Home - 2.3 Technological equipment 2.3.1 Cathode-ray tubes

2.3 Technological Equipment

2.3.1 Cathode-ray tubes


The cathode-ray tube (CRT), or in broader terms, the television, opens up a very interesting ethical dialogue—one that allows for the implementation of a number of preservation strategies. The case studies involving Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Nu•tka• present preservation issues surrounding the conservation of cathode-ray tube technology.


Compact disc (CD)

Nam June Paik did not stipulate preservation directives for his works prior to his death, or at least not for many of them, which has allowed multiple preservation solutions to be investigated. While storage is certainly a short-term conservation solution, migration and emulation solutions have also been studied. Evaluation of various preservation actions even led non-restoration to be considered.


The study involving Paik’s work taught us that the cathode-ray tube is a component that tends to wear out over time, but its deterioration can be slowed through preventive actions. It is recommended to limit the presentation time of a work that uses cathode-ray tubes, turn off the equipment at night, and space exhibitions a number of months apart. It is also a good idea to track the operational time of the tubes to better control the lifespan of this display equipment. It was with prevention in mind that the adjustment approaches for the televisions in Paik’s work were developed. These adjustments allow for optimal utilization of the cathode-ray tubes and help prevent premature aging of the tube’s phosphorus surface. The approaches, which have been divided into three levels of action, are outlined in the appendix.


Depending on how it is exhibited, the cathode-ray tube offers various conservation strategy options. For storage, it may be better to acquire CRT monitors than televisions. While more expensive, monitors have a longer lifespan than household television sets. For example, monitors used by television stations share more similarities with CRT televisions from an aesthetic point of view than LCD televisions.

In the case of Paik’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, because the televisions are partially concealed, the possibility exists of replacing them with monitors. Such a substitution, for example, would not be possible in a work where the televisions play a symbolic role [1] and are fully visible.


CRT projector

In this case emulation of the equipment would be advisable, with LCD screens being inserted into the original television casings. The work might lose a certain degree of its authenticity, but the emulation would preserve its historical positioning. A work that includes cathode-ray tubes that carry no particular significance could also be migrated to new technology available on the market, such as LCD or plasma televisions.


Stan Douglas was in favour of a technical migration for his work Nu•tka•. The use of tritube projectors is becoming an increasing problem, as this equipment is expensive and hard to find and maintain. It is also cumbersome and limited in the brightness it projects.

However, some artists may object to migrating this equipment, because the tritube continues to offer very good black resolution, and its image is “warmer” than that offered by LCD or DLP technology, thereby delivering more of a cinema effect. [2]


It should be noted that Trinitron televisions (patented Sony technology) are easier to maintain, as they experience fewer convergence problems than traditional tubes. Their different technology also makes them brighter. [3] However, this may mean that the phosphorus coating will wear out more quickly, as the light projected is more intense.


[1] One such example would be where the televisions are used in their role as a household staple.
[2] http://www.homecinema-fr.com/bible/video/tritube.php (available in French only)
[3] Inside a traditional television, the electron stream must pass through a metal screen filled with holes before stimulating the phosphor pixels in the phosphorus coating; the drawback of this screen is that it darkens the image. The Trinitron television does not have such a screen, featuring instead tiny vertical wires.