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All About Monitors: CRT vs. LCD

When shopping for a new computer system, we tend to fret over such things as the CPU speed or hard disk size, but what about the one component of your system that is used just as much? Of course we're talking about the monitor. Often referred to as a display screen, a video display terminal (VDT) or visual display unit (VDU), the monitor is the component of your computer system that displays the messages and data being processed and utilized by the computer's CPU.

The two types of monitor technologies available to consumers are available in CRT monitors and LCD monitors. There are big differences between LCD and CRT, and while LCD technology has advanced to the point where its viewing quality is comparable to CRTs, many people today still choose to purchase a CRT monitor. CRTs are bigger and bulkier than an LCD, they consume more power and are prone to screen flicker. LCD monitors, however, are more expensive when compared to CRTs, they introduce the problem of viewing angles, and generally have less accurate color replication.

Each type of monitor, as you can see, has its advantages and disadvantage. In this article we will provide a comparison of CRT and LCD monitors, along with defining some of the many specifications and terminology you should be aware as you decide between an LCD and CRT monitor.

CRT Monitors

Sort for cathode-ray tubes, CRT monitors were the only choice consumers had for monitor technology for many years. Cathode ray tube (CRT) technology has been in use for more than 100 years, and is found in most televisions and computer monitors. A CRT works by moving an electron beam back and forth across the back of the screen. Each time the beam makes a pass across the screen, it lights up phosphor dots on the inside of the glass tube, thereby illuminating the active portions of the screen. By drawing many such lines from the top to the bottom of the screen, it creates an entire screen of images.

LCD/Flat panel Monitors

Short for liquid crystal display, LCD technology can be found in digital watches and computer monitors. LCD displays use two sheets of polarizing material with a liquid crystal solution between them. An electric current passed through the liquid causes the crystals to align so that light cannot pass through them. Each crystal, therefore, is like a shutter, either allowing light to pass through or blocking the light. Color LCD displays use two basic techniques for producing color: Passive matrix is the less expensive of the two technologies. The other technology, called thin film transistor (TFT) or active-matrix, produces color images that are as sharp as traditional CRT displays, but the technology is expensive.

CRT vs. LCD - The Pros and Cons of Each

Resolution & Viewing Quality

Resolution on a CRT is flexible and a newer model will provide you with viewing resolutions of up to 1600 by 1200 and higher, whereas on an LCD the resolution is fixed within each monitor (called a native resolution). The resolution on an LCD can be changed, but if you're running it at a resolution other than its native resolution you will notice a drop in performance or quality.

Both types of monitors (newer models) provide bright and vibrant color display. However, LCDs cannot display the maximum color range that a CRT can. In terms of image sharpness, when an LCD is running at its native resolution the picture quality is perfectly sharp. On a CRT the sharpness of the picture can be blemished by soft edges or a flawed focus.

A CRT monitor can be viewed from almost any angle, but with an LCD this is often a problem. When you use an LCD, your view changes as you move different angles and distances away from the monitor. At some odd angles, you may notice the picture fade, and possibly look as if it will disappear from view.

Refresh Rate

Some users of a CRT may notice a bit of an annoying flicker, which is an inherent trait based on a CRTs physical components. Today's graphics cards, however, can provide a high refresh rate signal to the CRT to get rid of this otherwise annoying problem. LCDs are flicker-free and as such the refresh rate isn't an important issue with LCDs.

Dot Pitch
Dot pitch refers to the space between the pixels that make up the images on your screen, and is measured in millimeters. The less space between pixels, the better the image quality. On either type of monitor, smaller dot pitch is better and you're going to want to look at something in the 0.26 mm dot pitch or smaller range.

Screen (viewable) Size

Most people today tend to look at a 17-inch CRT or bigger monitor. When you purchase a 17-inch CRT monitor, you usually get 16.1 inches or a bit more of actual viewing area, depending on the brand and manufacturer of a specific CRT. The difference between the "monitor size" and the "view area" is due to the large bulky frame of a CRT. If you purchase a 17" LCD monitor, you actually get a full 17" viewable area, or very close to a 17".

Physical Size

There is no denying that an LCD wins in terms of its physical size and the space it needs. CRT monitors are big, bulky and heavy. They are not a good choice if you're working with limited desk space, or need to move the monitor around (for some odd reason) between computers. An LCD on the other hand is small, compact and lightweight. LCDs are thin, take up far less space and are easy to move around. An average 17-inch CRT monitor could be upwards of 40 pounds, while a 17&-inch LCD would weigh in at around 15 pounds.


As an individual one-time purchase an LCD monitor is going to be more expensive. Throughout a lifetime, however, LCDs are cheaper as they are known to have a longer lifespan and also a lower power consumption. The cost of both technologies have come down over the past few years, and LCDs are reaching a point where smaller monitors are within many consumers' price range. You will pay more for a 17" LCD compared to a 17" CRT, but since the CRT's actual viewing size is smaller, it does bring the question of price back into proportion. Today, fewer CRT monitors are manufactured as the price on LCDs lowers and they become mainstream.

In March 2009 Hitachi Displays plead guilty to LCD price fixing joining LG Display, Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT) and Sharp. Hitachi will pay US$31 million in fines for its role in fixing LCD prices sold to Dell for LCD monitor and notebook PC applications according to the US Department of Justice. [Source: Display Blog]

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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