Sony Pulls Plug on Historic Trinitron TV

As time marches on, even the best technologies fall by the wayside. So it is now with the storied Trinitron cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitor. On Monday, according to numerous sources, Sony Corp. said it will end production of all CRT television sets worldwide, closing the book on the Trinitron, which was considered the top brand name in TVs in its time.

The secret of the Trinitron's rise to prominence was the revolutionary design of its CRT. Invented by E.O. Lawrence in the 1960s (who called it the Chromotron), it used a single emitter to fire the electrons that produce red, geen, and blue light and focused them on an aperture grille made of horizontal filaments, as opposed to the conventional shadow mask design then common. Sony patented Lawrence's design in 1967 and began a long marketing campaign that eventually resulted in the more-expensive Trinitron becoming a hit in the marketplace in North America and Europe in the prosperous 1980s. For years, owning a Trinitron TV was a status symbol in many countries.

The quality of the Trinitron's picture also induced many computer manufacturers to license its CRT technology for use in some of the first commercially successful integrated color displays, as well as later standalone monitors. Firms such as Apple Computer, Dell, Gateway, IBM, and Sun Microsystems were all early adopters of the Trinitron.

At the height of its popularity, Sony produced 20 million Trinitron units a year. All told, the company manufactured some 280 million Trinitrons over four decades.

In 1996, however, Sony's patent rights expired, and competitors such as Mitsubishi began incorporating the technology into their monitors and TVs. More importantly, the CRT itself began to be challenged in the late Nineties by new flat-screen technologies such as plasma and liquid crystal displays. Where the Trinitron had been the "must have" color monitor of a previous generation, the flat displays became the status symbol of a new one. And the bulky CRTs were slowly consigned to the garbage pile of history.

(For more on the transition from CRTs to flat screens, please see our feature article "Goodbye, CRT" in our November 2006 issue.)

Monday's news from Sony really concerned only the last manufacturing facilities the company employs to make Tinitrons, for retail in some Latin American and Asian nations. Sony had previously shuttered other facilities that sold into the Japanese, European, and North American markets.

"We are going to end production of cathode ray tubes at the end of March," a Sony spokesman said Monday.

It will bring to a close a fascinating chapter in the history of electronics. Farewell, Trinitron, you were once the best.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.