Top10's Top Ten Telly Tips
11 December 2013
We’re approaching the time of year when even hard-line Christmas-deniers, aghast since late September when the first signs of Yuletide appeared in supermarket aisles and family primetime advert breaks, admit defeat. It’s December, and Christmas is officially here.
As usual at this time of uncomfortably full stomachs and mid-afternoon darkness, the television will take its place at the heart of the household. From falling asleep in front of the Queen’s speech, to watching Del Boy fall through the bar on repeat, to caffeine-fuelled all-nighters watching England’s cricketers defend the Ashes Down Under, most of us will find ourselves in front of the box at some point.
If you’re considering wrapping up a new telly for Christmas, or nabbing a bargain in the Boxing Day sales, there has never been a bigger or more bewildering array of options to choose from. But what’s the difference between plasma and LED? And if the label says A+, does that mean it’s any good?
Here are our Top 10 tips to choosing the right – and most efficient - television.
1. Size matters
Televisions are getting bigger; or, more precisely, televisions are getting cheaper, bringing progressively larger screens into our living rooms. The size of a television screen, usually expressed in inches, is measured diagonally from a bottom corner to the opposite top corner. It is a length, not an area – meaning that doubling the “display size” of a television in fact gives you four times the effective screen area.
A bigger screen area means more energy is required to power it – so a 60” television will almost certainly use more energy than a 40” television.
It is also worth considering the room you will put it in: the bigger the screen, the further back you will have to sit to watch it. Currys recommends the following optimum viewing distances for different screen sizes.
46" to 55"
2.5 - 3m
40" to 45"
2 - 2.5m
32" to 39"
1.5 - 2m
up to 32"
Less than 1.5m
So don’t be swayed by a bigger television just because you can afford it: consider whether it will really enhance your experience, and whether that is worth the extra money and energy costs.
2. Look at the energy label – once you know what size you want
By law, the EU energy label must be displayed on all televisions. The top rating is A+++ while the worst is D. In practice, the very best televisions available right now are rated A++. Also, the Energy Label reflects energy efficiency relative to the size of the television; this means that a huge television will still consume a lot of energy, even one with a good energy label.
Confused? Most people are. So don’t use the Energy Label to compare televisions of different sizes. The easiest and best way is to choose a size of television that best suits your house, viewing habits and budget – then look at the energy labels of the televisions of that size to find the most efficient one.
3. Annual energy consumption – the absolute measure
The annual energy consumption is displayed on the energy label as well. It’s based on an estimated four hours’ use per day and expressed in kWh, but don’t worry about that – just use it to compare one TV to another. So if you’re torn between the 40” A+ telly or the 32” A-rated set, this little number will give you a definite answer of which one uses more energy.
4. 3D or not 3D? That is the question
There are currently three types of 3D technology for televisions.
- Passive 3D technology involves wearing simple, lightweight glasses with a different lens in each eye to combine the two 2D images from the television into a single 3D image.
- Active 3D involves shutter technology, requiring heavier, battery-powered glasses.
- Glasses-free 3D requires (as the name suggests) no glasses at all – the correcting filter is applied at the front of the television.
Glasses-free 3D is the newest technology and currently costs more, while passive 3D is cheapest. From an energy efficiency perspective there is little between them: the energy label is only concerned with normal (2D) operation so doesn’t take the increased energy use for 3D operation into account. Active 3D requires power to the glasses, which is an additional use of energy – however this is very small.
Overall, if you would enjoy a 3D television, buy one with a good energy label and you won’t go far wrong.
5. LED, LCD or Plasma?
LED screens are the most efficient mainstream technology. They’re similar to Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens, but are backlit by Light Emitting Diodes which save energy.
Plasma screens are great for tracking fast-moving pictures on a large screen, but consume a lot more energy - typically two to three times as much as an LED TV. For this reason the Top10 Energy Efficiency Guide doesn’t feature a single plasma TV.
A brand new technology is Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) which promise to be even more efficient than LED. Presently it’s at the high end of the price range, so out of the reach of most families – but the price will no doubt come down over the next couple of years. John Lewis provides a handy guide to OLED here.
6. Does "Smart" equal Efficient?
Smart televisions come with wireless internet connectivity and associated applications for web browsing, social networking, Youtube, Netflix and so on. As with 3D TVs, the energy label only takes into account normal use rather than the increased energy consumption that comes with streaming media. A large proportion of the sets featured on the Top10 guide are Smart TVs.
Smart televisions are therefore no less efficient in normal use than standard televisions. Streaming content will result in more energy consumption via your wireless router and the wi-fi receiver in the television, but this is also the case when streaming on your home computer.
So how does a smart TV compare to a computer? A 32” A+-rated television will consume 30-35W in normal use. Laptops typically use between 20-50W, whereas desktops consume much more. So while a laptop might use fractionally less energy, a desktop PC will be much less efficient.
In short, you won’t compromise on energy efficiency by buying a Smart TV.
7. Standby vs Off
Look out for televisions with an "off" switch as well as a standby mode. This is presented on the energy label in the form of a ticked “off” symbol.
The standby power of most TVs is less than 1W. This is not a lot – it might cost you £1.50 a year in electricity - but given that many households will use their television in conjunction with other appliances such as a DVD/Blu-ray player or games console, each of which also have similar standby modes, it is still a good idea to turn your appliances off at the wall.
The best way to do this is to plug all the appliances into a multi-plug extension lead, which can then be turned off at the wall with a single switch.
8. Check your picture settings
The most energy efficient televisions have ambient light sensors which automatically adjust the brightness settings of the television to suit the light levels in the room. This is a handy feature to look out for, as it will ensure the television is no brighter than it needs to be – saving energy and making your viewing experience more comfortable.
If your television does not have an ambient light sensor, it may have presets to optimize the picture quality depending on what is being watched (sports, films etc). This will make for better viewing and potentially also save energy – particularly if there is an “eco” setting.
This video shows the effect of adjusting the brightness on the power consumption of a television in use. The factory settings of a television set are often brighter than necessary, in order to stand out in a showroom. So you may be able to reduce the brightness as soon as you get it home.
9. Know your accessories
Most televisions have built-in Freeview, while some (mostly smaller televisions) have built-in DVD players. This doesn’t affect the standby power of the units, and as a stand-alone DVD or Blu-Ray player will have a similar standby power to the television, there is a small saving to be had by using a combi TV.
It’s also worth trying to minimize the number of accessory appliances you use. For example, much as some of us would like to think that Duck Hunt on the NES is still cutting-edge technology, modern games consoles can play digital discs, stream TV online and browse the internet. Some Blu-Ray players can do the same. So instead of having a Smart TV with a DVD player, games console and HDD recorder beneath it, you can save energy and money by using a single unit beneath a standard television.
10. HD… or even-more-HD?
High-Definition (HD) television has been around for a while now. Most new televisions are Full HD (1920x1080 pixels) and a variety of HD channels are available to take advantage of it.
4K Ultra HD is the latest development in terms of image quality. It boasts a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels – four times that of normal HD. Like OLED, it’s currently very expensive and has not yet become a mainstream technology.
Ultra HD only makes sense if you have a very large screen (see here for an explanation of this) and also requires the manipulation of four times as many pixels. It’s therefore not the most energy-efficient option. At Top10, for TVs over 50 inches we require an A++ energy label; current Ultra HD TVs are rated B and C.
11. Or alternatively…
Things that use even less energy than the most efficient television include:
- Playing in the snow (fingers crossed, unless you need to travel anywhere);
- The timeless classic board games – designed to cause laughter, anger and tears in equal measure;
- Making ever-more-creative turkey sandwiches.
And finally, if you do upgrade your television this Christmas, don’t forget to dispose of your old one responsibly.