How to Get the Most Savings Out of Your Energy-Efficient HDTV

Jerry W. Lewis/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With all of the huge sales going on, many of you may be considering buying or gifting a new TV and with The Hobbit being released this Friday, many more of you may be considering a Lord of the Rings marathon in preparation. Many TVs are now Energy Star certified, but the settings you choose when you bring that new TV home (or the ones you're currently using) could be crushing any chance at energy savings as well as ruining your movie-viewing parties. Here's how to avoid that.

First, an interesting fact: did you know that prior to 2009, Energy Star certification was achieved by TV sets that merely used little power when turned off? Yes, tougher standards introduced that year finally started rating TVs based on their power consumption when turned on and using the "at home" settings.

But right there is the catch. When you first get a new TV home, plug it in and start setting it up, one of the first choices you'll have is the retail/demo or home setting. The retail setting, also called torch mode for good reason, is the insanely bright, blaring mode used at electronics and big box stores like Best Buy to entice you to buy a TV. The colors are pushed blue and the sharpness cranked up. Under fluorescent lights it might seem attractive, but at home in your living room, it will give you headaches, ruin the cinematic quality of the movie you're watching and drive up your electric bill.

Energy Star does not rate TVs in this mode, so any energy savings the unit captures in the regular mode is completely and utterly lost. Also called "vivid" or "dynamic" mode on some units, this blindingly flashy setting should never be used at home. It can actually even lead to the early death of your TV from overtaxing the power supply (yay, more e-waste!). It may sound like the better choice when labeled with those adjectives, but it's not.

The next step to getting the most out of your movie-watching experience at home is making sure it's in "movie" or "cinema" mode, which will ensure a proper color balance, and that any auto-smoothing settings that fill in gaps in the frames per second is also turned off. Those settings on 120Hz or 240Hz LCDs interpolate new in-between frames to show 120 or 240 frames per second (fps) compared to the typical 24fps that a movie is shot in. While that may be a smoother look, the higher frame rate also looks too real and more like sports footage or daytime television instead of the slower, more artful look that movies are intended to have.

A higher frame rate is just what is garnering Peter Jackson some criticism for The Hobbit, which has otherwise gotten glowing reviews. Jackson chose to shoot the new film in 48fps instead of 24fps, which has lead to complaints from early viewers ranging from dizziness and nausea to those saying it looks like reality TV instead of Tolkien's fantasy world and he only bumped up the fps from 24 to 48, not filling in frames up to 240 per second like your TV. Most movie theaters don't have the equipment to show the movie in 48fps yet -- only 450 out of the 4,000 or so theaters showing the movie this weekend do, so most of us won't get queasy and, luckily, there's a way to prevent that at home too by shutting off the smoothing setting.

This setting has different names on different brands of TVs from "Auto Motion Plus" on Samsung to "TruMotion" on LG. This blog post has a good run down of the setting names and how to turn them off for each brand. Those steps should make a world of difference, but people who are really serious can take it a step further and get a DVD or Blu-Ray disc that shows you how to perfectly calibrate your TV for movies.

Now you're ready for that Lord of the Rings marathon and a lower energy bill.

Tags: Electronics | Energy Efficiency | Movies | Technology | Television

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