The ecology of HDTV

With a little over a year left for analog television broadcasts, just about every non-Luddite who hasn't already bought an HDTV will be doing so in 2008. For most, the selection process will boil down to getting the largest set in their price range. More sophisticated buyers will weigh the pros and cons of the plasma, LCD, rear-projection technologies. But there is another criteria that we should consider: the science of power consumption.

Analog TV will be history on Feb. 17, 2009. The U.S. government has already started offering $40 coupons for those who want to continue using their old-fashioned televisions -- the coupons can be used against the cost of digital-to-analog converter boxes (two per household, at about $70 each). But anyone who's actually watched an HDTV won't be content with that.

I mean, be honest: watching Battlestar Galactica is way cooler on a wide-screen, regardless of the resolution.

The vast majority of consumers, even environmentally hip ones, probably have no idea how much power televisions use. Our analog, 20-inch CRT uses just 67 watts, and most other old-fashioned sets are comparable. But the new HDTV models vary widely, and not just according to size. Some of the larger ones use more than 300 W in operation, and even gobble 40 W in standby mode. (!)

That's a lot of juice, and for most regions a lot of fossil fuel emissions. Don't be fooled by the "Energy Star" label either:

Currently, the federal government's Energy Star rating system--voluntary for manufacturers--only compares energy use of TVs while they idle in standby mode. But the EPA may soon revise its Energy Star system to include switched-on TVs.

While we wait for the EPA to get with the program, it is possible to find HDTVs of reasonable size (37-40-inches) that use less than 150 W operational and less than 1 W in standby.
(You can eliminate the standby consumption by running the power to all your home entertainment gear -- except the stuff that needs a clock -- through a power bar that you can turn off.) But you have to do your research. Most online information doesn't include power consumption stats, and according to CNET reviewers, real-world stats don't always jibe with the official numbers.

The unfortunate bottom line is that the new TVs are boosting electricity consumption patterns across the developed world. The only good news on the environmental front is that we may soon see an end to the resources being poured into producing DVDs, thanks the efforts of those trying to eliminate hard copies entirely. According to the NY Times:

The partnership will extend a novel feature from Netflix, announced a year ago, that allows paying subscribers to watch any of 6,000 movies and television shows on its Web site free. But that service can be accessed only with a personal computer.

Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, said he hoped to strike other such deals and that Netflix would soon be viewed as a movie channel that might appear on myriad devices.

"We want to be integrated on every Internet-connected device, game system, high-definition DVD player and dedicated Internet set-top box," he said. "Eventually, as TVs have wireless connectivity built into them, we'll integrate right into the television."

This will also have the effect of rendering moot the just-announced victory of Blu-ray over HD-DVD. Just as CDs are on the way out, so are DVDs, it would seem.

And none too soon. Why bother converting information into plastic and metal, when all we really need are electrons, which are cheaper to transmit and pose no disposal problems?

Which brings up another negative side-effect of our obsession with new ways of entertaining ourselves. 2008 will also be the year when millions upon millions of cathode ray tube televlsions get tossed into the garbage stream. Some will get recycled in China and other developing nations, poisoning countless kids who make a living separating heavy metals from plastic bits and insulation. Many will sit in landfills. Isn't there someone out there who can figure out a way to make money from the old sets without ravaging the environment?

Stay tuned.


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Am I a luddite if I've never bought a TV? I developed an aversion to commercials early, and hate how much I get sucked into watching TV I don't even own or turn on. I don't think I could bring myself to buy even a shiny new HDTV, unless I can hook it to my computer and use it as a monitor.


That is the longest acronym I have yet observed. I had to Google it.

I think it may have pushed me into GAF, general acronym fatigue.

Any further egregious use of arcane strings of letters to express entire sentences may result in legal action.

It's from Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Please turn in your pocket protector, Lance.


Todd I saw that when I googled it. I guess I need to re-read my teenage sci-fi paperback library.

Couldn't we just make it NFL, no free lunch? Oops I guess that one has a somewhat more popular meaning.

"Eventually, as TVs have wireless connectivity built into them, we'll integrate right into the television."

Nice to see that as the TV generation grows up so are the TVs and service suppliers! LOL!
Dave Briggs :~)

Thanks for the notice!
The sellers extoll the virtues of a product and neglect anything like full accounting for the "footprint" of the device. The snake oil people haven't closed shop. That "40 watt load in standby" needs to be exposed. What the hell is it doing besides heating the house? What is the net cost if the airconditioner has to haul it out in Summer? The bean-counter is your best friend these days. I'd like to know one.