What Are CRT TVs?

Their bulky size, curved screens and hefty weight may make cathode ray tube TVs look like museum artifacts now, but these sets monopolized the consumer market until the early 2000s. Most consumers had little choice but to buy a CRT TV until flat-screen technology could compete on quality and price.

Retro TV
Image of a CRT TV.
credit: pxel66/iStock/Getty Images

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History of CRT TVs

Early TV experiments focused on electromechanical systems that used rotating disks to create pictures. During the early part of the 20th century, inventors started to use cathode ray tube technology as a broadcast medium to try to improve picture quality. By the 1930s, this technology formed the foundation of TV design that would ultimately make CRT sets a mass-consumer product that dominated the market for many decades.

How CRT TVs Work

The technology in a CRT TV revolves around a cathode ray tube. This vacuum tube projects electrons onto a screen to create an image. When signals come into the TV, a circuit shoots electrons down the tube to build a picture on the screen via an aperture mask. The inside of the screen contains phosphors that create red, blue or green light; the colors and subsequent images you see on the TV occur when electrons strike the phosphor layer and light it up.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CRT TVs

CRT TVs are reliable and produce good picture quality. They can create deeper blacks and contrast but cannot compete with all of the features of flat-screen TVs. CRT sets must incorporate the cathode ray tube and its supporting mechanisms, which makes them bulky and heavy in comparison to lightweight and slim flat screen alternatives. They are also less energy efficient and have restricted viewing and screen sizes.

The Decline of CRT TVs

The 1960s saw the first steps toward creating TVs with slimmer and bigger LCD and plasma displays. These new technologies would not change consumer buying habits for some years to come, however, as the first models were very expensive. By the 2000s, lower prices and improved features made flat-screen TVs a viable choice for consumers, and CRTs became less popular. For example, in 2005, Panasonic announced that its LCD flat panels would outsell its CRT models for the first time by 2006. Within a few years, flat-screen TVs would go on to replace CRT designs.

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