CRT vs. LCD for Retro Gaming

By Shamus Posted Tuesday May 6, 2008

Filed under: Random 40 comments

I’m still using an old 19″ CRT monitor. I got it years ago, and I know that I could go out right now and grab a 22″ LCD for about half of what this unit originally cost. I’d like to do so now, both for the desk space and because it might help reduce the frequency of my headaches.

The reason I haven’t done so is that I’m worried it will interfere with the old games I play. I’ve heard complaints from some people in the past that they can’t get games like X-Com to run because their monitor doesn’t support 320×200. I’m not sure how much this is a limitation of the technology and how much is related to driver support. Given the number of old games I play, I don’t want to do an upgrade that will cut me off from some of my old favorites.

Any advice? Is it possible to run those early-90’s games using a modern LCD? Any other drawbacks to using an LCD that I should know about?


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40 thoughts on “CRT vs. LCD for Retro Gaming

  1. Clint says:

    As someone who probably looked at the sun too much as a kid, I have a fair number of floaters. One thing I’ve notice with my LCD monitor at work is that said floaters become *much* more noticeable when reading text on a white background on an LCD. It’s extremely distracting to be reading, say, Slashdot and find that there’s an odd shape drifting over the text where you’re reading. Just something to keep in mind.


  2. Jadawin says:

    This is a stupid question, because I have never messed around with it, but couldn’t you run your old games in a windowed VMWare session at 320 x 200?

  3. Binks says:

    Can’t say I’ve actually played XCom, but I have started it up once. I don’t know what resolution it was running in (assumed it was 800×600 but may very well have been 320×200). Ran fine on my computer with an LCD, however. From what I know of the technology I doubt the problem lies with the screen, more likely its with the driver and video card. If nothing else you could probably run them in windowed mode somehow…

    Getting a resolution that low is kind of a crapshoot with modern technology. You could always go buy a monitor, checking the return policy to make sure this’ll work, and return it if it doesn’t work. Good Luck with whatever you do.

  4. Solka says:

    If there is something I hate is when my computer tells me my computer can’t run one of my old game (*cough* Lord of the Realm 2 *cough*) because I HAVE NOT INSTALLED WIN95!

    Or just my computer is too quick/strong. I tried to run Ultima 7 on my computer 4 years ago. I could not manage to move, since everytime I clicked “go up” my character would travel half of Britannia north..

  5. henebry says:

    Or just my computer is too quick/strong. I tried to run Ultima 7 on my computer 4 years ago. I could not manage to move, since everytime I clicked “go up” my character would travel half of Britannia north.

    I’ve noticed this problem with scrolling on Windows machines: you’re trying to read a Word doc, but when you hit the down arrow with the mouse, the thing scrolls so fast you’re at the end of a 9 page doc before have a chance to pull up your finger.

  6. Deoxy says:

    Solka – there are programs that will “slow down” your computer for such games (and most newer games won’t have that problem, as they quit using CPU cycles as a timer).

    Shamus – I suggest you get yourself that LCD and keep the old CRT around and accessible for when you want to break out the old stuff – heck, set it up as as second monitor, even. Best of both worlds… except for the desk space, of course, but then, the lack of headaches would be more important than that, right?

  7. Yonder says:

    My laptop has an LCD monitor and I am able to play XCOM: UFO Defense on it, have not tried any of the other XCOMs (in addition I was playing that game full screen, not windowed)

  8. Nilus says:

    For those having trouble running old game. Have you tried DOSBox. It has worked great for me. It emulated DOS almost prefectly, as well as any old DOS memory scheme you might need(xms, ems, etc), it also will emulate an old sound card. Not sure about full screen but I know it will also emulate in a window, which means it should be able to emulate any resolution(just might be in a really small window :) )

  9. Eric says:

    I don’t know about the monitor question, but as far as the speed goes, I’ve had good luck using DOSBox to run my retro games.

  10. Muhammad says:

    Don’t worry Shamus. That 22″ monitor will not stop your retro gaming needs. Most probably, that 320×200 will stretch to fit the 22″ LCD.

    There is a version of XCOM that can be played directly from XP. Plus, someone coded a simple fix for garbled graphics on Nvidia cards too. Otherwise, there’s always DOSBox!

    If you don’t like your low-res images to stretch, thus losing the aspect ratio, I have heard of some programs that will allow you to stretch to full screen keeping the aspect correct, albeit with black bars at the side. Kinda like when you’re watching a movie in full screen with black bars on top and below.

    I’m also a retro-gaming buff (still have a copy of Star Control 2 and Crystal Caves!) and I have yet to run into trouble playing them on my computer by upgrading my hardware.

  11. Rich says:

    I play X-COM as well as Master of Magic on a Win XP system with a Viewsonic VA1912wb LCD monitor. The native resolution of the monitor is 1440 X 900. Get ye hence and buy thee one. ;) (Or something like it, of course)

  12. food4worms says:

    I’m a big fan of DOSbox as well. For a VM, I use VirutalBox which is GPL’d — though, I’ve yet to try getting DOS loaded in a VM….

  13. Shinjin says:

    XCom unplayable? Unacceptable!

    Though I’d think you could just play it in a window, but full screen would be better.

  14. Gahaz says:

    In response to Muhammad,

    “If you don't like your low-res images to stretch, thus losing the aspect ratio, I have heard of some programs that will allow you to stretch to full screen keeping the aspect correct, albeit with black bars at the side.”

    There should be no program needed. It just requires fiddiling with the options for you video card. Most will come with the default “Stretch to my monitor size” option enabled. Just have to turn that off and eureka(‘s Castle) your gaming according to the games normal size.

  15. Tichfield says:

    The GameTap version of X-Com works fine on my LCD. :)

  16. Joe says:

    Here’s a thought for you. Depending on the state of your desk real estate, I seem to recall something recently about a spiffy new Sapphire x1650 (so, how much of that purchase decision was based on a deceased CB character?) which, from the picture, looks to have two connectors. I haven’t looked it up, but my suspicion is that the card could run both a spiffy new LCD on the DVI connector, and the tried-and-true CRT on the similarly tried-and-true VGA connector. Then you set up three video profiles, one “minimum headache” profile that’s LCD only, one “maximum productivity” profile that uses both, and one “classic gaming” profile that’s just the CRT.

    @Solka: I so feel your pain. One of my deep loves is Mechwarrior 2. Many many years ago, I had a machine that would play it passably well. It had a decent video card, decent processor, and a neat little gravis joystick with lots of buttons. I have a tendency to keep computers for a really long time, and then upgrade to something orders of magnitude better. So, sometime after I had gotten my new beast, I thought to myself, “you know, I could probably play Mechwarrior on this with all the knobs turned up to 11, and it’d still be smooth! yeah!” But it won’t run under XP, no matter what I try. I don’t think it would comprehend my super-spiffy new joystick even if it did run. I decided to try dual-booting win98. I wondered if win98 would be able to run on my hyperthreaded processor. I never got to find out, because finding win98 drivers for my SATA drive controller was somewhere between an exercise in futility and high comedy. A Ferrari might be really nice to drive, but it doesn’t do you much good on that dirt footpath you used to love walking on when you were a kid.

  17. baac says:

    I picked up an old laptop for game play. (I like keeping games off my working computer.) That was a great solution – cheap laptops are plentiful, and they’re made to play those games.


  18. Martin says:

    LCDs were a godsend for my headaches. There’s simply less intensity coming from them. I’d happily trade the ability to play ancient games for a true DVI digital display, in widescreen, on an LCD.

  19. Murphy says:

    Or just my computer is too quick/strong. I tried to run Ultima 7 on my computer 4 years ago. I could not manage to move, since everytime I clicked “go up” my character would travel half of Britannia north..

    There is a fantastic little program called Exult that emulates Ultima 7. Pretty much lets you play the game on any OS ever created by man or beast(Specifically, BeOS).

  20. IncredibleGeek says:

    I really hate LCDs for all my retro games. I play lots of old games that have low resolutions, and I hate the scaling my LCD does. I still have a 17″ CRT I use at home, but I can’t cart that with me to college so I’m stuck with this new fangled thing.

    Even for modern games, I hate the LCD. There’s just no /black/. When I descend into the deepest levels of hell in Doom 3, I don’t want my screen to go dark gray, I want /black/. I can get black with my CRT.

    On that note, is there a good place to buy good CRTs these days? I’d really like a new one, but I can’t find any info on them anymore.

  21. Superkp says:

    I must echo deoxy. Dual monitors are amazing. Not only can you keep all the games that work on your old one working, while being able to support newer games, but you will also have two monitors. As long as your hardware and software support it (these days I think it is hard to find something that doesn’t), then it is also really easy to set up.

    once again, desk space is an issue, for me, this is only a matter of organization, though. I don’t know what it is with you.

    I personally like to play a full-screen game or run an application that is aesthetically better or user-friendly on a full screen (photoshop, word processors, browsers) on a better/bigger monitor, and then, simultaneously, run things that do not need it (instant messengers, music players, general writing space for ideas) on my inferior/smaller monitor, so that I can use it whenI need it, but does not force me to move windows around or go find a particular window.

  22. Zaghadka says:

    DOSBox, as said before.

    DOSBox will let you run at any OpenGL full screen resolution and scale, if the LCD can’t scale on its own, often with better results than a native monitor scale because of bilinear or aniso filtering on the card.

    It’ll do SuperSai, AdvMame, interpolation and scanlines, too.

  23. Davesnot says:

    Dude… I finally got an LCD in January.. the best return on my money spent.. go do it. Honest. Now… at least order one now.

    Mine has black.. mine is very adjustable.. Viewsonic VX2240w.. at TigerDirect.

    If you are one that reads manuals or presses buttons.. (which we know you are) you’ll figure out how to make a game that scales in a way you don’t like work just fine.

  24. Nilus says:

    Muhammad, have you tried The Ur-Quan masters. Its basically Star Control rebuilt to run on modern machines. Very cool stuff

    Now we just have to wait for someone to make a version of Star Control III that doesn’t suck

  25. krellen says:

    I’ll add to the chorus of “XCOM works on LCDs”. I got XCOM when you wrote about it, so that’s the version I run, and I’ve run it successfully on my widescreen LCD at home, a laptop’s LCD, a regular LCD connected to a desktop, and even an LCD running off the VGA port of a laptop in a quasi-docking station set up.

    I also don’t get this claim of “there is no black”. I’ve got black all over my LCD. The black spot on my current wallpaper looks exactly like the black of the screen when turned off. If you’re not seeing any black, maybe your brightness or gamma correction is too high.

  26. Dev Null says:

    Shamus, have you played any of the latter UFO: Aftershock school of games? I found them to be almost exactly like the original, with a bit more RPG-stlye customisation of your marines (which I’d think you’d like, even if it is pretty simplistic) and better graphics. And you can pick them up for about $10 apiece in a sale bin. And they’d run in something other than 320×200…

  27. Nentuaby says:

    Don’t worry about it. If you have any half-decent video card (and you do, since you’ve bitched about having to get it :P) you can just have its drivers rescale the game even on the off chance you happen to get the one LCD in 20 that can’t natively scale it properly.

    Go. Do it. NOW. I shudder every time I think of people still using CRTs… It seems so stone age…

  28. Vegedus says:

    I’ve had no problems of that sort at all with my LCD screen. And I’ve played X-com with it. I really love mine, actually.

    I can’t but wonder if it wouldn’t be worse for your headaches, considering LCDs are brighter and stuff.

  29. RPharazon says:

    An awesome analogy at the end. I salute you, sir.

    I have a laptop LCD, since, amazingly, I am using a laptop. The Mobility Radeon 9600 does support higher resolutions than the LCD’s 1024×768, but it scrolls. It doesn’t downscale.

    On the upscaling thing, it’s fine. Pixel art is especially nice with a crisp LCD.

  30. Xed says:

    I don’t know if it’s already been said, but it should be very easy to set your video card driver up to do the scaling for you. It will almost certainly look better than any LCD monitors native scaling, and it should work with just about any resolution.
    With my GeForce 7800GT, I can just open the NVidia Control Panel, go to Display -> Change flat panel scaling, and there I can choose between disabling scaling, letting the monitor do it and letting the video card to it while keeping/not keeping the aspect ratio. It’s all very simple. The monitor’s capabilities don’t even really come into play.
    ATI drivers/utilities have given my all kinds of trouble in the past, but I’d be very surprised if it was any more difficult to set this up with their software.

    And, FWIW, I haven’t had the slightest problems playing all kinds of older games on my current 24″ WS LCD.

    Oh, and, regarding the headaches: Before I bought my current display, I had a 19″ LCD, and before that a 17″ CRT. I also suffer from fairly severe headaches from time to time (nothing like you’ve described, though), and getting rid of the CRT reduced the frequency with which they occur quite a bit.
    As someone else has mentioned, YMMV since a lot of people seem to be very sensitive to how bright LCDs can be.

  31. Kobyov says:

    If I were you, I’d swap your CRT for a friend’s LCD for a week or so, just to see how it works for you. When I tried to go LCD I spent a week feeling like someone was sanding on my eyeballs, and then switched back. Then again that was a while ago, so maybe they’ve improved them now. But they’re still expensive enough that I wouldnt swap on a maybe.

  32. nevered says:

    It doesn’t help with X-Com, but do a google search for ScummVM.

    It’s a virtual machine that will allow you to play all the old lucasarts DOS adventure games (loom, maniac mansion, monkey island, ect.)

  33. Nazgul says:

    I’ve always preferred dual-monitor setups. My current Mac setup used two 17″ LCDs, but I had a 17″ LCD and a 20″ CRT before that. I also have a 19″ LCD on my Windows box so I have three LCDs in front of me now. Works great.

  34. ArchU says:

    Suggested by Nilus, et al: DOSBox ftw. Seriously. I could play Golden Axe with CGA graphics on my dual-core WinXP box if I really want to.

    Get it, live it, love it.

  35. tussock says:

    Re: headaches with a CRT. Set your monitor contrast to maximum (then avoid white on black like the plague), always work with brightness comfortable to the room (LCDs are mostly helping people because they’re not so bright, you can just turn down the CRT).

    Check your refresh too. Some setups still default to 60 Hz, which is instant headache for some folk. 85+ is much easier on the eye, same for game performance with frame rate if you’re there for hours, 100+ ideally: take a break too, and leave the lights on in the room at night.

    Black on White writing at all times, bright lights on a dark background are bad.

    Text clarity finally. Most monitors and cards are fine with that now, but don’t be ashamed to lower the resolution a notch to make everything easier for your brain to process.

    ^+ with a few programs works to boost text size, can help.

    Getting you eyes checked can’t hurt either. I find cleaning my glasses now and then works too. 8]

    Disadvantage for an LCD? Uses slightly more power, IIRC. Hard to find CRTs now anyway. If you’ve got the space, hunt down a graphics professional type 24″ CRT that can handle nice high refresh rates. Some HD TV sets can do a good job too, with somewhat limited resolution; 50″ widescreen might look nice.

  36. Alden says:

    My chief worry about changing to LCD is also the scaling it’ll do when I play games that don’t run at the monitor’s native resolution. Unfortunately you can’t even seem to be able to buy CRT monitors new in New Zealand any more, so if my current monitor dies, I’ll have no choice.

    Dang newfangled technology.

    Speaking of headaches, is there a technical reason we don’t have electronic paper monitors yet? :P

  37. Ethan says:

    CRT monitors still have better color accuracy than LCDs, I believe.

  38. kmc says:

    one word of caution about lcds–there’s very little room on top, making it hard to transfer any plastic army men, model ships, miniature dinosaurs, stuffed terry-cloth pigs, or those little finger puppets with the elastic that fall over when you push in the button that you may have had on your old monitor.

  39. Matt P says:

    I can’t really explain properly but when I try to run Grim Fandango or X-Com I have big (unplayable) graphic problems from the start. With absolutely no helpful information from me is there anyone capable of diagnosis and cure?

  40. Max says:

    Well, one hint of advise when running old dos games: Use the Dos-box (google it), this really helps. And then you can enjoy it on your gigantic LCD screen even though it might not support 320×200 natively =)

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