Why I Didn’t Buy This Cool CRT TV Setup and How You Should Learn From It

Earlier this week, I had the interesting experience of attending an estate sale in an auction format. It was across the street from my parents house as we were in town for a visit.  Among that auction, I eventually stumbled on an impressive specimen of CRT goodness combined with classic oak furnishings. The dilemma is that the thing was huge.

I didn’t want to go in on this alone, so I quickly turned to my Twitter tribe to bounce the idea off them.

What follows the story of that day’s experience and some advice I learned from my fellow hunters and collectors along the way.

This is a more spontaneous, old-school blog post. Much less planned and edited that my typical fare (although I’ll still work on structuring and formatting some). But I wanted to get this out into the world and see everyone’s feedback and reaction. Enjoy!

The Auction Story

I’ll segment this part off, in case you aren’t interested. That way you can jump right to the CRT shopping specifics if that’s all that matters to you.

Anyway…. I had never actually participated in an auction in real life (although I’ve watched a handful of Storage Wars episodes in my day) and I initially didn’t think there was much in the piles of stuff that interested me.

One treasure I did find was a Sears Roebuck mail-order catalog from 1913 and scored it with some other items for $10.  It’s a shame it has as much damage as it does, but from the looks of other vintage Sears Roebuck eBay listings, it could be worth a few hundred dollars….

Another amazing retro find from the auction. See similar vintage on eBay

I knew the house itself was also going to be auctioned off but I didn’t know how furniture and other large items were going to be handled. There was some furniture and electronics that were out on the lawn with the bulk of the other items. However, after a while, I learned that we were allowed into the house to browse more of the remaining furniture and other items.

There wasn’t a lot that was my personal style, but I did stumble on a bedroom that contained a rather impressive CRT TV that was also surrounded in console cabinet.  In hindsight, I regret not taking more pictures. This obviously isn’t the type of thing you see all the time.

The cabinet seemed to be solid oak, but it could use a new finish to it. It had definitely seen some wear. The cabinet did swivel at the bottom and it had speakers built into the bottom. The speakers weren’t going to blow you away, but they were better than most built-in CRT speakers. I checked out the inputs and was pleased to see an S-Video input, but I my guess was confirmed that there wasn’t anything like Component/RGB.

As the auction moved into the house, I honestly didn’t know if I would actually bid on the item. It wasn’t even a matter or price. It was purely on if I thought it was worth moving the item or not.

I enjoyed watching what other people would bid on through the house, but in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if I would pull the trigger on the TV.

Eventually, I went back into that bedroom and poked and prodded at the unit. A random guy saw me looking at it a commented about how cool it was. I mentioned I was mostly concerned about the weight. He then mentioned he knew people that turned them into really cool fish tanks. I shuttered at the though silently to myself, but I nicely smiled.

Soon after, the auctioneer and the crowd came into that very room but at least I was ready to have a front row seat. The auctioneer took care of a few other items in the room before turning the attention to the TV. I STILL didn’t know what I was going to do.

He started the auction for the TV at $50. Nobody was even showing interest. The offers kept dropping down in $10 increments. It lingered oh-so-briefly at $10 but not even I flinched at it. Yep. As much as that CRT in the oak furnishings was calling to me, I didn’t go for it. I will admit, almost ever half hour that passed after that, I wondered if I should have gone for it.

The Pressure to Buy Was Real

I genuinely wanted to hear thoughts from the community to help me balance out my internal thoughts. In the moment, I was definitely feeling the pressure to pick this up… Summed up in this GIF:

Do It Episode 3 GIF by Star Wars - Find & Share on GIPHY

There were also comments such as the following…

  • “It’s worth all the pain. That is a rare treasure.” – @the1ucidone
  • “Get it….”  – @HandsomeRick
  • “Dude I hope you bought it. Looks amazing! You know you can find room somewhere!” – @NUMBercrunch3r

Granted, there were also some other people that painted the flip side about back-breaking weight and teamwork and equipment needed to move.

Oh… and yeah, make sure the thing actually works well before you dive in. All things I considered, but it was nice to hear all sides of opinion. Lets dig into more of that now…

Why I DIDN’T Buy That Cool CRT Specimen

That’s right — despite the pressure and expectation of retro gamers like myself to gobble up whatever cheap CRTs we can find, I outright passed on this essentially “free” CRT + cabinet.

After I tweeted out my original thoughts on the dilemma, my semi-local Twitter buddy, @8bitesquire replied back publicly rather quickly:  “No, I’m not helping you.”  I couldn’t help but laugh, but I decided to PM him while I was standing around waiting for bidding on the piece.

I replied, “I think I’m passing on the TV. It’s pretty cool but so big and not quite as aligned with my goals to make it worth the haul.”

We ended up chatting about a lot of related topics on making a decision on whether or not to actually take the plunge on a CRT and, me being me, I decided to share these thoughts with the world.

Moving Logistics

This would be my largest concern going into this ordeal.  I was not alone in this concern…

  • ” it will be heavy….300lbs or more if its the 36″. “ – @Squatch_XXL
  • At the beginning of our PMs, @8bitesquire said, “Its SO BIG – lol. – you would need a hand cart”

Yes, it would be one thing if I only had to move it once, but in reality, I would most likely need to move this beast twice.

It would be one thing if the person selling it was going to be at that house for a bit longer, but they had already moved out and a new family just purchased the house that day. So unless I worked out some serious social engineering, I would need to first move it to my mom’s house across the street and then move it to my house, which is an hour away.

I also didn’t happen to have a hand cart or anything else to move it properly. If it wasn’t for my parent’s pickup truck, I would also be out of luck on a way to transport easily.

Need Ability to Test the Picture Quality

I didn’t even think of this one until it was coming close to bidding time…. I was chatting with @8bitesquire , mentioning that I could only get static to show as there was nothing around to hook the thing up to anything but power.  I asked if static could be of any value for testing… “haha, no – you definitely need to plug a source in. I used to take a small battery operated PacMan plug and play controller with a composite hookup”, he replied.  He also added, “That’s always an issue back when I was hunting CRTs on craigslist – I’d show up at the old folks’ house and the tube would be shot”

@stevetrex42 also had the right idea: “Have a plug-and-play handy to test on that 32-inch flat-glass Sony Wega you found on the curb BEFORE you haul it upstairs and find out it has a dim corner.”

@Squatch_XXL later added, “S-video looks great from many systems. I would test it against 240p test suite (I use a wii for this). If the image is good, this may be a great centerpiece.”

I was also curious how good the picture quality would be on an older, non-Trinitron TV of this size.  I asked @8bitesquire, “Is it also kinda a thing that if the CRT is overly large, you kinda loose some of the crisp-ness of the picture/detail?  He replied,  “[Yes], Especially with a lesser brand. I had a 36” trinitron and it was glorious …until the tube died”

These are all great pieces of advice — especially before you commit to hauling the thing off. So if I went in prepared (but honestly, I had no idea I was even going to this auction let along a CRT being there)

But take this into mind, if you do plan on being on the prowl for CRTs, I recommend considering putting a “go bag” with some testing equipment in the trunk of you car or something. That way, if the opportunity arises, you will be prepared.

It’s one thing where you’re going on a planned trip to check out a Craigslist opportunity or an eBay sale, but sometimes you see things on the side of the road, by a dumpster or stumble on a random estate sale.

My Future Space Planning

I will admit that I very much enjoy this concept of building a retro styled mini living room in part of my house for playing retro games and perhaps watching VHS tapes. This particular CRT console cabinet would be an excellent centerpiece for a space like that.

It would be tempting to build a space like this retro family room on Reddit

However, in reality, I’m planning on something that lets me hook up a lot of different equipment and be a bit of library-like setup. On top of my game collection, I have a large magazine collection. I also have other retro-flavored hobbies like baseball card collecting, and a few classic toys. So I’m looking for a retro space that maximizes space and has a different vibe. So as cool as this RCA piece is, it doesn’t actually meet my goals too well.

In reality, I’m going for a more eclectic, paper+electronics, library-like lounge for my retro room.

Current Hardware & Future Hardware Goals

So I do have a large, Samsung Slimfit CRT already. Now as the video expert, Bob from RetroRGB informed me, “I believe they scale every signal to 1080i and process 240p as interlaced. As a result, they’re terrible for 240p stuff, but AWESOME for PS2 / 480i games.”  I really enjoy the aesthetic of the display even if it isn’t pure retro. It also has a lot more modern input options to chose from. The S-Video option on the RCA at the auction is indeed nice, but it would be cool to be able to work with Component/RGB.

I also have my parents old CRT (medium-sized — like a 24 inch) that I can use. Its inputs are really limited, but if I want to go really old-school that one’s an option.

So between the not-retro-enough Samsung Slimfit and my overly retro CRT, I’m really in the market for something that is right in the middle. (And that RCA TV + cabinet doesn’t really fit that criteria quite well enough)

I have a few routes I kinda want to consider for future acquisitions. I may be a bit of a brand snob, but I’d really like to get something in the Sony family — either a Sony Trinitron consumer TV, a PVM, or even one of Sony’s PC monitors from their VAIO line — maybe even a mix of a couple of those.

You could liken committing to a large CRT a bit like a marriage. You don’t want to commit unless you’re in it for the long-term.

Not only would I have to lug this thing to my basement (and the back corner), but I’d had to move it around once I get the space semi-finished (we recently moved in and have an unfinished basement) but if I ever do “upgrade” to a different display later, or… you know… the thing just dies, I would need to move the thing back out and dispose of it somehow.

It might have been a bit more tempting if the TV was a Sony like this one available on eBay

The Wish For Better Solutions for Distributing Old CRTs

One of the things I do feel guilty for is that the somebody had to find a way to get rid of that TV (unless the new owners of the house wanted it, I guess).  If only it could easily find its way into the hands of somebody that could put it to good use.  We all have different goals in our retro setups and I’m sure somebody out there thinks it would be a great addition to their setup.

Other’s CRT Stories

Since I was processing this dilemma most of that afternoon I asked around Twitter if anyone had any other similar stories or lessons learned from shopping for CRTs. Here’s some excerpts…

So, after that tube [from the previous Sony Trinitron] went. I found another Trinitron. Nearly identical to the one I had prior, only a 32” instead of 36” I had picked it up from an elderly couple who had been keeping it on the floor of their dining room floor. It was getting late and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time testing. I turned it on, it worked, the colors were slightly off – nothing a little calibration couldn’t fix

I lifted it myself into my wife’s suv and drove it home. I decided to wait until the weekend to finally test out the new crt. Unfortunately, no calibration could save this set. Ghosting was rampant, the colors were dim and distorted to yellows and greens

In a moment of desperation, I searched online for a tv repair shop willing to make house calls, no way was I lugging this thing up amd down another flight of stairs. Days later the repairman came. Denim jeans paired with a denim shirt. Eyeglasses that seemingly magnified his face 20x, all white tennis shoes purchased during the Clinton administration. He reeked of cigarettes and fast food.  He may have last showered during the Reagan administration.  With his bare asscrack exposed, he opened the TVs casing, and began poking around. My wife was ready to divorce me and this dumb hobby of mine

After about 30 minutes of troubleshooting, he informed me that he thinks he knows the part I need, but he doesn’t know if it still is being sold. With no guarantees of a reliable fix, and no telling when it would ever occur, I cut my losses. “Why don’t you just see if you can find another one of these on a curb somewhere?” He says with a grin featuring half his original teeth.

From that moment on, I was done with CRTs, I bought my framemeister that same year and never looked back.  I really miss light gun games though”

– @8bitesquire

 

“Just got my first Pro level CRT monitor, offer was too good to pass up and peer pressure :). Unpopular opinion, I still prefer digital scaled pixels on my 60” TV. I guess I can cross this off my list?”

– @hyp36rmax – 

 

“Passed it on to someone else via CL (free) the next day. Would’ve been a rad set if I had space for it. “- @sramdi

 

I bought an apple studio display that sadly died, but I didn’t give up on it. Story here

@GabeMoralesVR

Wrapping Up

So I hope you enjoyed this more spontaneous/impromptu blog post. If this is successful, I will consider doing more of the same here and there.

I also enjoy journaling life experiences like this privately, so doing this public sharing gives a different type of motivation to get my thoughts into words. Anyway, thanks for checking this out!

Do You Have Stories or Tips of Your Own?

If anyone has any good stories about deciding to or NOT to pick up an old CRT (or general lessons you’ve learned), I would love to hear them. Feel free to share them in the comments!


4 Comments

scizyr says:

Thanks for posting this blog it was an interesting read. For what it’s worth I think you made the right call with that RCA crt. When I’m looking for any type of retro gear I do a lot of research beforehand so I can judge quality based on the looks, brand, and model of the thing I’m seeking. If I was next to you at that auction I would have said, “that thing is junk, you don’t want that.”

I was looking for a decent CRT for my snes, mainly because I wanted to get into speedrunning a couple games again after a decade of retirement. I would check the free section of craigslist every day as I would always see CRT’s listed there, but patiently waited for some Sony Trinitrons. One day a KV-36FV27 popped up, I have space for it and looked to be in great condition, the guy even put some pictures of it connected and working to a dvd player. The only problem with this was it was on a 2nd story of a duplex house, the guy said his stairway was narrow and he wouldn’t be able to help me move it. With it weighing 270lbs I would struggle to lift it myself let alone carry it at an awkward angle down a flight of stairs and I didn’t have any strong friends, or I should say friends that would be strong enough to help without me being concerned for their safety.

As I was contemplating ways I could move it myself or hire someone to come with me to help I refreshed the CL page and another Sony Trinitron popped up. I didn’t see the model in the listing but they had pictures, and the post said “it’s in our front yard, stand and remote included, come take it.”

I drove to the location and it was still there on a dry sunny day. While I was looking at it I was wondering how heavy it was so I tried lifting it. It was heavy but not back breakingly so and I made my decision there. The stand it was nothing special but it’s all black and with glass doors on the front which looks nice with the stylings of the TV so I took that as well.

Got the set home and in my den(converted garage) and looked at the set more thoroughly and googled the model number. Turns out this KV-27FV16 is considered a very good consumer model for retro gaming. Hooked up my SNES via composite and it worked perfectly, I noticed a little bending at the middle edge of the screen but I believe that was caused from the TV not being turned on a long time as after about an hour that disappeared completely. Ordered an S-video cable for my SNES and the picture quality was noticeably improved.

A year later and it’s still flawless, bright picture, immaculate colors, I even opened up my SNES and added a YPbPr mod to it and it’s just an incredible experience now. Also picked up a model 1 genesis which I found on ebay, already modded for region switching and recapped with upgraded capacitors. Got a component cable for that as well.

Overall I’m pretty happy with what I found on the side of the road for free. In my opinion the risk of getting a dud set and having to dispose of it is trivial compared to the reward of finding that lucky set that just works. Keep your eyes open, practice patience, and be ready to strike like a coiled viper when you see your target set.

racketboy says:

That’s awesome! Thanks so much for sharing the detail of your story?
How was the work of the YPbPr mod, in your experience? Had you done much similar work before?

Shogun says:

Its interesting to see how people go about buying CRTs. Not all CRTs are gold and many aren’t worth the backache. I think at minimum you need S-video. Component would be nice. You will rarely if ever find anything higher than that in the US on consumer sets (no scart, vga, etc). To test a tv I never brought anything I’d just turn it on and check out the static (snow) on the screen. I’d leave it on while I talk to the owner so it warms up a bit. If it still looks good after a few minutes then you are good to go.

I would like to have a jack of all trades tv but everything seems to have some sort of downside. I have two consumer tvs one is a Sony Wega 480i and the other is Philips 480p I believe. Then I also have an XM20 Plus but it emits a high pitch squeal and has loud fans and is big and heavy. I’ve been tempted to try and trade it for something smaller but I can’t commit. One of these days I’m hoping to work on it because it has the best image by far of anything I have. Until then it sits in my closet under a cover in favor of the more practical Wega. Then I have three PC CRT monitors as well.

It all starts adding up and you end up with too much. I guess to sum it up I would say it pays to be picky.

racketboy says:

Thank you!
And good tip about letting it warm up for a while too!
Nice to hear about your lineup and experience. Seems like there isn’t really a “perfect” set for all situations but nice to hear perspective from someone that has a nice lineup of variety!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get a nice roundup of new retro gaming content once or twice a month.