If you visit my house, you won’t even notice my 50-inch 4K TV. It’s sleek and black, bevel-less, and designed to emphasize TV shows, movies, and video games. When it’s turned off, nestled above my fireplace, it blends into the background.
What you will notice, however, is the bulky CRT TV taking up precious space in my townhouse. It’s heavy, with a thick silver-gray bezel and chunky buttons. I literally got it from someone’s grandpa when he upgraded to a flatscreen.
And I love it. So much.
But why do I own a TV that most people moved on from 15 years ago? And why have I spent a ton of money designing a family room around it and another vintage display? Whether it’s going back to enjoy Chrono Trigger‘s time traveling goodness or digging into the amazing fan translation scene, it’s all about retro gaming.
While gaming through the 1990s and into the aughts, I focused on the newest games and hardware. Sure, I replayed old favorites, but for the most part my retro collection was relegated to a dusty closet. It wasn’t until Nintendo released the SNES Classic Edition in 2017 that I started taking retro gaming seriously. Though I loved playing through a bunch of my favorite SNES games on my flatscreen, I knew something was missing from the emulated experience. So I went hunting for a solution and fell down a rabbit hole so deep it’d make Alice’s skin crawl.
The Fall and Rise of the CRT
“If you’ve been playing games for any amount of time, then you most certainly have memories of playing games on your childhood CRT,” said Coury Carlson, host of YouTube’s My Life In Gaming, in the opening to an episode on the topic. Carlson’s YouTube channel, run with his partner Marc Duddleson, explores retro gaming in the modern era.
“Yet for all their history, in so short a time, CRTs have fallen into disuse,” Carlson continued. “Most people think of CRTs as useless, unwanted space-wasters that you couldn’t pay someone to take away.”
But, Carlson concludes, “sometimes to get the best picture, you have to go backwards.”
CRTs (which stands for Cathode Ray Tube, the technology that gives the TVs their distinctive look and unique silhouette) quickly disappeared in the West after the popularization of LCD flatscreens in the mid- to late aughts. This meant gamers with older consoles had to either hang onto their old TVs or upgrade to the latest consoles. At the time, the SNES or N64 weren’t “retro” yet, so many were happy to leave them behind for an Xbox 360 or PS3.