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New Energy Star spec excludes many large TVs

Energy Star's new qualification requirements for TVs are stringent enough to exclude many of the largest models.

Due to how much power they use, some of the largest TVs will no longer qualify to bear this logo.

Tomorrow the latest iteration of the Energy Star program for TVs goes into effect. As a result of the new version 5.3 requirements a number of the largest 2011 TVs, particularly plasmas, will actually lose Energy Star certification.

The reason those TVs no longer qualify is because Energy Star made its requirements more strict this time around compared to the earlier version, designated 4.2, which has been in effect since April 30, 2010. According to Energy Star:

Televisions that meet the new ENERGY STAR Version 5.3 requirements are on average more than 40 percent more energy efficient than conventional models. Larger sets must meet even more stringent levels to qualify as ENERGY STAR. A 60-inch TV will be on average 60 percent more efficient than a conventional model.

In addition to increasing the stringency of the requirements for all screen sizes, the new version incorporates a "hard cap" of 108 watts regardless of screen size. That cap effectively disqualifies most plasma TVs larger than 50 inches, and many other large-screen DLP and non-LED LCD-based sets.

Looking at the spreadsheet of models that qualify for the current Energy Star version 4.2, about 14 percent (297 of the 2096) use 108 watts or more. Many are 2010 models, and only three of them, including the 65-inch Samsung UN65D8000, are LED-backlit LCDs. Among TVs that miss the cut are the 51-, 55-, 59-, 60-, 64- and 65-inch members of CNET's favorite plasma TV series. The only 2011 plasmas that still qualify are 51-inch PND490/491/450/440 Samsungs and all 50-inch and smaller Panasonics.

Katherine Kaplan, program manager for Energy Star, told CNET via e-mail how the program has prepared for the disqualification of these large TVs. "With the intention of seeing products that meet the newest requirements on retail shelves when 5.3 takes effect, EPA halted certification of new TVs that met the 4.2 requirements (but not the 5.3 requirements) as of May 31, 2011. All new products certified since May 31 meet the 5.3 requirements. A product newly manufactured and certified in June had to meet the 5.3 requirements to be labeled."

What that means in practice is that some of the 2011 models that no longer qualify may still bear the Energy Star logo, either on the TV itself, the box or the product documentation.

Energy Star will update the list on its Web site (right column here) to include only the models that qualify for version 5.3.

Who cares?
Power consumption among new TVs has decreased significantly. Assuming our standard average "on" time of 5.2 hours per day, an electricity cost of 11.55 cents per kw/Hr and the Energy Star-reported On time wattage of 119 watts, the yearly cost of the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55VT30 plasma, for example, is just $26.18. And it's the least-efficient TV we've tested this year.

Energy Star measures default picture settings, allowing dim presets like the 55VT30's to "game" the system, but even if calibrated to a respectable light level (40 fL), it still only costs $62.71 per year to run. The most efficient like-sized TV we've tested, Sony's XBR-55HX929 local dimming LED-based LCD, costs $13.66/year worth of electricity after calibration, a savings of about $50 annually over the Panasonic plasma. That kind of difference is unlikely to make or break anybody's budget.

Indeed since the yellow FTC's Energy Guide labels, which use the same wattage measurement methodology as the EPA's Energy Star program, started appearing on TVs this year, the main reaction we've heard is something like "$20 per year? Who cares?"

Of course those numbers can vary if your electricity costs more or you watch more TV, but the point is that, for most viewers, the out-of-pocket cost of powering even the least-efficient TVs isn't a big deal. So why does Energy Star on TVs matter, anyway?

The main reason is aggregate energy use. Energy Star puts it this way:

With more than 19 million televisions greater than 40 inches expected to ship this year, the new requirements will guide purchasers of the largest televisions to more efficient choices. If all televisions sold in the United States met the new ENERGY STAR requirements, Americans would save over $4 billion annually in energy costs while reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of more than 5 million cars.

In other words, we wouldn't recommend buying a more efficient TV just so you can save money on your electricity bill. We would recommend it, however, for people who consider the societal benefits of saving energy in addition to other TV buying factors.

For more check out our TV energy efficiency guide, which includes a few handy power-saving tips.