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EarthTalk: What’s the ‘greenest’ TV?

Popular plasma sets are energy hogs; LCDs are better, but the ol’ cathode-ray tube may be best.

By THE EDITORS OF E MAGAZINE / July 25, 2008

LCD: A ‘green’ version of this Sony goes on sale in Japan soon.

PRNews Foto/Sony Electronics, Inc.

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Q: I need to replace my old TV. Can you tell me which of the latest models is the greenest? I was told that the flat-screen/­plasmas are real energy hogs. What do you­ recommend?
Angela Montague, via e-mail

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A: According to The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith, a 42-inch plasma television can draw more power than a large refrigerator, even if the TV is only used a few hours a day. This is partly because many newer models don’t turn off but go into “standby” mode so they can start up fast later with no warm-up period.

“Powering a fancy TV and full-on entertainment system – with set-top boxes, game consoles, speakers, DVDs, and digital video recorders – can add nearly $200 to a family’s annual energy bill,” she adds.

Smith recommends green consumers consider the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) models, which typically use less energy than comparable plasma sets. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 28-inch conventional cathode-ray tube (CRT) set uses about 100 watts of electricity. A 42-inch LCD set might consume twice that amount, while plasma could use five times as much, depending on the model and the programming. For the largest screen sizes (60 inches and up), projection TVs are the most energy efficient, logging in at 150-200 watts – significantly less than the energy a plasma set would use.

“What scares us is that prices for plasma sets are dropping so fast that people are saying, ‘Why get a 42-inch plasma set when you can get a 60-inch or 64-inch one?’”says Tom Reddoch of the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute. “They have no idea how much electricity these things consume.”

For its part, the industry is taking some steps to make its products more energy-­efficient, and to improve disclosure of energy usage. In June 2008, Sony pronounced its new 32-inch Bravia KDL-32JE1 LCD model “the world’s most energy efficient television.” Slated for sale in Japan in August for around $1,400, the new set uses fluorescent tubes to create higher levels of brightness with less energy consumption, but still delivers high resolution, a high contrast ratio, and a wide viewing angle.

Beginning in November, forward-thinking manufacturers will get a little boost from the US government, which will start awarding the most energy-efficient new TV sets “Energy Star” labels to help consumers identify greener choices.

Televisions bearing the Energy Star label must operate at least 30 percent more efficiently than standard models in both standby and active modes. Consumers can see which models qualify by visiting the televisions section of the EnergyStar.gov home electronics page. According to the EPA, if all TVs sold in the United States met Energy Star requirements, yearly energy savings would top $1 billion and greenhouse gas emissions would drop by the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

Of course, the greenest option of all (aside from getting out from in front of that tube and spending more time outdoors) is to keep or repair your existing CRT unit (a digital-to-analog converter will be needed after February 2009, when new broadcast signal specifications go into effect). Most CRT sets use less energy than any of the LCD or plasma models, and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Buying a new TV, even a greener one, generates more pollution in production and transport, and creates waste in junking the old model.

Got an environmental question? Write: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or: earthtalk@emagazine.com

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