Trinitron's explained


Nov 22, 1999




The Trinitron design of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) has some definite advantages and has gained a common reputation for the best monitors. I have a CPD-2003GT, a 17" OEM Sony Trinitron and I can honestly say I love the display as well as the controls. It is a joy to look at after staring at a 17" Nokia all day at work. But you already know Trinitron displays can look great, I want to discuss what they do well, what is not so wonderful, and why.

Standard CRTs use an electron gun fired at a metal grille covered in precisely positioned holes to light up fluorescent dots and so form a picture. The distinct dots form the pixels on the screen and are also in three different colours to allow full colour displays. The metal grille actually blocks quite a lot of light compared to the size of the holes and this leads to diminished brightness. A Trinitron tube does not have a metal grille, rather it consists of vertical wires. The vertical strips are broken into rectangular pixels by the horizontal scan pattern of the electron beam. This allows much more light to reach your eye for a given power of electron gun and Trinitron displays have rightly earned a reputation for brightness, and for the outstanding contrast and colour saturation which is allowed by the efficiency of the design. They have also gained a reputation for having the sharpest flattest images.

The most obvious drawback to the Trinitron design is that the vertical wires are not stiff enough to maintain accurate alignment. This means that one or more horizontal wires must be fastened across the vertical wires to keep them straight and in place. These control wires are easily visible on any plain light-coloured image. Up to about 15", one control wire is sufficient, but above that size two wires are needed to control the longer vertical wires. It is a matter of personal taste whether you mind these or not. I personally don't notice them unless I specifically look, but I know people who have sent their monitors back because of the row of missing pixels.

Trinitron displays really are the brightest you are likely to find and this brightness, without having to use a different fluorescent compound or a more powerful electron gun, allows Trinitron displays to have high contrast and excellent colour saturation and balance. Regular CRT monitors are certainly available that can rival a Trinitron for colour balance, or contrast, or brightness, but I have never found one that can equal a Trinitron for all of them.

The reputation for sharpness has arisen mainly because Trinitron displays were initially all high-end displays, with larger screens and better resolutions. There is nothing fundamental to the design which leads to better resolution or sharpness. Sony claims better temperature stability for the Trinitron design, but in practice the sharpest monitors do not currently utilise Trinitron tubes. This may be due to the technical difficulty of maintaining very small gaps between the vertical wires compared to the implicit stability of a single perforated metal grille. Note that you will need a fairly snazzy graphics card to notice this difference. Cheaper cards will just not be able to provide a sharp enough image to tax a quality monitor of either type.

The Trinitron reputation for flatness is again largely history. Early CRT designs could not adequately illuminate the corners of flat screens because of the angle of the electron beam passing through the grille. This led to shading in the corners of the screen. The additional brightness of the Trinitron display helped Sony make flatter screens. Today there is really no difference in the flatness of a good regular CRT and a Trinitron CRT, but you may still see shading in the corners of cheaper monitors, particularly if you have to crank up the brightness.

So Trinitron monitors are no longer the absolute champions of quality they once were and the decision of whether to go Trinitron is largely a personal one. Make sure you compare monitors side by side before picking one, because technical specifications simply cannot describe picture quality. The difference between cheap monitors and quality monitors is much bigger than the difference between regular and Trinitron tubes.




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