Meet the experts who bring old CRT TVs back to life

If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you’ll likely have fond memories of playing your favorite old console in front of a boxy TV. However, while many gamers have kept their old consoles — or bought them back at garage sales and eBay auctions — CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs are largely an abandoned relic of the past. You’ll likely find dozens of examples gathering dust at your local thrift store, landfill, or perhaps even your grandmother’s house. But are they actually worse than a cheap LED alternative, or do they deserve a second chance at life? According to enthusiasts who work tirelessly to fix it, it’s more than just a leftover – it’s the best way to play decades of classic games.

When CRT enthusiast Steve Nutter hooked up his old consoles to show his young son the games he grew up on, he was utterly dismayed by the results. His beloved N64 gaming looked awful on his LCD TV, with lackluster colors, flickering picture, and a massive amount of input lag. He turned to the Internet for advice, where he discovered one of the worst kept secrets of old games – that an old TV is basically required for any original console setup.

Fortunately, Nutter had an old Toshiba device that he was able to revive for nostalgic purposes. As a trained engineer, he found himself forced into the complex mechanics of these performances. He’s been watching YouTube videos made by phone hackers and “phreakers” who enjoy playing with machines, slowly amassing his knowledge base. Over time, Nutter’s interest in CRT devices grew to such an extent that he began scanning Craigslist and bidding on eBay auctions, looking for truly desirable CRT monitors such as Sony PVMs and BVMs. And one day, his luck changed: the high-end PVM was sold at a reasonable price just a short drive away. What he found changed his life almost overnight.

“I found a local seller who was into CRT recycling,” Nutter explains. “When I went to pick it up, I saw that they had 25 PVMs sitting in a warehouse. This was in 2015, when they were being recycled from hospitals and clinics. The owner explained to me that they had problems finding enough space to store them. When I told him I wanted to buy them All, as far as he was concerned, I was doing him a great favor.”

Sony Trinitrons are among the most sought after CRTs for consumers.

When Nutter returned a dozen chests to his garage, he soon realized that most of them had major problems. Some will not run. That’s when he decided to learn how to fix it as best he could, even if it was just to get some money back for his windfall investment.

“When I started, I was sitting in a room surrounded by PVMs, and I thought, ‘Who would want to buy all these?'” “I thought I made a big mistake. But as soon as I started working on it, all of a sudden everyone wanted it.”

What makes a high-end CRT like PVM or Trinitron better than your childhood Zenith? As Nutter says, it’s all about the use case. PVMs and BVMs are professional monitors intended for broadcast use in a workplace, such as a hospital or television studio. These boxes are designed to do things that consumer TVs can’t, especially in terms of color tuning and scanning line customization. Over the years, insiders like Digital Foundry have shown that the best CRTs are amazing for modern gaming, although there are some flaws. However, Nutter acknowledges that some PVM sellers can take advantage of less knowledgeable customers by charging inflated prices for worn out sets.

“There’s definitely an element of hype in that,” Nutter says. “But a properly modified PVM is the culmination of 100 years of video and analog technology working together. It’s sharper, looks better. The problem is that many PVMs are not in the best condition, which means they are not worth what people are paying for…People come in To me the damaged PVM devices they spent hundreds of dollars shipping across the country.”

Today, Nutter is a full-time CRT repairman who specializes in high-end or exotic funds, from PVMs to forgotten models from Asia. However, he also spends time fiddling with mundane consumer models, often just for fun. His customers mail, drive, and hand-deliver their CRTs to his Virginia garage, where he fixes an average of one TV every day of the week. (The current backlog extends well into 2023.)

He documents the repair process with pictures, so the customer knows exactly what he did. Nutter explains that he has worked on too many expensive CRT kits that show signs of poor or patchy workmanship over the years to not write down everything he does, and exactly why he does it. Of course, he also posts the resulting documentation to his Patreon, where he hopes his subscribers will learn from his mistakes – perhaps even enough to fix their CRTs without his help.

Nutter isn’t the only CRT expert trying to help others learn the dark art of tube repair. Andy King is the owner of CRT Database, a free web resource dedicated to collecting as much information as possible about these boxes. The site has guides on how to modify many of the most popular CRT brands, from Sanyo to Toshiba. It also contains a guide to adjust any CRT color settings, which is useful for any old gamer. King compares the experience of buying PVM to getting the Ferrari keys you dreamed of driving when you were a kid.

“None of us used broadcast monitors to play our games when we were kids,” King says. “We’ve been using TVs for the bedroom…If you’re looking for a 1:1 nostalgic recreation of your childhood, PVM isn’t a worthwhile investment. However, some of us are looking to build on that nostalgic experience by finding the best technology capable of exercising that the games “.

The coveted CRTs are often the focus of older settings, but they work great with modern games, too.  However, they may need a modification to work.
The coveted CRTs are often the focus of older settings, but they work great with modern games, too. However, they may need a modification to work.

Nutter and King both describe themselves as being completely self-taught; After all, no course can teach you to comprehensively repair these old devices. Nutter says he started his journey with a scanned copy of an old PVM manual, which contains dozens of pages of troubleshooting tips. From there, he was able to learn the basics of CRT repair from old books and old personal web pages. Nutter explains that most of his job is to completely disassemble each box, pull out all the circuit boards, and replace the burnt capacitors on each board.

“The average CRT someone brings me needs some new capacitors, and maybe a good cleaning,” Nutter explains. “There’s also the full tuning aspect, where I balance colors and aberration, which is what the geometry looks like on the screen. The middle function works through all these steps and visualizes the results. That’s the key.”

King explains that CRTs that refuse to turn on are often the most complex to treat. Although it can sometimes fix it in an hour or less, a particularly bad problem can take months to resolve, especially if there isn’t much in the way of documentation.

Although Nutter’s main focus is on retro gaming, the usefulness of his expertise extends beyond the field. For example, there are many video art installations from the 20th century that were designed for display on CRT monitors – sometimes an entire wall of box TVs, as in the work of Paik Nam June. This means that museums will have to hire reformers like Nutter and King to preserve their displays for years to come. Nutter even gave a seminar on the topic at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He also has clients who do CRT shows as part of the set design for dramas, such as Stranger Things, or even music videos.

Nutter says there are many repairers who specialize in repairing these art exhibits, but most of them are retired. However, that doesn’t stop Nutter from calling one of them, a former Sony tech in the ’90s, for help with particularly difficult issues. “I can sit there and try to figure out a problem for a whole week, or I can call him, and he’ll tell me what to do in ten minutes,” Nutter says with a laugh. “They haven’t shared this information about the high-end devices with anyone. It’s amazing what they know.”

Overall, while Nutter and King acknowledge the hype and FOMO that surrounds high-end CRTs like PVMs and BVMs, they both agree on one thing: If you want to play some old games, you don’t need to splurge on a desirable model–at least not on immediately.

“You get all the best CRT features out of a bunch you find on the side of the road,” says Nutter. “With the right console and the right cables, it can look great. No latency, bright picture, playing games on the hardware it was designed for. That’s all that should really matter. If you want PVM, that’s great. Just know what get into it.”

The products discussed here were independently selected by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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