America is home to nearly as many TVs as people—an estimated 275 million sets.

Photograph by Nikolay Okhitin/Shutterstock

By Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic

Shopping Tips

America is home to nearly as many TVs as people—an estimated 275 million sets. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that all those televisions eat up more than 50 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy every year. That’s enough juice to power every home in the state of New York for a calendar year. And televisions, along with their peripherals like DVD players and gaming consoles, add nearly $200 to the average annual energy bill.

  • Lumen output: To maximize energy savings, choose the product that provides the most lumens at the lowest wattage. Energy Star lists common lumen equivalencies for CFL and incandescent wattages.

  • Types of TVs:

    The days when TVs came in two types, color or black and white, are long gone. American televisions now use several different technologies—some greener than others.

    Traditional Cathode Ray Tube TVs, those of the deep cabinets and curved screens, aren’t particularly green performers when comparing apples-to-apples energy use with more modern sets of the same size. But because they don’t come in big-screen versions their energy use may compare well against newer behemoth sets.

    Among the prevailing TV types, DOE rates rear projection TVs as the most energy-efficient. Liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs take second place, followed by plasma models. The biggest plasma screens can rival the refrigerator as the most energy-hungry appliance in your home.

    On average, plasma TVs use almost triple the energy of a rear-projection model of the same size, and about 20 percent more than comparable LCDs.

    Rear-projection TVs may be the greenest energy choice but, unfortunately for eco-savvy consumers, market share has been falling for this rather bulky type of television and it’s likely they won’t be available much longer. That would leave LCD models as the most widely available, energy-efficient models.

  • Size Matters: Many people buy a new TV because they want a bigger TV. But, simply put, bigger TVs use a lot more energy. You can compare the power consumption of different TV sizes, types and models with CNET’s ratings chart. Want a typical example of how much more energy big-screen TVs hog? CNET reports that a 52-inch LCD uses twice the power of a 32-inch model.

  • Fine Tuning: One major factor in TV power consumption is controlled by your remote. Your unit’s picture settings can make a surprising difference in the set’s energy use, sometimes cutting the total by as much as 50 percent.

    The two main energy-related settings are contrast/picture and backlight/cell light (on LCD models). Changing these settings tunes your picture by altering light output—which directly affects how much energy the set uses. By tweaking factory settings most users can save significant energy and money without compromising picture quality.

  • Energy Star: The first thing green shoppers should look for is an Energy Star label, awarded by the DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize energy-efficient products.

    Energy Star-qualified sets consume 30 percent less energy than their conventional counterparts, whether in use or on standby mode. Currently most of the sets on the market have earned the Energy Star rating. This is good news because the overall efficiency of TVs has improved. But it’s bad news for consumers who hope to differentiate between truly green sets and certified models that have really become average or worse.

    In May 2010, however, Energy Star is raising the bar. The Energy Star 4.0 rating will be unveiled and it should be a boon to eco-savvy shoppers. TVs will have to be 40 percent more efficient to earn this designation, which will likely certify only the top 25 percent of sets. For those who can wait, in 2012 the Energy Star 5.0 level will up the ante yet again by requiring sets to be 65 percent more efficient.

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