection screen.

Clearly the depth and weight of your current TV aren't a big issue, but there is something undeniably cool about a 1-inch thick flat panel.

That big CRT also draws--and I think I'm close here--more than 1.21 jigowatts of power. Modern TVs are way more energy-efficient.

Lastly, if you haven't already bought a Blu-ray player, you're likely out of luck. Most new Blu-ray players don't have component outputs (HDMI only), and even those that do can be forced to limit their component output resolution to 480i.

Upgrade bottom line

Yes, CRTs can create a great image, but even the best give a relatively small, dim, not-quite-full-HD image. Modern TVs look pretty amazing, and offer a lot of benefits beyond the CRT's one winning attribute: black level (and the associated contrast ratio).


OK, I have to ask, why are you watching so much 4x3? If it's all old TV shows, that's one thing, but if you're watching current TV shows, they should not be in 4x3.

All but the most obscure channels are now available in 16x9 HDTV. Does your cable provider not offer them? If they do, and you're not paying for the HD channels from your cable/satellite provider, you should be. That's a waste of your HDTV. Is it hooked up with component cables (or HDMI for newer TVs)? Have you selected the HD channels from your provider (many separate HD and SD versions of the same channel)?

To answer your question, though, you don't have to stretch 4x3 programming to fit the screen. You can watch its squareness on your shiny, new rectangle screen, though there will be black bars on either side.

If you're one of those people who can't handle black bars (still, really?), I'm not sure what I can do to help...except for maybe giving this link to CNET's Aspect Ratio Quick Guide.

Got a question for Geoff? Click "Geoffrey Morrison" below then click the "E-mail" link in the upper right to e-mail, wait for it...Geoffrey Morrison! Put "Morrison's Mailbag" somewhere in there. If it's witty, amusing, and/or a good question, you may just see it in a post just like this one. No, I won't tell you what TV to buy. Yes, I'll probably truncate and/or clean up your email. You can also send me a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff.

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