What you need to know about TV power consumption

How much does it cost to run your TV? The answer may surprise you.

This 65-inch plasma is the most power-hungry TV we've ever tested. It uses $6.77 per month in electricity. Sarah Tew/CNET

Since 2011 the FTC has required that every TV display a yellow and black Energy Guide label estimating how much it costs to run for a year. The label assumes a price for electricity (11 cents/kWh) and a baseline usage (5 hours per day).

The cost is tiny. A typical label can read anywhere from $6 for 32-inch LEDs to $38 for 65-inch plasmas (PDF). Per year. That's from 50 cents to $3.18 per month. If that's the definition of chump change to you, you're probably not alone.

That's the primary reason I stopped widely testing TV power consumption a couple of years ago (plasmas are the exception; I still test consumption by those). Simply put, TV manufacturers have done a good-enough job of managing TV power that the operating cost became negligible. And once people realize how cheap even the biggest TVs are to run, energy use largely stops being a factor in the purchasing decision.

Here's the official Energy Guide label for a 65-inch 2013 plasma TV. Your mileage may vary. ABT.com

Of course, there's a bit more to it than that. I like to think of the Energy Guide number as the minimum it'll cost to run the TV. It's determined using the default picture settings, which are often (especially on plasma TVs) dimmer than what people end up using at home. Since most TVs' default picture settings incorporate a room lighting sensor, watching in a bright room may in turn automatically make the image brighter and thus use more power.

You may also watch for longer than 5 hours per day or live in an area where electricity is more expensive. Residential energy prices vary widely according to season and state. Connecticut residents, who pay the most in the U.S., should probably tack an extra couple of bucks on to the sticker figure.

But even if you double the figures on the Energy Guide label, even the largest, least efficient TVs still cost less per month than a decent lunch. The most power-hungry TV I've recently tested, Panasonic's 65-inch TC-P65VT50, costs about $81 per year, or $6.77 per month. And that's after calibrating the picture so it's suitable for viewing in moderate lighting.

Here's a list of various recent TVs we measured for power use after calibration. They appear in order of how much they cost in electricity, assuming the same per-kWh cost and usage as the Energy Guide labels.

Make and modelSize (inches)TypeEnergy cost/yearEnergy cost/month
Samsung UN32EH400032LED$9.76$0.81
LG 47LM760047LED$9.83$0.82
Sony KDL-55W90055LED$13.26$1.11
Toshiba 50L5200U50LED$15.72$1.31
Sony KDL-46EX64046LED$15.98$1.33
Vizio E601i-A360LED$17.62$1.47
Panasonic TC-L55DT6055LED$20.78$1.73
Sharp LC-80LE632U80LED$26.39$2.20
Samsung PN51E45051plasma$27.48$2.29
Panasonic TC-P50S6050plasma$44.14$3.68
LG 50PM970050plasma$44.65$3.72
Panasonic TC-P55ST6055plasma$54.73$4.56
Panasonic TC-P65VT5065plasma$81.22$6.77

Eco-minded TV shopping tips

Are you still concerned about how much juice your next TV will use? Here are a few tips on how to keep the power bills very slightly lower, and do something to help the environment, while you watch TV.

  • Buy an LED TV. They use one-half to one-quarter the power of a comparably sized plasma. Some LEDs are more efficient than others; local-dimming models, for example, can use less power. Look for Energy Star's Most Efficient designation for the most miserly.
  • Buy a smaller TV. A 32-inch LED TV uses about half the energy of a 60-incher.
  • Watch with a dimmer picture. Light output is the largest factor in how much power a given TV uses. Try turning down the backlight control or engaging the power-saver setting.
  • Watch less TV. In case you're wondering, TV "standby" power use amounts to pennies per year.

If TV power use matters to you, let me know why in comments.

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