NRDC4K Ultra HDTVs could cost you more to operate in electricity bills each year than watching comparably sized Full HD models, and 4K Ultra HDTVs supporting high dynamic range (HDR) could cost significantly more than that, if TV manufacturers don’t take steps to make future 4K Ultra HDTV sets more energy efficient.

That was the warning from environmental watchdog group the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), which issued a study Tuesday called “The Big Picture: Ultra High-Definition Televisions Could Add $1 Billion To Viewers Annual Electric Bills”.

According to Noah Horowitz, NRDC Center for Energy Efficiency Standards senior scientist and director, energy waste from Ultra HDTVs “could add up to an additional 8 Terawatt-hours of electricity a year nationally – enough to power all the homes in San Francisco for three years.”

More on the NRDC 4K Ultra HDTV energy study after the jump:

Part of the problem is that on average, U.S. consumers are upgrading to larger-sized TV screens that draw more power than typical 32-inch models that made up the bulk of TV purchases a few years ago.

Horowitz said “about one in three televisions sold today has a screen 50 inches and greater.”

He said 4K Ultra HDTVs on average consume up to 30 percent more energy to operate than similarly sized HDTVs. However, he said, the report didn’t find all doom and gloom for 4K lovers.

“The best UHD models on the market today are dramatically more energy efficient than the typical UHD television, using little to no more energy than the equivalent HD TV it would replace,” Horowitz said.

In the study the NRDC “observed an almost three-fold range in the electricity consumption of similar-sized UHD televisions. This means that while there are some real energy hogs out there, with the worst consuming more electricity annually than a new mid-sized refrigerator, there are some really efficient models, too. The challenge is how to ensure the industry shifts toward the more efficient designs quickly before many of today’s 300 million televisions are replaced by UHD TVs.”

Horowitz said consumers can help themselves and the environment by ensuring that any TV they purchase carries an EnergyStar rating. Second, he said after purchasing a new EnergyStar rated TV, users activate the Automatic Brightness Control (ABC) found on many models to automatically adjust television screen brightness in response to changes in room light levels.

Horowitz said that the NRDC tests of 50-inch to 55-inch televisions found ABC cuts energy consumption by a huge amount, but many manufacturers chose to ship TVs with the system turned off. He said TVs uses 50 percent more electricity on average with the ABC turned off.

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Third, he said that some new televisions that include Internet connectivity to stream content from Internet services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, have a “Quick Start feature,” which if selected causes the television to transition much faster from standby to full power. But the Quick Start feature can cause the TV to consume 20 to 30 watts of standby power even when the TV set is turned off. Horowitz urged that consumers who have TVs with the feature turn Quick Start off.

As for 4K Ultra HDTVs supporting new HDR capabilities, which add picture quality improvements by expanding the contrast performance and image detail in areas ranging from dark blacks to bright whites, the NRDC said two HDR movies it tested on 4K HDR TVs caused power to increase an average of 47 percent compared to viewing the same movie on a 4K Ultra HDTV without HDR.

“The power use during playback varied dramatically, spiking during the very bright scenes. We were only able to perform this test on one TV so we can’t extrapolate the results to all HDR-capable televisions, but these findings should serve as a loud wake-up call and catalyst for additional measurements and updates to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) test method, which currently only uses HD content to determine television energy consumption,” Horowitz said.

Going forward, the NRDC said it would be asking the Department of Energy (DOE) to update its test method for measuring TV energy use to ensure the latest content and its potentially higher energy use is measured. It will also ask the Environmental Protection Agency “to reduce the size of the adder it provides for high resolution TVs in its next specification (Version 8); will ask utilities to offer rebates for the most energy efficient TV models; and seek that regulators set minimum state or national energy efficiency standards “to remove the least efficient new TVs from the market.”

In other findings, Horowitz said the NRDC only tested one 4k Ultra HDTV based on OLED technology, which finished in the middle of the pack against mostly LED-based LCD TVs. But, he said he felt that ultimately OLED TVs will prove to be more energy efficient than equivalently sized edge-lit and full array LED-based LCD TVs because OLED technology does not use back lighting.

Horowitz said the NRDC also tested streaming media adapters, like Roku, Chromecast and FireTV devices, and found them to be pretty energy efficient overall — consuming only a few watts — and recommended that people use one of them instead of streaming content from video game consoles (particularly older models), which can consume up to 100 watts when used for streaming video content.

By Greg Tarr


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