Interview with BVM Tech
This is a transcription of a phone interview I did with Pat, a former Sony technician that worked on BVM monitors. The original audio interview is available at the 25:38 mark in the video above.
A huge thanks to Justin Sison for transcribing the whole thing!!!
RETRORGB: OK, up next I have an interview with a former Sony technician that specialized in BVM and PVM monitors. He used to do calibration and repair and he has so much information and insight into these things. It was really, really awesome talking on the phone with him. And I didn’t want to bug him too much ‘cause I probably could’ve stayed on the phone at least twice as long. But hopefully after listening to the interview, if we all have questions, maybe I could just keep a list of all the questions and then have him back on a little while in the future. But just a really great source of info. And he has an eBay page where he sells a lot of pre-calibrated Sony BVM monitors and some of the accessories to go with him. So any of us that have been looking for a BVM for a long time that don’t mind paying top dollar, this is the guy to buy it from ‘cause you’re gonna get a perfectly calibrated monitor. And it’s gonna be packed and shipped correctly. And yeah, it’s way more expensive than stumbling across one used somewhere. But if you have the money to spend and you just want something that’s great, this is definitely the person I would recommend buying through. So the link is in the description to his eBay store. And for anybody watching on YouTube, it’s audio-only. So sorry there’s no exciting views for it. But I’m sure you guys will enjoy it anyway, and I’m really looking forward to having him back on again once I could think of a million other questions to ask. So here you go, hope you guys enjoy it, and I’ll see you next week.
RETRORGB: A former Sony tube TV technician and current eBay seller of pretty awesome BVM monitors. How are you doing, Pat?
SAVON-PAT: I’m doing well, thank you.
RETRORGB: Thank you very, very much for doing this. There are so many people that email me questions all the time about Sony PVM and BVM monitors, and I’m glad to finally talk to somebody that really has a ton of experience with this.
RETRORGB: Do you want to give just a little bit about your background and what you used to do for Sony?
SAVON-PAT: I was a Sony tech. I specialized just in the PVM and BVM series. Retired in 2001, so really it was before the super high-def stuff. But I have tons of experience in from the 5-inch, 8-inch, 14-inch, all the way to 32-inch CRT monitors, yes.
RETRORGB: Oh, that’s awesome. So now you were – the main focus, I guess, was the calibration of them, correct?
SAVON-PAT: Well, also, yeah, general service and calibration, both. It’s one job. One person does it all, yeah.
RETRORGB: ‘Cause it’s actually – it’s funny. It’s – not only am I having a really hard time finding anybody that works on CRTs at all, most of the people that still do CRT calibration refuse to do any hardware work on them as well. At least today.
SAVON-PAT: I don’t understand why. Because you have to do the hardware service before you can do the calibration.
RETRORGB: That’s what I would think too. If you have a monitor that potentially has bad capacitors, then how could you possibly do a correct calibration on it?
SAVON-PAT: You can’t. And every monitor that is out of calibration has some bad capacitor somewhere. Otherwise you could calibrate it. And when you can’t calibrate it, you got to service it first.
RETRORGB: Interesting. So out of curiosity, how much would Sony normally charge for a service like that? ‘Cause I think a lot of people don’t seem to realize, even though the really high-end BVMs that you’re spending a few thousand on now, those used to be 20, $30,000 back when they were brand new. So I always curious how much the original calibrations used to cost.
SAVON-PAT: It’d vary depending on the model number. But usually a minimum of 250 and an average of about 450.
RETRORGB: Interesting, interesting. That’s funny. That’s more than I paid for a lot of the monitors I’ve owned in my life.
SAVON-PAT: Absolutely. Well, some of those monitors, you said 20 or 30,000. Some went as high as 60,000 when they were loaded with all the modules. So some of them were expensive.
RETRORGB: Oh, I didn’t realize it went that high, actually.
RETRORGB: Do you remember which were the most expensive ones?
SAVON-PAT: BVM-D32E1WUs and the BVM-A32E1WUs.
RETRORGB: Oh, wow. I think I actually have the E-series of that, so I’m pretty lucky to have stumbled across one.
SAVON-PAT: Right, you sure are.
RETRORGB: So the one question I get all the time is, “What is the best monitor ever made?” And the general consensus among the gaming guys is the 20-inch BVMs. Is that correct?
SAVON-PAT: Well, personally, I don’t think so. I think the two best monitors ever made were the D24 and the D32s. The A24 and A32 are equally as good because they use the same CRTs. But the A’s probably a little better. But for the average person to find an A and a BKM-68X, it’s not possible. There just isn’t anymore BKM-68Xs that allow you to use RGB or component. So I would say the best two is certainly the D32. Follow it up second by the D24, and thirdly by the D20. And then after that would be the 20F1U.
RETRORGB: So is that because they have 1,000 lines versus 900, 600, and lower?
SAVON-PAT: Not truly. The advantage I think of the – number one, the D32, that has the ability to calibrate itself perfectly. When I say perfect, I mean that. That means the calibration can come out so that there’s no errors anywhere on the screen. You can do it literally dot by dot. You can adjust the three guns. You can do that with the D32. You can almost do that with the D24. You can’t quite do it with the D20. And you definitely can’t do it exactly with the 20F1U. But overall, the 20F1U is by far the easiest to obtain. They tend – starting to be expensive now. Two years ago I was selling them for 4 or 500. And now they’re going for 1,000 to 1,500. But the reason the F20 is so popular is they made so many of them. It was the most popular monitor in the world for broadcast and professional use. There’s a lot fewer made of all the other models. Starting in – after the 2000s, the D20 came into effect. And of course it’s a little better than the 20F1U because it has the ability to do 480p and 480i, where the 20F1 does not. So there’s pluses and minus on all of them. The biggest minus on the D24 and the D32 is the unavailability of CRTs. And if you ever need a CRT for one of those, it’s almost forget it. You just can’t find them. There are CRTs available for the D20 and the 20F1Us however.
RETRORGB: So the actual CRTs that were in the different 20-inches – so something like an A series, was the CRT used in that the same as the rest of them, or is that actually a different type?
SAVON-PAT: No, the CRT is used in the A20F1U, the 20F1U, the PVM-20M4U. All those three Us, the same CRT.
RETRORGB: Wow, that’s – I never actually knew that. So the advantage of the BVMs is actually the ability to have the higher calibration options? It’s in the electronics and not the tube?
SAVON-PAT: It’s a combination of both. But there is more adjustments available on the better monitors. There’s more fine adjustments available where you don’t have it on like the M4U. You have a very limited amount of adjustment. Even though it’s the same CRT, there’s not the electronics there. When you get all the way to the A series, then they have a buffer board in there, which allows you – gives you even more options for servicing and accurate – super-accurate calibration.
RETRORGB: Gotcha. So that’s actually something that I myself have as a problem as well as many emails, are people that were able to get an A series BVM that have composite and S-video cards as well as the SDIs, but not the RGB component cards. And some of these, mine has less than 2,000 hours on it. So some of these are pretty mint condition, but there’s no way to actually put that RGB signal in. And the availability of that board, the BKM-68X, I saw – in the past two and a half years, I saw one pop up on eBay, and that’s it. So I’m assuming that’s pretty much gone forever, right?
SAVON-PAT: Well, yeah. They made less than 500 of those boards worldwide. And I don’t have the figures anymore ‘cause that all happened after I retired, actually. The A series came out after I was gone. But in talking with some other guys, I think they made less than 250 of them. So finding them is a little tough. I’ve sold two in the last three years. And I was very fortunate to get them. It was really by accident. I happened to purchase a couple of A20s that had the BKM-68Xs which was super-rare. I do have a fellow that has a couple of boards and we’re still negotiating price. He’s – pretty crazy prices right now. I think the going price on a BKM-68X is about 3,000.
RETRORGB: Oh, wow. That’s insane.
SAVON-PAT: Yes, I agree. I had a guy in –
RETRORGB: [CROSSTALK] So is there – oh, sorry.
SAVON-PAT: Had a guy in Brazil during the Olympics that offered me even more.
RETRORGB: Oh, wow. Jeez, that’s crazy.
RETRORGB: So is there any way around this at all for people that happen to stumble across an A series? Can you get a component-to-SDI converter that will accept 480i in 240p signals, or is there really just nothing you can do?
SAVON-PAT: Well, I don’t think there’s much you can do. I made an attempt to – one of your gamers that I had sold a couple of monitors to called with that exact same problem. And I went ahead and shipped him a couple of AJ – or an AJ – an adapter that converted RGB to SDI. And I even sent him a generator along with it. A Tektronix generator. And he was unable to get it to work. Certainly on 240, and very badly on 480. So I’m not – again, I’m not a gamer personally. I’m a technician. So I’m not into all the various games that are out there myself. I don’t have access to that. But I don’t think that there’s an easy way to do it, to answer your question directly. You either buy the BKM-68X or you forget it, or you yank out that picture tube of your A20 and save it for a good D20 or a 20F1U.
RETRORGB: Yeah, I think in my situation with – 2,000 hours on a professional-grade CRT is nothing. That’s not even broken-in, so.
SAVON-PAT: Oh, no. That’s a wonderful tube, yes.
RETRORGB: Yeah, so I don’t – I might just leave mine in storage and hope to eventually stumble across a 68X or if somebody comes up with something else. But for your average tube that has just a few – maybe 10, 20,000 hours on it, still pretty low I guess, you would actually suggest maybe getting one of the other BVMs that’s compatible and just swapping the tubes out?
SAVON-PAT: Yeah, that’s certainly an option. Everybody talks about how many hours should you run before you change a CRT. And the factory always said 30,000 hours. But again, that was for super-accurate color calibration. And if you had a post house or an edit house or a colorize guy, they needed absolutely perfect color. I’m not sure that’s a factor in gaming. As long as the color is good enough to the eye for the average guy, I think the tube is certainly good through 60 or even 100,000 hours. Past that, I think you’re really stretching it. But the other side of the coin on that is, most of the monitors that you see, or certainly a lot of them that have 100,000 hours or 110,000 or 90 or whatever, a large number, they probably don’t have the original CRT. Most TV stations and professional video guys that have these monitors ended up changing the CRTs. Maybe a couple, three times even, in some of the studios if they had a lot of money. Provide it wasn’t CBS, which by the way, that stands for “Can’t Buy Sony.”
SAVON-PAT: But the bottom line is, you have to know – you have to look inside it and look to see if that tube is really the original CRT. And unless you’re kind of an expert at it, it’s pretty hard to make that definition. It’s – you’d have to –
RETRORGB: That’s funny, ‘cause that’s – my next question to you was how come I’ve seen some of these monitors that have 28, 29,000 hours on them that look terrible, and some that have 100,000 that look great. And I guess it’s because that was probably the original tube on the first one and a replacement tube on the one with 100,000.
SAVON-PAT: That’s a possibility. However, that one with less than 30,000 hours that had a bad picture, that may not be the tube. That very well could be modules needing service. So that’s kind of another thing to think about.
RETRORGB: Gotcha, gotcha. So the – is there any extra tricks to finding where these monitors are? Now obviously your eBay store, when you sell yours, they’re calibrated and they come in pretty good condition. And you charge a very fair price for them. People that are into retro gaming that really understand what you’re getting when you buy a pre-calibrated BVM would all agree. But there are some of us that still just like to find a bargain now and then. And for years, I used to just go around and find people that I would – or find companies that I thought would have any kind of RGB monitor and just kinda say, “Hey, I use these for retro gaming. I’ll come and pick them all up for free. You don’t even have to pay to throw them out.“ And a couple times I was able to go in and get a stack of PVM monitors for free because somebody was about to charge them to remove them. And unfortunately, all of the places that had those don’t have them anymore. They’re all gone. They’re all been switched over to flat screens pretty much. So any other tricks? Do you know of any other places that just have piles of these things?
SAVON-PAT: [LAUGHTER] No, I think the piles are pretty much a thing of the past. Although a few months back I was able to pick up a dozen F1Us. But that’s kind of a rarity anymore. But that came from a television station that had them in storage. So I think the first thing, if it was me, and I’m in the Midwest or in the East Coast somewhere, I think I would do a couple of things. Number one, contact all of the junk men, the electronic junkers. Contact them and tell them you’ll pay them X dollars for every 20-inch Sony, in a metal case, monitor they come across. You’ll pay them X dollars. And give them your name and number, and they’ll normally call you. Because they get usually 5 to $10, or maybe up to $30 depending on the state for junk for these things just by weight. So normally for 25 or $30 you can usually buy them. Walk in with cash and hand the guy the money. The other thing is, if you’re really serious about it, then grab your Yellow Pages or your computer and look for any post edit video house that’s anywhere near you and contact those guys. Those guys have the monitors. Most of them have switched over to the OLEDs, but still a lot of them don’t. A lot of them still have those monitors, and that’s where I get most of the monitors that I sell. Other than a TV station. And the last thing is to contact the TV stations. Some of them still have them. They got them stuck back somewhere in the warehouse and they’d love to get a few bucks from them to go pick them up. So that’s my – you have to go hunting. There’s no gold mine anywhere. You just got to go scavenge.
RETRORGB: Those are all amazing tips. Thanks so much. I actually, I just moved to Manhattan and a half a block away from me is one of the CBS broadcasting studios, but –
SAVON-PAT: That was a joke [AUDIO CUTS OUT] by Sony. That’s – ABC, when Sony bought ABC, the first thing everybody said, “Well, CBS“ – the guys there said, “You can’t buy Sony anymore because they’re owned by ABC.“ Anyway, that’s a joke, so –
RETRORGB: [LAUGHTER] Awesome. Yeah, the biggest regret I have since starting this Web site is maybe about the same time it actually launched, I happened to stumble across somebody who was in a hospital in California, and the hospital was about to – maybe 10 years ago was gonna expand one wing. And they bought 40 PVM-20M2U monitors. And they stuck them in storage, and then the project got canceled, and they were getting rid of them for 150 each. And then if you bought them in bulk and could pallet ship them, he would do it for 100 each. If I had known, I would’ve bought every one of them and just left it in somebody’s garage, barn, whatever, and just kept them for a while. ‘Cause that was a – those monitors, brand new now, still, they’re up $1,000. More than that.
SAVON-PAT: That’s unusual that a hospital would have that because normally they would buy the MDU model which is hospital-rated. Because the standard M2 is not hospital-rated.
RETRORGB: That – you know what, it was the white one. You’re right, it was the MDU.
SAVON-PAT: Yes, it would have to be. Because they can’t be sparkable in an oxygen atmosphere. So they have a different plug, and there’s several different circuits internally that are different from the standard one. They don’t make it better or worse –
RETRORGB: [CROSSTALK] And there’s actually much thicker shield and there’s more grounding wires along the ground planes because of something called 60601 certification. That’s my old company. We used to build computers for hospitals which is why I know all that useless info.
SAVON-PAT: Exactly. And the – none of the MDUs have 16:9 because everything out there was 4:3 for the medical equipment.
RETRORGB: So for somebody that’s – that has one or two PVM or BVMs, and they’re starting to game on them, the – there’s somebody that actually invented something that you could put in your game system and it outputs like a grid pattern, a color test pattern, and things like that. So you could do basic calibration. I guess your average layman could probably look up a YouTube video on how to calibrate and kinda just go along and do it as best as they can. Is there any beginner tips that you could give to somebody that’s trying to go a little bit farther? And I know we’re opening up a can of worms here ‘cause obviously working on CRTs is very dangerous. It’s not like popping open a computer. So is there a middle ground for people to mess around with, or is it really just expert-only past a certain point?
SAVON-PAT: No, I think number one, they are safe. That doesn’t mean you want your kids to just stick their hands in there when everything’s running. But I think the normal care, being around the monitor while it’s in operation is not a hazard. You really have to try to get shocked. It’s not something that’s gonna happen by accident, normally. As far as trying to calibrate them, there’s a couple of things you really need to do before you even attempt it. Number one is to purchase the service manual for that model. They tend to be a little bit technical, but the key thing is, they show you the location and the numbers of the adjustments that you would have to make to cure some of the major problems. Like the, all of the adjustments, for instance, that are on the yoke that allow you to really calibrate it properly. Which most guys don’t even touch because they don’t know what they do. And you have a service manual. You can go there and it’ll tell you what the TLV or the HV do – HVE does, or – they’re gonna let you know. But without that, I think trying to calibrate it is way beyond. Secondly, it must have a verified good-calibrated source. I’m not sure that all of these disc out here – I think the discs are probably OK. But I’m not sure about the players. I don’t know how well these players can actually output, whether they are in fact accurate. And that’s the second thing. So finding an accurate generator is probably the key if you’re trying to make your monitor exactly right.
RETRORGB: So there’s a Blu-ray player called the OPPO. I think it’s the BDP-93. And this was supposedly verified with an oscilloscope that it outputs in something called source-direct mode – that’s their name for it – that it 100% accurate to what’s on the disc. And they will output 480i, so that would be for anybody listening, if you happen to have one of those OPPO players, I would assume that would probably be the easiest thing to do. Because I was told that that’s what the studios were using to test their Blu-rays as well.
SAVON-PAT: That’s a possibility. Although I’m pretty sure that they’re using – most of the studios that I’m familiar with are using the 5 and $8,000 Tektronix generators. Which they have calibrated. So I don’t know.
RETRORGB: Right, but I’m just talking for somebody who might have something at home. Using that versus a $20 DVD player you get at Walmart would be way better of a chance of getting an accurate signal.
SAVON-PAT: Course, one of the things – what you’re talking about there is the ability to do color calibration. And that’s what you would need a really good generator for. The BV – all the BVM series have a generator internally. Which will generate a white screen. It’ll generate a gray scale. And it’ll generate a cross hatch. And it’ll generate dots. And those are pretty accurate. They are as accurate as you could ask for, essentially. So using the internal generator to do your basic calibration is fine. If you’re starting to talk about color calibration, then you need a BKM-14L which is the probe if you want to accurately do color calibration.
RETRORGB: Interesting, OK. And that’s another huge advantage of the BVM over the PVMs then.
SAVON-PAT: Absolutely. Absolutely. Course, you take a model like the 20L5, it has internal calibration too for color. Which is pretty good.
RETRORGB: Now are those generally – what were those used for? The PVM-20L5s. ‘Cause I’ve seen them – most PVMs I’ve seen in medical use, security, things like that. And then BVMs for the broadcast and post-production studios. But what would a midway-between monitor like that have been used for?
SAVON-PAT: PVM meant professional video monitor, whereas BVM is broadcast video monitor from Sony. And I would say that most of the people that – small companies if you will, or single guys that – a guy does weddings or he does video films or he does commercials. A small-type guy. Small company. They like the 20L5s and the 14L5s because they’re pretty accurate. The 20L5, again, uses the same CRT that a 20F1U uses. So you can yank that tube and slide it right in. It’s a good 800-line tube. And the 20L5 is also a 800-line tube – or the 14L5 is an 800-line tube. So both of them can give you a really good picture.
RETRORGB: Gotcha. So for somebody that didn’t have the 20 grand to spend but wanted as close to it as possible, I think the 20L5s were about 5 or 6 grand when I looked it up online. I’m not sure if that’s accurate or not.
RETRORGB: But still, it’s –
SAVON-PAT: 4,900 or something, you could buy a nice 20L5 no question when they were new. It depends on the [INAUDIBLE sounds like: module] in them.
RETRORGB: [CROSSTALK] So a fraction of the price but almost as good.
SAVON-PAT: Because the HD module that flips into a 20L5 was a couple grand, or three grand I think at the time.
RETRORGB: Oh, wow.
SAVON-PAT: That’s the HD-SDI module. See, that’s another advantage with the 20L5 ‘cause it will do HD with component or RGB input. Without any additional modules.
RETRORGB: You know what, I – that was the one thing I really was curious to see when I got my 32-inch BVM, is how would some of the HD sources look? And I was absolutely blown away at how good it looked. It was just – blew away any of the cheap LCDs out there nowadays.
SAVON-PAT: Yup, yup. It does. Does a great job. My favorite monitor by far.
RETRORGB: So everybody, it’s – I’ll put a link in the description of the video for what your eBay channel is – or your eBay store is. And right now I see you have a couple monitors. And you also sell a capacitor replacement kit on there, correct?
SAVON-PAT: Yes. These are for the guy that wants to take his 20F1U and make it new-like again.
RETRORGB: That is a huge help to people because I know just enough to be dangerous but I’m not even close to being an expert. So for me, to be able to discharge a monitor and replace the capacitors, it’s totally within my skill level. But as silly as this might sound, figuring out which capacitors to buy was really intimidating. The first time I popped one apart and tried to find – ‘cause you go on a site like Digi-Key and you could spend hours trying to figure out exactly which capacitor’s the right replacement. And you have a lot of them to do. So having a kit that’s all-in-one where you know exactly – you know what you’re getting it’s just a huge, super-help to people. So I’m really glad you sell those. That’s – I’m sure after this airs, a bunch of people are gonna go out and buy them.
SAVON-PAT: One of the big advantages of course is, like you said, is trying to figure out which to buy. Number one, there’s – take a horizontal deflection board. There’s probably 40 capacitors on that board, maybe more. But there’s only less than 20 that have ever gone bad depending on the circuit they were in. So the benefit of these little kits is that it gives you the location of the bad – of the suspected part, let’s call them. So that you can go right to it, unsolder it, and drop the new one in. Boom. It’s over and done with. If you don’t have the ability to do that, you can always take your monitor to a normal TV type repair guy, or take your modules like in the F-series – you just pull them right out – and take them to a TV guy, and with the capacitors and the parts list that shows the values that I supply with it. And the professional tech can replace them post-haste. Just boom-boom. So it is a big aid. It beats the heck out of having to go buy another module. And normally these TV guys don’t charge you that much just to change capacitors.
RETRORGB: Yeah, it’s – a lot of the guys around the New York City area I’ve been calling because people email me all the time, “Where can I get my monitor repaired?“ “Where can I get a cap replacement done?“ And most of the places around New York City just flat out said, “We don’t work on any CRTs anymore at all.” So I imagine if you brought them the board, that’s way easier to work on. They probably would. But it’s funny ‘cause a lot of people were just flat-out refusing to do any CRT work.
SAVON-PAT: Yeah, the key of course is there’s – the two modules that – in the 20F1U, which again, the most popular one, the two modules are the deflection module and the video module. And those just unplug. You just pull them out. The video module’s got four connectors that just undo, and the deflection module’s got one large connector that you unplug. And they slide right out and you’ve got them in your hand. And you trot them right down to somebody and they do the service. All the capacitors that I put in these kits and the parts that I use are all upgraded too. They’re to the latest version, the latest production changes from Sony. So that you’re really upgrading the monitor when you do that. Because they’ve come upon parts that they’ve later discovered work better if the value was changed. So these include that. And all the capacitors that I include, all are 105-degree Centigrade capacitors. So they’re the highest temperature that you can get available. So they’re gonna last even longer after that.
RETRORGB: Jeez, that’s all great tips. That’s a – that’s awesome. I’m probably gonna buy a kit as soon as we hang up. [LAUGHTER]
SAVON-PAT: [LAUGHTER] OK.
RETRORGB: All right, well, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. I’ll put a link to your eBay store in the description, and I imagine you’re probably gonna get a bunch of stuff sold by the end of the day that this airs next Monday. So yeah, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
SAVON-PAT: If you would, I think putting my email address is probably even better. And people can just email me direct. One of the problems through eBay is if people contact me through the store, they shut down any contact between people on other subjects. So if you want to take it down, I’m Patrick. Gravier. That’s P-A-T-R-I-C-K. G-R-A-V-I-E-R. At NetZero. N-E-T-Z-E-R-O. Dot net.
RETRORGB: OK. Well, thanks very much. And yeah, I just, I really appreciate all the info. This was just so great finally going to a source of info for this and getting good answers, so thank you for your time.
SAVON-PAT: You’re very welcome. I hope it helped somebody. That’s always good.
RETRORGB: Absolutely. OK, take care and I’ll see everybody else next week.
SAVON-PAT: Have a good holiday. Thank you.