NRDC: Government Uses Flawed TV Energy Consumption Tests
Your TV might be contributing to global warming. Well, it’s certainly making a lot of people hot under the collar, anyway.
An environmental watchdog group called the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a report on television energy consumption Wednesday calling government testing procedures for energy use by TVs flawed and implied that some manufacturers may be deliberately designing TVs to pass the Department of Engergy (DOE), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests while actually using more electricity than they should in real-world conditions.
The group said that video clips assembled for the government test material used when measuring TV energy consumption for programs including Energy Star, are an assemblage of fast (on average about 2.5 second) scenes that jump cut throughout the clip. This test material causes some brands of TVs equipped with “motion detection dimmers” to scale down energy consumption and help them meet energy consumption guidelines.
But the NRDC said the test clips are nothing but a random compilation of unrealistically and unwatchably fast video sequences, creating motion that these motion detection dimmers easily pick up and respond to. When playing content edited in a way that is more realistic to the way it is actually presented these dimmers often don’t get triggered, the NRDC claims.
Read more on the NRDC’s TV energy consumption allegations after the jump:
“LG and Samsung are the only manufacturers we are aware of that have the motion detection dimming feature although further investigation of other manufacturers’ TVs is probably warranted. This feature does, indeed, reduce energy use with the IEC’s energy test clip; disabling it caused energy use by the government test method to increase by 13, 16 and 58 percent, depending on the TV tested,” said Noah Horowitz, NRDC senior scientist and director, Center for Energy Efficiency Standards. “But motion detection dimming saved significantly less energy when our more realistic content test clip was played. The very short scenes in commercials trigger it for brief periods but not the types of motion and scene changes in the rest of our realistic content.
“It’s conceivable that Samsung and LG are exploiting the unique characteristics of the IEC test loop thereby achieving a superior energy score,” he said.
Horowitz added that while the practice might not be illegal, “it certainly smacks of bad-faith conduct.”
The NRDC representative acknowledged that the council’s consultant, Ecos Research, used a small test sample of sets from typical retail outlets and focused on the top brands. Horowitz pointed out that some brands of TVs, like Vizio, do not use the motion detection dimming feature but still defeat other Energy Saving features when adjusted. He also pointed out that other brands, which weren’t tested, might be guilty of the same or similar performance and practices.
“From our testing in stores that Ecos did, we found that most of the models sold by Samsung, LG and Vizio in late 2015 and early 2016 are programmed to automatically turn off their key energy saving features when consumers change their picture settings and give little to no warning on screen that their TV’s energy use will dramatically increase as a result,” Horowitz stated.
The group said that switching the TV out of the default picture mode, which is typically “energy saver” mode or “standard” mode into “sports” mode or “vivid” mode will boost energy use significantly. On some Samsung LED LCD TVs simply adjusting the backlight, contrast or brightness settings caused the energy saving features to be disabled.
“The good news is that the energy saving features present in the few models we tested from Sony and Philips remained enabled even though the picture settings were changed,” he said. “This is industry best practice that we encourage all manufacturers to follow.”
“Horowitz said that a few seemingly inconsequential clicks of the remote control can cause a TV’s energy use to as much as double compared to the levels reported for the manufacturer according to the DOE test.”
“If one third of the consumers who purchased a TV 32-inches and larger from these manufacturers in the past two years changed their picture setting then an additional $1.2 billion worth of electricity could be consumed. This results in an additional 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emission,” said Horowitz. “To put this into perspective, the extra electricity needed to run these TVs is enough to power every home in Los Angeles for a year.”
Following up on a similar report on TVs using high dynamic range (HDR) issued last year, the NRDC said playing HDR content on the latest Ultra High Definition TVs resulted in a 30 to 50 percent increase in energy use compared with playing the same content in regular Ultra High Definition. This extra energy use is not accounted for in the current DOE energy test,” Horowitz said. “We also found the energy saving features are temporarily though automatically disabled whenever HDR content is being played.”
In a statement on the NRDC assertions, Samsung said: “Samsung firmly rejects the accusation that we are misleading consumers. Our Energy Star rating is based on the default setting of our TVs. The majority of users stay within the default viewing settings through the lifetime of their television. Furthermore, we strongly believe that consumers should always have the option to customize the viewing experience on their TV.”
Indeed, Horowitz acknowledged that nearly two-thirds of television set purchasers never take their TVs out of the default picture settings throughout the life of the set. But added that the one-third of those who do can still have a profound impact on global carbon dioxide levels.
A spokesmen for LG Electronics said: “LG disputes the findings in the report. LG has followed both the letter and spirit of the DOE test procedure for TV energy testing, and we take great exception to the assertion that LG is `exploiting a loophole’ in the government test procedure.”
LG pointed out that there is no consensus on how to define “normal viewing.”
“The NRDC’s “normal viewing” test clip and LG’s “normal viewing” test clip show significantly different results. We look forward to working with the DOE and stakeholders to develop a new test clip going forward. For now, the IEC test clip is the standard that the industry must follow according to applicable law,” LG said.
LG said it has met proactively with the EPA on related issues to ensure its products’ compliance with federal standards.
“The NRDC report fails to point out how LG is addressing energy saving features, both for current and future products. LG is implementing software for consumer notifications on 2016 and ‘15 models that inform consumers that changing picture modes may impact energy consumption. It also allows consumers to turn on energy saving features in various picture modes,” LG continued. “LG’s 2017 TV models also will include a number of enhancements to the automatic brightness control (ABC) and motion eye care (MEC) features. Specifically, the ABC feature will be implemented as the default in all picture modes (except HDR modes). What’s more, consumers will be able to activate MEC in all picture modes.”
“LG and NRDC have a shared goal of driving TV energy efficiency. We can’t speak for other manufacturers, but at least in LG’s case, we are confident that our products are being tested properly and are delivering energy efficiency in real world use,” LG said.
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, also weighed in on NRDC’s report saying: “Today’s report is consistent with NRDC’s typical approach – sensational-but-meaningless headlines, facts either misstated or irrelevant to the claims and an inexplicable hostility to an industry that has done so much to reduce energy usage.
“Televisions are an energy efficiency success story. Dating back to the 90s, our industry has worked closely with government – especially through the enormously popular and well-recognized Energy Star consumer program and the more recent EnergyGuide labeling program. As of 2014, the Energy Star program has helped save families and businesses $363 billion on utility bills, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2.4 billion metric tons. Innovation is constantly driving TV models to become thinner, lighter and more energy efficient.
“None of this progress was caused in any way by NRDC’s war on the TV industry. NRDC has falsely claimed credit for changes in TV technology and actually blocked enactment of a California law requiring recent data – not 20-year-old cathode-ray tube data – be used in measuring TV set efficiency. NRDC continues to wrongly claim mythical energy savings from the California regulations it pushed for, when in fact the history of technology proves that innovation has driven fundamental changes in video screen technology – a process NRDC had nothing to do with.
“The technology sector has long been in the vanguard on energy efficiency policy and research through data collection, analysis, public reporting and strong competition. The industry has proactively taken steps to reduce our national energy consumption and related emissions through creative, new efforts including the Set-Top Box and Small Network Equipment voluntary agreements. And CTA research shows that even as we use more and more tech devices in our homes, their share of our overall in-home energy usage is actually decreasing,” Shapiro said.
By Greg Tarr
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