NRDC Report Claims 4K UHD TVs Increase Your Energy Bill

How green is your TV?

Woman sitting on couch watching 4K Ultra HD TV

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With soaring energy prices and global warming continually hot topics right now, TV manufacturers are finding themselves under ever-increasing pressure to deliver their picture and sound thrills while using less energy. 

The arrival of a new generation of 4K (also known as UHD) TVs, though, seems to be causing these already embattled manufacturers some serious eco headaches, with a new report claiming that 4K TVs use on average 30% more power than 720 or 1080 HD TVs

Factor this startling figure in against the predicted number of 4K TVs finding their way into US homes by the end of 2016 and you could be looking at a combined surge in the nation’s energy bills of more than a billion dollars.

The Research

The group behind the eye-catching report, The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), hasn’t just plucked these figures out of thin air, needless to say. It measured the power consumption of 21 TVs — focussing on the 55-inch size point, as it’s currently the biggest selling 4K TV size — across a range of manufacturers and price points, as well as taking in data from public databases of UHD TV energy use. Its estimates of how many households will have 4K TVs, meanwhile, are based on analysis of actual TV sales figures.

Going into more detail on the report's claims, it took as a starting point the fact that there are around 300 million TVs already in circulation in US households. Then it combined this figure with its 4K TV energy consumption findings to calculate what would happen if there was a nation-wide switch from 36-inch and larger TVs to UHD TVs and arrived at an extra 8 billion kilowatt-hours of energy consumption nationwide. That equates to three times more energy than the whole of San Francisco consumes annually. 

The Cost in Pollution

The NRDC additionally calculated that the extra 8 billion kilowatt-hours could end up creating more than five million metric tons of extra carbon pollution.

Key to the NRDC’s figures, too, is the fact that the shift to 4K UHD resolutions is leading to the sale of more big-screen TVs. A third of all TVs sold today are, apparently, at least 50 inches in size — and it’s a simple fact that bigger TVs tend to consume more energy. In fact, according to the NRDC’s tests, some big-screen TVs appear to burn through more electricity than a typical fridge!

As if the increase in power consumption caused by 4K wasn’t troubling enough, the NRDC also points out that things are likely to get worse with the arrival of high dynamic range (HDR) TV technology. 

The HDR Effect

The idea behind HDR is that it allows you to watch a video with an expanded luminance range — which pretty much inevitably requires the use of more power from your TV due to the extra brightness involved.

The NRDC’s measurements suggest that watching a film in HDR eats up nearly 50% more power than watching the same film in a normal dynamic range.

At this point, we feel obliged to chip in and stress that actually the TV manufacturers have made substantial strides in recent years when it comes to reducing the power consumption of their TVs, and we have no doubt that continued improvements will be made as they become more experienced with 4K and, especially HDR. 

Steps You Can Take

The NRDC itself points out in the latter stages of its report that there are already things you can do when buying and using a new 4K TV to mitigate energy consumption concerns. The main tips offered up are that you use a TV’s automatic brightness mode, where the picture adjusts itself in response to the light levels in your room; that you look for TVs that have earned the Energy Star label; and that you avoid the quick start modes some TVs offer. 

As fans of TV picture quality, we do have concerns about how much our AV experience may be impacted by energy pressures that seem a little harsh given how hard the AV world has worked to become greener in recent times. But at the same time, we all want lower power bills and a healthier planet, right?!