Eco-Friendly TVs

Or, the least eco-hostile TVs.
By , Last updated on: 12/3/2014

To be fair, the title of this article is somewhat misleading. There's no such thing as an eco-friendly TV. These gadgets are built from a cocktail of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and on average generate about 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per household every year, going by Environmental Protection Agency estimates. And then then there's the fact that -- it's tough to admit this because this website is entirely devoted to the subject -- TVs are unnecessary. Nobody needs a TV like they need food, water, or oxygen.

However, to the manufacturing industry's credit, big advances are diminishing the negative environmental impact caused by TVs. The biggest breakthrough in recent years has been the advent of LED backlighting. Compared to fluorescent-based LCDs and plasmas, LED-backlit LCD sets are not only more energy efficient, efficient, but also free of mercury, a highly toxic metal that often leaches into the ground when TVs are disposed of improperly. LED TVs also tend to have a more vibrant picture, and can be obscenely thin -- just a few millimeters in some of the flashiest models. These forward-thinking sets, of course, are more expensive inch for inch than their counterparts, but are easier on the environment and cheaper to operate in the long-run as well. Here are a few standout sets (check out the prices at the sidebar to the right):

Sony Bravia KDL-EX700: The EX700 is perhaps the most eco-conscious TV line ever conceived. It's the second most efficient LED on the market by CNET's measure and comes chock full of clever power-saving features. It comes with a switch that completely kills energy consumption when it's turned off (almost all TVs still suck up a little bit of power in stand-by mode). There's a built-in presence sensor that can turn off the screen when it detects that nobody is watching. An ambiance sensor adjusts the backlight brightness based on the lighting conditions in the room, too. The picture quality isn't quite on par with high-end LED sets, but it's a best buy for the most eco-conscious out there.

Sharp LC-LE700UN: This straightforward LED came out almost one year ago, but it's still the most efficient set out there. CNET found that the 46-inch model should cost just $13.83 to run per year with average use and a proper picture calibration (that means turning the backlight down, for starters). In this case, the picture quality isn't any better than that of a conventional LCD set, but it does cost a heck of a lot less than most LEDs.

Samsung UNB8500:
This is the best-looking LCD TV of all time, and one of the most efficient as well. Part of its secret is the local dimming feature, where LEDs are positioned behind the screen and divided into zones that turn on or off depending on how bright that section of the screen is. Zones turn off for a few seconds at a time, and those short moments add up to a fistful of dollars at the end of the year -- you'll need every penny you can get after dropping $2400+ on the 46-inch set.

These three sets are just a starting point of course. CNET maintains a very helpful chart of energy efficiency by model based on their own in-house testing. The chart is sortable by manufacturer, cost of operation per year, and efficiency by square inch. It's a good place to start, though it has not been updated since November 2009. At the bare minimum, look for an Energy Star sticker on any set you buy. It's worth noting that the newest Energy Star standards (version 4.0) will take effect on May 1, 2010, so any TV with a new sticker on it after that date will be really efficient -- at least 45% more efficient than version 3.0 called for.

And if you can't shell out the big bucks for a new set but still want to take some steps to improve your old TV's eco-friendliness, there are a few simple steps to take. When you're not using the TV, unplug it from the wall. TVs suck up a little bit of power even when they're turned off, and it's power that really doesn't need to be used. Also, turn the backlight down a notch or two. Default settings usually have the backlight cranked way up so the display really pops on the retailer's showroom floor, but most viewers never bother to calibrate the settings for the more subdued light of their living room. If your eyes hurt after 15 minutes of watching, it's probably time to turn down the the backlight anyway.

Stay tuned to this page through the year -- we'll be adding more sets as they're released.

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