Tech Trends '09: Tech Goes Green

No matter your favorite color, green should be one of the first you consider when buying electronics. All A/V gear has the potential to be environmentally unfriendly; depending on its power consumption and its construction, your new HDTV could be anything from a modest electricity sipper to a toxic, power-guzzling time bomb.

Fortunately, consumer electronics companies are starting to make advancements in green technology. The latest tech is often safer for the environment, consuming less energy than older equipment and using fewer potentially toxic materials.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Gadgets can be energy hogs, and the bigger they are, the more power they consume. According to the Energy Information Administration, consumer electronics account for 15% of all household electricity consumption, and TVs alone account for 4%. The Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program is a voluntary set of energy-efficiency standards for appliance and electronics manufacturers to adopt. According to the EPA, making every TV, DVD player, and home theater system Energy Star-compliant would prevent 3 billion pounds of greenhouse gases from being released. That's the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road.

For most electronics, Energy Star focuses on efficiency when not in use. For a home theater component to qualify for Energy Star, it must consume 1 watt or less when in standby mode. Implemented in November 2008, the Energy Star 3.0 standards require TVs to limit how much electricity they need when being used, in addition to the 1-watt-or-less rule in standby. This limit is based on screen size. For instance, to be eligible for Energy Star certification, a 32-inch HDTV has to consume 120 watts or less, while a 60-inch HDTV can consume up to 391 watts. As of January 19, 465 TVs - almost all of them HDTVs - meet Energy Star 3.0 standards. According to the EPA, Energy Star TVs use about 30% less electricity than TVs that don't meet the criteria.

The Energy Star standards don't differentiate between LCD, plasma, or CRT technology, though the three screen types can vary in power consumption. Generally, flat-panel screens are more energy efficient than CRTs, and LCDs tend to be more efficient than plasmas. But this isn't always the case, and the two most efficient models recognized by Energy Star are Panasonic plasma screens.

To meet and even exceed the optional Energy Star standards, several companies are developing flat-panel technologies that don't just look more impressive but also consume less energy. The most common approach is to use LED backlighting in LCD displays instead of cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL). Not only is LED backlighting generally more energy efficient, but it doesn't contain the mercury found in CCFLs.

Panasonic has developed new, more energy-efficient LCD and plasma displays, known as neoLCD and neoPDP. According to the company, both types of panels can be up to twice as efficient as ordinary flat-panel displays. At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic showed off a 37-inch LED-backlit neoLCD panel that it claims consumes only 90 kilowatt hours per year, an industry record.

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