Your TV's Warm and Expensive Glow

Your TV's Warm and Expensive Glow

If you're of a certain age, you can remember a time when a TV actually had to warm up before its picture appeared. That's because when the TV was off, it was really off. Today, however, we demand instant-on satisfaction, making TVs one of many household energy vampires sucking up to 10 watts of juice just to keep them ready to spring to life. In the U.S., TVs consume approximately 46 billion kWh per year, about 4 percent of residential use (and equivalent to the entire power use of all the households in the state of New York). The energy cost to run a typical TV: about 2 to 5 cents per hour.

Inch for inch, today’s dazzling screens use about as much electricity as old-fashioned tube TVs. The problem is that screens have gotten much, much bigger. As their sizes increase beyond 40 inches, so does their power consumption, with some of the biggest screens devouring up to 850 kWh per year ($80-$90), more than some refrigerators.

The best energy-saving advice, of course, is to do what your mother always told you to do: Turn off that boob tube and go outside for some fresh air. But if you're going to watch — and you know you are — here are some steps to take as you shop for your next TV.

Look for the sticker

The Federal Trade Commission requires every TV to come with a black and yellow Energy Guide label that estimates the annual cost to run the device, assuming a current average price for electricity and baseline usage (five hours per day). The number may look nice and low, but how many TVs do you own, and how often are they on?

Yes, choose Energy Star

Always choose an Energy Star-certified model. (Energy Star likes to point out that if every TV sold carried Energy Star certification, it would mean nine billion pounds less annual air pollution.) And while you’re at it, don’t buy a TV that's too big for the room. The distance from the TV to your seat should be about double the screen width for optimal viewing. Anything bigger will be out of scale and too much for your eyes to handle.

Turn down all the lights

Many buyers don't know that the light sources of flat-screen TVs can be adjusted. Out of the factory and in the store they're often cranked all the way up to create the most eye-popping picture, but at home you should dial down the brightness using whatever contrast or picture controls are available to you. CNET reported that reducing light output to the max can cut power consumption from 30 to 50 percent. Also find out if your TV has a power-saver mode that help reduce power consumption, usually also by cutting back on brightness.

At the same time, dim the ambient lighting in the room where you watch TV. Less light in the room makes the TV picture pop even if you've reduced its brightness, and you'll be saving even more energy.

Choose the greenest option: A projector

The single best way to watch a huge TV picture while consuming the least amount of energy is to use a high-quality LCD projector that can produce an image as big as your entire wall. This option, the same thing you might see in an office conference room, won't work for everyone. It requires the right kind of room and dim lighting. Luckily, projector prices have plummeted in recent years, and by operating at about 180 watts, they deliver the most bang for your energy buck by far, and you can enjoy a cinematic experience, with pictures up to 14 feet wide.

Photo: iStock