Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology


CRTs vs LCDs in 2011/2012

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An interesting thread cropped up on the eComStation Technical mailing list on Yahoo! in the past few days. One of our list members was inquiring about the ability to set refresh rates in the Panorama video driver. Short answer: you can't (well, at least, not yet). This is covered in the VESA FAQ. Apparently, the original poster has a CRT which requires proper tuning of the driver for his monitor's refresh rate. One of the first responses to come back to him (aside from the correct answer, pointing him to the FAQ) was the obvious question: "Why are you still using a CRT?"

I suppose what has amused me the most about this little exchange was the assumption that by now, CRTs have become yester-tech, and that *all* truly modern systems (this was a fresh install of eComStation 2.1) should be outfitted with LCD monitors.

I was going to jump into the post, but instead, I'll just migrate some excerpts here, and include my own commentary at the end.

A fellow Warpstock board member and good friend, Neil Waldhauer, was the one who posited the question concerning the lack of an LCD. Neil's comment was, "If you use a CRT for several hours per day, then the cost of electricity that you save will pay for a new LCD monitor."

My knee-jerk reaction upon reading that was that I'd like to see proof of such a savings. I'm not big on this whole "green" thing, anyway, but that's beside the point. I'd like to see empirical evidence that LCDs are more economical to operate - when matched for performance, viewable size, and quality - than CRTs.

One of my more knowledgeable friends (particularly in the realm of monitors - and also disk partitioning), Felix Miata, responded to Neil's point with the following real-life scenario:

Substantial savings may be the general rule, at least when comparing same
sizes and maximum pixel densities, and using percentages rather than
absolutes, but it's no given.

To replace my 26" Mitsubishi TV with a 16:9 TV without substantial change in
screen height (39 months ago), I had to buy a 32" class. That brought with it
1/3 more width, but an astonishing cost: precisely 50% higher watt consumption.

I have a 20" Dell 4:3 LCD that will be 9 years old in a few weeks. I have
several 21" Trinitrons, essentially the same viewable size as the Dell LCD.
The CRTs use about 62% more watts than the LCD, a "whopping" cost penalty of
$0.63 per month. For that "substantial" extra cost, I can run resolutions
from less than 640x480 up to 2048x1536, with no quality loss not accounted
for by the difference in pixel density, which enables testing web pages at a
near infinitely variable mix of settings in order to match any set of
conditions that web site visitors might be using. Nothing similar is possible
with any single flat panel of any kind that I'm aware of.

Now, that's a pretty clear description of what I might expect in terms of savings. I'm sure that somewhere there have been actual studies done to determine the savings, and (as I will mention below) this does not factor in the heat produced by the CRT which will likely increase cooling costs in the summer by some small amount.

Anyway, my thoughts - which I was going to post as a reply to that thread - concerning CRTs vs LCDs:

I have replaced some workstations for clients in the past 18 months or so who had perfectly good Multisyncs, with absolutely gorgeous output (deep, rich color, and still well-performing flybacks). Clients have asked me if I thought they should replace these monitors with flat panels. My advice? If you can find a flat panel which looks just as good for a reasonable amount of money, then by all means do so (unless you have some other reason to stick with an older CRT - or even an older LCD, for that matter). I think Felix has really pointed up the myth (IMO) of power savings in LCD vs CRT (though LCDs do produce less heat, and you are probably less likely to get eyeballs like cantaloupes from sitting in front of an LCD for 12 hours per day than if you sat in front of an old, leaky CRT...but I digress).

As someone who actually sells this junk...er...equipment...for a living, I can tell you that the amount of profit to be made on monitors has historically been pretty low, and LCDs about the lowest of all. If I have a client who has a great CRT, I'd rather he stick with it than I make $5 on an LCD which is likely to be like a new pair of shoes: nice for a change, but once the luster of "newness" has worn off, not quite as comfortable as the old ones.

The biggest advantage to LCDs is their cheaper shipping cost, leading to an overall lower consumer cost. However, because we live in a mostly disposable society, LCDs are likewise disposable monitors, as it is typically more expensive to repair a low-cost LCD than it is worth (the same is also true of CRTs, but usually for different reasons: the cost of shipping a CRT to a repair depot for service greatly adds to the cost of the repair, and unless the CRT is just out of warranty, the "good money into an old car" paradigm typically applies). In addition, LCDs in general take up less desktop real estate than CRTs of comparable viewing space, and I have had my share of clients request what I consider to be ridiculously-sized monitors for their office desks (22"? really?).

Bottom line: if you have a CRT which still functions well, and suits your purposes, then just take care of it and enjoy it. There will be plenty of time for you to replace that display with a flat panel in the future.

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