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Like that daily cup of organic coffee you swig to kick off the morning or walking the dog when you get home from work, TV viewing is embedded into the daily lives of most Americans. But, like everything else you plug into the wall, the energy used by TVs contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

So when your old TV conks out, dispose of it correctly, and consider purchasing a set that sips rather than chugs electricity. A few manufacturers are also building TVs that incorporate green features, such as resource conservation, reduction of hazardous materials, and recyclable materials.

Find it! Energy-efficient TVs

Looking for the US Environmental Protection Agency's and the US Department of Energy's ENERGY STAR label when scrutinizing the TV screens filled with fast-moving bright images in your local appliance store or big box electronics chain is probably the simplest way to spot those that go lighter on energy use. You can also scan ENERGY STAR sets on the Consumer Electronics Association's site called myGreenElectronics. But there are changes afoot at ENERGY STAR that you should know about (see ENERGY STAR television revamp below).

Buying an energy-efficient TV helps you go green because...

  • Your television will consume less electricity, which means its use will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

 

For such a relatively small piece of equipment, a television sure can suck up power. A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report estimates that US televisions consumed about 4 percent of national residential electricity use.[1] On a closer-to-the-wallet note, TVs in combo with set-top boxes, DVD players, and the like are responsible for about 10 percent of an American household's annual electric bill.[2]

In general, the electricity-consuming hierarchy, with highest energy use first, is as follows:[3]

  1. Plasma
  2. LCD
  3. Rear projection
  4. Traditional CRT or tube TV

And size does matter, with smaller being better in any given type of TV when it comes to energy use. Or from a cause and effect outlook, sitting in front of your plasma television for three hours a day will increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 250 kilograms annually, or less than half the amount for a LCD.[4]

ENERGY STAR television revamp

Fortunately, even if you feel you've got to have that smokin' plasma flat screen, you can select one that consumes less electricity than others. Checking for the ENERGY STAR label before you buy is easy to do and it indicates that the unit uses about 30 percent less energy than standard televisions. But this info may not be as helpful as it seems because ENERGY STAR calculates energy consumption when the TV is turned off and in standby mode. Eighty percent of a television's energy is used when it's turned on.[5] This issue should be remedied starting in November 2008, when the blue and white labels will be found on TVs that save power in both standby and active modes.[2] ENERGY STAR labels for digital cable-ready (DCR) televisions with a point of deployment (POD) slot will also be available in the future.[6]

Cutting power use through energy-efficient TVs does make a difference: If 50 percent of the nation's households replaced their standard TVs with ENERGY STAR sets, the effect would be the same as closing a power plant.[7]

Cutting edge green features

As TV manufacturers recognize the market for more energy-efficient products, they're starting to integrate key power-saving features, such as long-lasting and efficient LED lights as light sources in televisions. Examples include Samsung's use of LED backlighting in LCD TVs and Texas Instrument's DLP technology, paired with a new LED light source, for use in rear projection televisions. Sony has taken that trend even further with their ultra thin OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) HDTV, which saves even more energy because the light elements consume no power when the TV is off.[8] The 11-inch screen comes with a hefty price tag ($2,500), but as prices drop it could become a significant flat-panel TV technology.[9] At the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Panasonic introduced prototype plasma display panels that could halve power consumption without losing picture brightness.[10]

Also at the CES, Philips' Eco FlatTV™ won CNET's "Best in Show". The TV uses less power than any other 42-inch LCD that CNET has tested, thanks to a built-in light sensor that automatically adjusts the TV's backlight for power efficiency. This green television contains lead-free components and only trace amounts of mercury.[11][9]

If TVs such as the Eco TV and the super power savers catch on with consumers, environmentally friendly televisions may become a way for electronics companies to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.[12]

Did you know?

It may cost you more to watch a TV for eight hours a day (the amount of time a typical American household watches TV) than it does to run a refrigerator 24/7. Consumer Reports took a look and found that a 20-cubic-foot top freezer refrigerator costs about $50 to run each year, while a 25-cubic-foot side-by-side fridge costs $65. Contrast that to $110 to juice up a 50-inch plasma set (1080 p resolution), $55 to view a 40-inch LCD, and $40 to watch a 32-inch standard CRT set. Let's hear it for the good old boob tube.[13]

Glossary

  • analog television: Traditional analog TVs introduced in the 1930s contain cathode ray tubes or CRTs, hence the nickname "the tube." They function by sending an electron beam through a vacuum tube toward a screen coated with phosphor. When the beam strikes the surface of the screen it produces images.[14]
  • liquid crystal display (LCD) television: LCD technology works by sending varying electrical currents through an ultra thin layer of tiny cells filled with a liquid crystal solution that crystallizes to form the image you see on the screen. These flat panel displays TVs can be placed on a stand or wall-mounted.[14] [15][16]
  • plasma television: This technology is produced by a layer with millions of tiny glass bubbles that contain a gas-like substance, called plasma, that has a phosphor coating. Each bubble is like a pixel with one red, one green, and one blue subcell. When the TV is turned on, a digitally controlled electric current flows through the flat screen, causing the plasma inside certain bubbles to give off ultraviolet rays. This light causes the phosphor coatings to glow the appropriate color.[17]
  • projection television: Commonly called big screens, this type of TV comes in front and rear projection. Both take a small image and reflect it onto a large screen. Rear projection TVs do this with the receiver unit inside the TV. Front projection models project the image onto a wall or stand-alone screen and are often used as home theater systems.[18][19]

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