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Five Rules to Guide Your Smart TV Buying and Viewing

Learn how to get the most bang for your buck (and kilowatt!) on your next smart TV purchase.

Smart TVs are big sellers over the holidays, with great deals online and in stores. Reliability and cost are the prime considerations for most homeowners, according to a Harris Poll, with only 38% of homeowners saying energy efficiency is very important to them when choosing which model of consumer electronics to purchase. So, I wondered, how much does a TV’s energy usage cost once you get it home?

I analyzed five top-rated smart TV brands, looking for common pitfalls that could hike up your utility bill, and came up with five rules of the road for buying smart TVs this holiday season. The TVs were all 55” LED models from well-known manufacturers, priced under $1000, and earned high ratings from reviewers at Consumer Reports and CNET.

  •      TCL 55R617
  •      Vizio P55-F1
  •      LG 55UK6300PUE*
  •      Toshiba 55LF621U19
  •      Samsung UN55NU7100*

*ENERGY STAR Certified TVs

I tested each TV under two distinct conditions:  (1) while the TV was plugged in but not powered on and (2) while watching the same scene from a movie on Netflix in a variety of picture mode settings. See the table below for a concise version of the results. You can find more detailed results here. 

The consumer electronics industry has succeeded in making new TVs with LED screens very energy efficient. The five models operated at 65-180W during active vewing, depending on picture mode, and idled at 0-0.5W (not shown in table). Their operational costs ranged from $14 to $39 per year, according to their Energy Guides. By contrast, the average cost per year of older TV models (which used LCD or plasma technology) ranged from $53 to almost $90 and they often idled at much higher levels, which brings us to our first rule for buying your next smart TV.

Rule #1. Analyze Your Old TV

If you have an older, pre-LED TV, such as a plasma, you can use a smart plug to figure out how much energy it uses while viewing and in its idle state. Typically, older TVs use about 250 to 410W while you watch. New TVs are far more efficient, operating in the 27-180W range and idling at extremely low rates of less than 0.5W.

So, if you clock your old TV at more than 410W while viewing, you’re paying an extra $76 per year in electricity compared to a new, efficient model. Over the course of 5-10 years, you could be spending $380-$760 extra on your utility bills to keep your old TV in operation. Time to upgrade!

What about those Energy Guides? New TVs are required to provide information about their energy usage, which are summarized on bright yellow stickers on each new TV. A TV’s Energy Guide is calculated based on five hours of active TV viewing daily, the average energy usage of the TV in kilowatts, and an average utility cost of 12 cents per kWh. In the group of top sellers we looked at, Energy Guide ratings varied by a factor of about two, with Vizio P55-F1 claiming a cost of $39 over the course of a year to operate your TV, while the Samsung UN55NU7100 claimed about $14.

ENERGY STAR certification goes a step further. ENERGY STAR certified TVs are, on average, 27 percent more efficient than conventional models, saving energy in all usage modes: sleep, idle and on. So to get the maximum energy savings, choose ENERGY STAR certified models.

Almost any smart TV you buy will be very energy efficient, but if you keep your TV for five years, you could save $125 over the life of the most efficient TV in our group, the ENERGY STAR rated LG 55UK6300PUE, compared to the least efficient, the Vizio P55-F1. That’s a nice savings toward your next TV.

Rule #2. Make sure it’s really off when you click it off

All of the new models have a factory setting of a miniscule 0W to 0.5W after you use your remote to click off the TV. This is great, and the manufacturers deserve credit for working hard to make TVs actually turn off while off, in contrast to other home electronics that idle at much higher levels.

However, one of the five top-rated smart TVs, the Vizio P55-F1, has a QuickStart mode that defeats the energy saving factory settings. With Quick Start mode enabled, instead of going down to about 0.5W, it idled at 20W when powered off. Once you chose this as your standard idle mode, the TV will cost you $81 additional over a five-year period, compared to staying in the factory-set idle mode.

The Vizio model is not unusual in bypassing the extremely low idle mode set at the factory to a more active mode. According to an industry report, the power draw in “active standby” averaged about 11W, which is over 10 times higher than the much lower “passive standby.”

So, before you deviate from the factory setting with a new TV, plug it into an energy-aware smart plug like the TP-Link Kasa HS-110 or Belkin Wemo Insight Plug, and see how much the energy changes in other idle settings. The QuickStart mode may hike up your electricity bill if your TV stays on continuously at a higher rate, so we don’t recommend enabling it.

Rule #3. Choose screen settings for comfort first

When you get your TV, you can choose a variety of picture settings. For instance, both the Vizio and LG have a screen mode called Vivid, and other models have modes with names like Cinema, Sports, and Game. You might think that screen settings would make a difference in energy usage. We learned that while they do have an impact, it’s not a big one.

The same picture setting in different models could use twice as much electricity, which sounds like a lot until you consider that the actual usage might vary between, for example, 95W and 174W, a difference that translates into about $17 per year. One model, the Samsung, had an ultra-low energy screen setting, but the screen was so dark, you couldn’t see comfortably in a daylit room. If you are trying to save energy, figure out the power usage for your TV’s screen settings and use the lowest one that provides comfortable viewing.

Rule #4. If you sleep in front of your TV, enable Auto Power Off

Your doctor will tell you that getting your Z’s with the TV babbling in the background isn’t a recipe for a good night’s sleep but, hey, it happens. The problem is that your TV uses lots of energy while you snooze, and a screen saver may not save much energy, depending on your choice. For example, if you set the screensaver on the TCL 55R617 to Power Saver Mode, it shows a black screen and draws about 27.5 W, a significantly higher amount than the 0.5W idle. However, if you set the screensaver to “City Stroll,” it pulls a whopping 113 W, almost as much as if the TV were still in use! So, if you are lulled to sleep often by your blasting TV, make sure you get one with an auto power off mode that will turn it off after a specific length of time, reducing energy usage to eco friendly (and wallet friendly) levels.

Rule #5. Stop watching TV and go enjoy life!

Our last rule is a reminder. Switch off your TV and enjoy the world we live in. Join a volunteer organization, meet up with friends, or just go for a walk in the fresh air. Take a moment in your day to appreciate our world and remember why we are all striving to save energy in the first place.

A last note: Smart TVs are an example of consumer electronics done right from an energy perspective but other home entertainment devices like sound bars and DVRs are not so efficient. If you want to delve deeper, the consumer electronics industry issued a very detailed report on energy usage of consumer electronics. You can find a wealth of energy information there.

Buy smart this holiday so you can watch smart all year!

About the author: Elyse Bedics is a student at Northeastern University pursuing a B.S. in Mathematics and is on co-op at Sense.