The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best CRT TVs for Retro Gaming

January 19, 2024

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Playing retro video games on modern TVs can be an underwhelming experience. The games often look stretched out or blurry. For the optimal retro gaming experience, many enthusiasts turn to CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs. But with so many models available, how do you determine the best one?

As a retro gaming enthusiast and expert with over 10 years of experience collecting and restoring vintage consoles and games, I’ve tested countless CRT TV setups. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know to find the perfect CRT TV.

Follow along for pro tips to level up your retro gaming station. With the ideal CRT TV, those classic games will look and feel better than you remember.

How to Choose the Best CRT TV for Retro Gaming

When selecting a CRT TV for gaming, three key factors matter most:

1. Supported Video Inputs

Ideally, your CRT should have component video inputs. This will give you higher quality visuals than composite video cables on consoles that support it like PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

RGB inputs are even better and provide the clearest CRT image possible for retro gaming. However, few consumer TVs offer RGB. It’s mostly seen in high-end pro monitors.

At minimum, the TV should have composite video (the yellow, red, and white inputs) to connect older consoles like NES and SNES. S-Video also improves visuals over composite.

2. Screen Size

The era-appropriate screen size for pixel perfect gaming depends on your consoles:

  • NES/SNES-era: 13-20 inches
  • PlayStation 1/N64-era: 20-27 inches
  • Later consoles can utilize even bigger screens

Bigger CRT TVs tend to cost more and require more space. I recommend a 20-inch screen as the best size for most retro gamers.

3. Price and Availability

CRT TV prices range widely, from free/cheap consumer sets to $1,000+ pro monitors. In general, aim for the best inputs and screen size you can afford and reasonably locate.

Value for money Consumer Trinitrons strike an excellent balance for most retro gamers.

Consumer TVs vs. Pro Monitors

There are two main classes of CRT TVs:

Consumer CRT TVs like those made by Sony, Toshiba and JVC were mass produced from the 1960s-early 2000s for home entertainment. You’ll commonly find them at thrift stores, Craigslist, eBay, etc. They’re affordable but offer varying video quality. Models with component inputs work exceptionally well.

Professional video monitors (PVMs) were commercial units made by Sony, Panasonic, Ikegami and others for broadcast, medical, and creative pro uses. They provide reference-level image quality thanks to higher TV lines of resolution, deeper blacks and thick scanlines. However, they are costly and challenging to find.

In short:

  • Consumer CRT TVs – Cheap, commonly available. Suffice for most retro gaming.
  • Pro PVMs – Superior image quality but expensive and rare. Mostly for enthusiasts.

For their balance of price and performance, I generally recommend late-model Sony Trinitrons in good condition for most retro gamers.

The Best CRT TV Models for Retro Gaming

Based on decades of expertise gaming on CRTs and testing models myself and with collectors worldwide, here are my top recommended CRT picks across classes and sizes:

Best 20″ Consumer CRT TV

Sony KV-20FV300

Sony Kv 20fv300

With component inputs, HDTV compatibility and a 20-inch screen, this late-model Trinitron excels at anything from Atari 2600 up to PS2/Xbox. It’s my #1 overall pick for most retro gamers.

Best Bang-for-Buck 27″ CRT

Sony KV-27FS13

Sony Kv 27fs13

For N64/PS1 action, the FS13 line’s large 27-inch screen and component inputs provide stellar results without breaking your budget.

Best High-End Consumer CRT

Sony KV-36XBR800

Sony Kv 36xbr800

The ultimate big-screen retro gaming TV, this $1,000+ unit sports a huge 36-inch display, component and S-Video inputs across multiple formats, and advanced processing for benchmark results.

Best Entry-Level PVM

Sony PVM-1351Q

Sony Pvm 1351q

Under $200, this little RGB monitor provides authentic arcade visuals. Its small 13-inch screen suits old school consoles.

Best High-End Pro Monitor

Sony BVM-D20F1U

Sony Bvm D20f1u

The Holy Grail. With over 1000 lines of resolution, SDI inputs and the deepest blacks, this $2,000+ reference monitor showcases retro games at their utmost glory.

There are too many good CRT models to list fully, but this sampling covers recommended options across prices and use cases.

Important: When evaluating a used CRT, test it thoroughly yourself rather than just trusting the seller’s claims about condition. Degauss if needed.

Where to Buy a CRT TV for Retro Gaming?

Finding CRT TVs these days requires patience and persistence across multiple sources:

Local Classifieds Sites

Scan Craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace routinely for postings, but expect competition. Act fast!

Thrift Stores

Visit multiple Goodwills, Salvation Army stores. Call ahead to ask if they have CRT TV stock. Prepare to thoroughly test.

eBay and Online Forums

eBay sellers offer CRT pickups or nationwide shipping. Meanwhile, enthusiasts often sell on gaming forums.

Recyclers and Resellers

Some companies specialize in used electronics like CRTs. However, their testing practices and pricing vary greatly.

I particularly recommend Retro Tech and Tech Finds. Both thoroughly refurbish CRTs with guaranteed performance.

Wherever you source the CRT, budget extra for proper cables, converters or mods to optimize connections.

Connecting Retro Consoles to CRT TVs

To unlock a CRT’s full potential for retro gaming visuals, your console connections matter tremendously:

  • RF/Coaxial – Worst quality. Avoid if possible.
  • Composite – Most common cables. Decent results.
  • S-Video – Sharper graphics than composite. Great for 16-bit era consoles.
  • Component – Significant video boost over composite and S-Video. Use this for DVD-era systems if available.
  • RGB SCART – Highest quality analog signal, like having an arcade cabinet at home. Requires a SCART input on the CRT.
  • HDMI – Doesn’t apply for pure retro gaming. Could enable modern remasters or emulators. Ensure your CRT accepts HDMI input if desired.

Based on your consoles’ output capabilities and the CRT TV inputs, connect using the best video signal available to optimize visual performance.

CRT Calibration and Settings Guide

Once you get your retro console hooked up properly, dialing in the right settings takes your CRT TV to the next level:

  • Degauss – Eliminates color contamination from nearby magnetic sources like speakers.
  • Geometry – Adjust linearity, rotation and edges for a square, centered picture.
  • Convergence – Line up color elements so pixels appear sharp instead of separated RGB strands. Reduced “color fringing”.
  • Brightness/Contrast – Set brightness as high as possible without crushing blacks. Adjust contrast depending on room lighting.
  • Sharpness – Best left all the way down for no artificial edge enhancement.
  • Color Temperature – Experiment between warm/neutral/cool presets. Avoid oversaturated colors.
  • Scanlines – Enable light scanlines to blend rows together for an authentic retro gaming look.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here I’ll address some of the most common CRT TV questions:

Is a PVM worth the price over consumer CRTs?

For most retro gamers, consumer Sony Trinitrons offer excellent balance of price, performance and availability. However, PVMs provide unrivaled image quality for devotees with budgets over $500+.

What is the best screen size for retro gaming?

Aim for era-appropriate sizes. For NES/SNES, 13-20 inches looks fantastic. PS1/N64 shine around 20-27 inches. After that, go as big as your space allows!

Do all retro consoles work on CRT TVs?

All older cartridge-based systems connect fine. Disc-based consoles may have regional TV format conflicts, requiring modifications. Handheld ports need upscalers. Overall, CRTs work with 98% of retro hardware excellently.

Can I connect retro consoles via HDMI?

You would need an upscaler like the Retrotink. This converts analog signals to HDMI for modern displays and CRTs with HDMI ports. Results vary across upscalers. Direct analog connections are best for authenticity.

How much should I pay for a CRT TV?

Expect to pay $50-300+ based on model, age, condition and included accessories. Be prepared to thoroughly inspect and test any used CRT purchase regardless of price. Degauss, geometry, colors, etc should display properly without flaws.

Key Takeaways on Finding the Best CRT TV

The key points to remember are:

  • Seek models with component inputs for optimal balance of price and performance
  • Sony Trinitron consumer CRTs provide an unbeatable value for most retro gamers
  • Screen size should fit your console era
  • Connect consoles using the highest quality cables possible
  • Calibrate CRT settings properly for best graphics
  • Inspect thoroughly and test CRTs before purchase to guarantee condition

By following this CRT buying guide, you’re sure to end up with the perfect display to revel in your favorite retro games as authentically as possible.

Happy gaming! Let me know if you have any other CRT-related questions.