The classic arcade cabinet will soon be all but extinct. The niche market of manufacturing CRT televisions has officially hit a wall and the experience of playing a classic arcade game as it was originally intended will be a very rare thing in the near future.
According to a report from Venturebeat, the stock of new 29-inch CRT screens has almost been depleted. Dream Arcades, the largest producer of non-coin-operated arcade machines in the world, says that the last company that was producing the displays sold its manufacturing equipment to an unnamed Chinese company that was unable to replicate the required winding procedures. Dream Arcades currently has less than 30 of the monitors left in stock and once that’s gone, they’ll no longer be able to perfectly replicate the experience of arcade games like Donkey Kong or Pac-Man as they were originally intended.
From the report:
Winding together a CRT tube with its electron gun (the two major components in a CRT) requires a delicate touch. It’s a two-part, by-hand procedure that begins with the laborer painting the inside of the tube as it spins on a centrifuge. The worker must use a dipstick-like brush to coat the depths of the monitor with a conductive substance. Then he must merge the glass of the bulb and the electron gun under a flame that burns at 400 degrees celsius. Any debris or dust that gets into the unit at that point will shorten the display’s life expectancy...
“I have a feeling that — y’know how there are those guys doing pinball repair on the side — there will probably be some guy you can send your monitor to and have him rewind the bulb,” says Ware. “I think it’s going to be really expensive.” A CRT tube is very heavy, so shipping costs alone would be costly. “Right now, I don’t know of anyone who does [the winding].”
The future of new machines or restorations that don’t cost a fortune will be to just suck it up and use LCD screens. For purists, that will mean accepting a less responsive refresh rate and other factors like occasional screen tearing.
While some well-funded collectors will likely find a way to restore the old systems, the best bet for an average Joe looking for a perfect Galaga experience will likely be visiting museums that undertake preservation efforts.
Last year, I spoke with Jason Eppink, Curator of Digital Media at the Museum of the Moving Image about an exhibition of classic arcade games that he’d organized. He told me that even professionally restored machines were lacking:
We were able to redo everything; rebuild monitors and replace lots of parts that were faltering. And, actually, what we learned is that the preservationists in the past have not been as precise as we would normally like to be. So we were able to undo some [previous efforts] and bring them back up to more original standards.
While he is dedicated to getting the experience as close to the original as possible, he admitted that the process is almost always one of compromise.
Yeah, I mean if all our cells are replaced are we the same person as before? I think that it’s a sort of deep philosophical question that a lot of preservationists lose sleep over. At some points, you just have to be practical. You have to ask yourself is the arcade game its individual parts, is it the sum of its parts?
You can see the process for making cathode ray tubes in the video below: