The Rise of the Flat Panel
And the fall of the cathode ray tube.
photo credit: William Psolka
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November 02, 2007 by Rebecca Day

View Evolution of TVWhen Pioneer rolled out the first plasma HDTV in 1997, a flat-panel TV in every home was almost unthinkable. The 50-inch wonder rang up at a cool $25,000. The plasma TV quickly became a status symbol, a line of demarcation between the haves and have-nots and one of the most coveted products in consumer electronics.

But as prices of video displays have plummeted, consumers have made a mad dash for the stylish flat-panel. Yes, it’s digital. Sure, it shows super-crisp, high-resolution images. But the look of the TV itself—thin enough to hang on the wall—has become as important as what is on TV.

Caught in this stampede is the tried-and-true CRT, the cathode-ray tubes we all grew up with. CRTs can still deliver the best pictures, especially when it comes to reproducing detail in dark scenes. But as Americans trended toward cocooning and the home theater replaced the stereo system as the household entertainment center, people wanted larger and more cinema-like screens.

And the larger CRTs became, the more challenging it was for consumers to integrate them into their homes. Space allotments for a 50- or 60-inch rear-projection TVs were measured in square feet, and design-conscious homeowners purchased massive bedroom armoires just to swallow 32-inch sets.

Television’s perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don’t have to concentrate. You don’t have to react. You don’t have to remember. You don’t miss your brain because you don’t need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet.
—  Raymond Chandler

The flat panel arrived not a moment too soon. Here was a thin, lightweight and contemporary option for the 21st-century home—and it took up no floor space. The thin designs also made it possible to place TVs in rooms they couldn’t go before, including bathrooms, offices and kitchens.

There are now far more placement choices for flat-panel TVs: a swiveling mount on the wall or hanging from the ceiling, inside a cabinet with a motorized lift, on a conventional stand or on a new-style wall or cabinet. Shallow cabinet depths have opened new possibilities for audio/video furniture designers. Even builders are jumping on the bandwagon, carving out niches in family rooms before the buyers move in.

And green is in. Manufacturers are moving toward more environmentally friendly flat-panel designs, emphasizing better energy efficiency, longer-lasting LED (light emitting diode) lamps, and the reduced use of lead, chrome plating and plastic parts.

CRTs, meanwhile, aren’t all heading to the landfill. They contain toxic elements and should be recycled responsibly. Once that is accomplished, may they rest in peace.


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TV Timeline: 1991-1997
Sharp releases the world’s first wall-mount TV, which boasted an 8.6-inch TFT color LCD, at that time the industry’s largest.
First DVR is introduced by ReplayTV. TiVo follows in 1999.

Pioneer sells first plasma monitors to the public.

View more Evolution of TV

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