With the conversion to high-definition digital TV broadcasting looming Feb. 17, you may be shopping for a set-top converter box so you can keeping using your old TV with an antenna. Or you may think this is the time to buy a new HD-ready, flat-panel TV. But consider the hidden cost of a new setup: electricity use. Televisions and other video components, along with other consumer electronics such as computers, cell phone chargers, cordless phones and digital photo frames, use an ever-growing share of household electricity, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Electric Power Research Institute projects such electricity use to increase at 12 percent per year.
That's partly because we are buying so many more of them, partly because they are getting larger and more elaborate and partly because manufacturers have only recently begun to consider energy efficiency in their design.
Energy efficiency is an environmental concern because electricity ultimately comes from burning coal, which sends greenhouses gases into the atmosphere and piles up toxic coal ash. And since we tend to keep TVs for a long time and use them a lot, a greener appliance is likely to save you greenbacks over its useful life.
Here are some tips for buying energy-saving video components and for using less juice with your current setup.
1Smaller TV = smaller electric bill. A major increase in the energy use of TVs in recent years comes from buying larger screens; lighting more area uses more electricity. A 50-inch LCD TV likely uses two to three times as much power as a similar 25-inch model, according to Noah Horowitz, senior scientist with the NRDC in San Francisco. So think hard about whether you can get along with 40 inches instead of 50, or 27 inches instead of 32.
2LCD is better, LED is best. A plasma screen uses, on average, twice as much energy as an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, Horowitz says, and considerably more than an old-fashioned CRT television. Currently, most LCDs are backlit by fluorescent tubes, according to John Wettlaufer of Barrett's Home Theater in Algonquin. A few new models are lit by LEDs (light emitting diodes), which are said to provide a better picture while using dramatically less electricity. But they still are scarce and relatively pricey. A simple adjustment can reduce electricity use, Horowitz says: Most new TVs are shipped from the factory with the brightness set far higher than needed for the home. Use the menus to switch from the preset "retail" to "home" setting or simply reduce the brightness level and you will save electricity.
3"Off" does not mean off. Any device with a remote control uses some electricity even when you've hit the "off" button, remaining in "standby" or "sleep" mode so it can receive a signal and respond when you hit the "on" button. Depending on size, LCD TVs can pull from 50 to more than 300 watts while you are watching, according to Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the most constant energy drain of a typical video setup is a Tivo or cable or satellite set-top box. Although it uses less power than an active TV screen, it runs near full power even when the TV is turned off. Those boxes use between 30 and 45 watts, consuming about half as much energy as a recent-model refrigerator, according to Tom Reddoch, executive director for energy utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute in Knoxville, Tenn. Another energy hog: video-game systems, which tend to be carelessly left on all the time at a cost of more than $100 a year, Horowitz says. For instructions on how to set them to shut off automatically, go to nrdc.org /energy/consoles/contents.asp.
4Set it up so you can shut it down. To cut off the electricity altogether when it's not needed, plug the devices into a surge-suppressor power strip with an "off" switch. The TV may take a few seconds to warm up when you turn it back on, but that's a small price to pay. If you have a TiVo or cable or satellite box, you'll have to plug that in separately so it can run and get data all the time, but get a separate power strip to plug in the TV itself, DVD player, surround-sound system and video-game system. The thriftiest way to go: An HD-ready TV (or old analog TV with a digital converter box) to receive broadcast signals through an antenna, plugged into a power strip. And use that "off" switch when you are through watching. In newer devices, look for features that allow you to automatically put them in standby mode or even turn them entirely off and on, Reddoch says.
5Look for a recent Energy Star label. Whether you're shopping for a new TV or a converter box, look for an Energy Star label, which indicates the appliance has been tested and meets federal efficiency guidelines. But be alert for a label that says "Energy Star 3.0." That means the device meets more stringent efficiency standards that only kicked in last November. Electronics with older Energy Star labels—meaning they met a lower efficiency standard—are still in stores.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun