If you are a gamer of a certain age, you probably have fond memories of playing your favorite classic console in front of a boxy TV. However, while many gamers still keep their old consoles – or buy them back from garage sales and eBay auctions – CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs are largely an abandoned relic. of the past. You can find dozens of examples of dust at your local thrift store, landfill, or maybe even your grandmother’s house. But are they really worse than your cheap replacement LEDs or do they deserve a second chance at life? According to enthusiasts working tirelessly to fix them, they’re more than just a relic–they’ve been the best way to play classic games for decades.
When Steve Nutter, a CRT enthusiast, plugged in his old console to show his young son the games he’d grown up with, he was utterly disappointed by the results. His favorite N64 games look terrible on his LCD TV, with pale colors, flickering images, and huge input lag. He turns to the internet for advice, where he discovers one of the worst-kept secrets in the classic game – that an old TV is essentially a necessity for any board setup. What is the original controller?
Luckily, Nutter has an old Toshiba lying around, which he can revive for his nostalgic purposes. As a trained engineer, he found himself intrigued by the intricate machinery of these displays. He would watch YouTube videos made by hackers and phone “phreakers”, who like to play with machines, slowly gathering his basics. Over time, Nutter’s interest in CRT grew to the point where he began scouring Craigslist and bidding on eBay auctions, looking for really compelling CRT monitors like the Sony PVM and BVM. And one day, his luck changed: a high-end PVM for sale at a reasonable price was just a short drive away. What he found changed his life almost overnight.
“I found a local seller who is a CRT recycler,” explains Nutter. “When I went to pick them up, I found they had 25 PVMs lying in the warehouse. That was in 2015, when they were being recycled from hospitals and medical clinics. The owner explained to me that they were having difficulty. in finding enough space to store them. When I told him I wanted to buy them all, as far as he knew, I helped him a lot.”
When Nutter brought dozens of boxes back to his garage, he quickly realized that most of them had serious problems. Some won’t even turn on. That’s when he decided to learn how to fix them as best he could, even if it was just to get some money back on his temporary investment.
“When I started, I was sitting in a room surrounded by PVMs and I thought, ‘Who would want to buy all this?’ I thought I made a big mistake. But when I started making them, suddenly everyone wanted them.”
What makes a high-end CRT like the PVM or Trinitron better than your childhood Zenith? As Nutter says, it’s all about the use case. PVM and BVM are professional-grade monitors intended for broadcast use in work environments, such as hospitals or TV studios. These boxes are designed to do things that consumer TVs simply cannot, especially in terms of color adjustment and scanline customization. Over the years, information sources such as Digital foundry have shown that top-of-the-line CRTs are great for modern gaming, albeit with certain downsides. However, Nutter admits that some PVM sellers may be taking advantage of less informed customers by overcharging for older sets.
“There’s definitely an element of exaggeration,” says Nutter. “But a properly tuned PVM is the culmination of 100 years of analog video technology working together. It’s sharper, it looks better. The problem is that many PVMs aren’t in top condition, which means that. They’re not worth it at all. people pay for them… People come to me with damaged PVMs that they’ve spent hundreds of dollars shipping around the country.”
Today, Nutter is a full-time CRT repairman, specializing in high-end or exotic boxes, from PVMs to forgotten models from Asia. However, he also spends his time tinkering with more casual consumption patterns, often just for fun. His clients mail, drive, and hand-deliver their CRTs to his garage in Virginia, where he repairs an average of one TV per day of the week. (His current backlog runs until 2023.)
He documents the repair process with photos so the client knows exactly what he did. Nutter explains that he has worked on too many expensive CRT sets that show signs of poor quality or imperfect workmanship over the years to not write down everything he does and exactly why he does it. there. Of course, he also documents the results on his Patreon, where he hopes his subscribers can learn from his mistakes–maybe even enough to correct their own CRTs without his help.
Nutter isn’t the only CRT expert trying to help others learn the art of dark bulb repair. Andy King is the owner of the CRT Database, a free web resource dedicated to gathering as much information about these boxes as possible. The site has instructions on how to modify many of the more popular CRT brands available, from Sanyo to Toshiba. It also features an instructor to adjust any of the CRT’s color settings, this is useful for any classic gamer. King likens the experience of buying a PVM to getting the keys to the Ferrari you dreamed of driving as a kid.
“None of us used broadcast screens to play our games as children,” says King. “We’re using a second-hand bedroom TV… If you’re looking for an accurate 1:1 nostalgic recreation of your childhood, the PVM is not a worthwhile investment. However, some of us are looking to build that nostalgic experience by finding the best technology capable of playing those games.”
Both Nutter and King describe themselves as completely self-taught; After all, there is no course that can teach you comprehensive repair of these old machines. Nutter says he started his journey with a scanned copy of an old PVM manual, which contains dozens of pages of troubleshooting instructions. From there, he can learn the basics of CRT repair from old books and old personal websites. Nutter explains that most of his work is focused on completely disassembling each box, pulling out all the circuit boards and replacing the burnt out capacitors on each board.
Nutter explains: “The average CRT someone brought me needed a few new capacitors and could be thoroughly cleaned. “There’s also the whole adjustment face, where I balance the colors and offsets, which is how the geometry looks on the screen. The average job is to do all those steps and take the picture. results. That’s basically it.”
King explains that CRT monitors that won’t turn on are often the hardest to fix. While he can sometimes fix them in an hour or less, a particularly annoying problem can take months to resolve, especially if there isn’t a lot of documentation.
While Nutter’s primary focus is on classic gaming, the utility of his expertise extends beyond that area. For example, there are many 20th-century video installations designed to be displayed on CRT–sometimes an entire boxy TV wall, as in the works of Nam June Paik. This means museums must hire repairmen like Nutter and King to maintain their displays for years to come. Nutter even holds a seminar on the topic at the Houston-based Museum of Fine Arts. He also has clients that provide CRT as part of the set design of historical dramas, such as Stranger Things or even music videos.
Nutter says there are a number of repairmen who specialize in repairing these art objects, but most are retired. However, that didn’t stop Nutter from calling one of them, a former Sony technician in the ’90s, for help with particularly difficult problems. “I can sit there and try to figure out a problem for a whole week, or I can give him a call, and he’ll tell me what to do in 10 minutes,” Nutter says with a laugh. “They don’t share this information on the most advanced machines with anyone. What he knows is amazing.”
Overall, while Nutter and King acknowledge the hype and FOMO surrounding high-end CRTs like PVM and BVM, they both agree on one thing: If you want to play some classic games, you don’t have to. Splurge on a desired model- -At least not immediately.
“You can get the best features of a CRT from a kit that you find on the side of the road,” says Nutter. “With the right console and the right cables, it can look great. Zero latency, bright visuals, gaming on the hardware they’re designed for. That’s really what it’s all about. important. If you want a PVM, that’s great. Just know what you’re getting in.”
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