Misleading TV energy ratings may cost users billions

Flaws in energy consumption tests of new TVs are misleading customers and could be costing them billions in energy bills, a US environmental council has claimed.

The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has accused manufacturers of exploiting loopholes in government energy consumption tests, costing consumers an extra $1.2bn (£917.8m) on their utility bills.

Adjusting the main picture settings on 2015 and 2016 models could boost energy usage by 50 to 100 per cent or more, with little or no on-screen warning, according to the NRDC and consultant Ecos Research.

It also suggested that the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) methods of testing energy consumption don’t reflect ‘real-world content’.

Currently, DOE tests contain much shorter scenes with more frequent breaks in between them. Many current TV models contain a motion-detection dimming feature, which dims or turns off the backlight when content is displayed in rapid motion and short clips, such as used during the tests. This may affect the test results.

Noah Horowitz, senior scientist and director at the NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said: “It appears that some major manufacturers have modified their TV designs to get strong energy-use marks during government testing, but they may not perform as well in consumers’ homes. These ‘under-the-hood’ changes dramatically increase a TV’s energy use and environmental impact, usually without the user’s knowledge. While this may not be illegal, it smacks of bad-faith conduct that falls outside the intent of the government test method designed to accurately measure TV energy use.

“All of this extra energy use has a major impact on national energy consumption, consumer utility bills, and the environment. In some cases, a TV’s annual energy use will be twice the levels that manufacturers reported. Steps must be taken to ensure televisions are as energy-efficient as possible during actual use and not just during government testing.”

The NRDC and Ecos Research also claimed that current DOE energy tests don’t include High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, despite the latest Ultra high-definition (UHD) TVs using around 30 to 50 per cent more energy when playing HDR content, compared with conventional UHD content.

Chris Calwell, principal at Ecos Research, added: “The global standard video clip on which the DOE test method is based is eight years old and needs a major overhaul. DOE should update its test method with more realistic video content, including video encoded in high dynamic range (HDR), to ensure that the resulting measurements are closer to what consumers would actually experience when using their TVs at home.”

In report on the BBC news website, it quotes a European Commission spokeswoman as saying: “The Commission is involved in discussions on a completely new test loop that will not only make defeat devices far more difficult to be conceived and implemented, but will also be able to capture different energy consumption patterns, such as displaying images in HDR that can dramatically improve picture quality, but at the expense of a higher energy use.”

Richard Lindsay-Davies, chief executive of DTG and DTG Testing, said: “This story again highlights the importance of independent testing in delivering consumer confidence. It’s vital that consumers get the in-home performance they expect from their TVs. While it can be difficult for consumers to keep up with technological advances, it is critical that the industry continues to work hard to ensure retailers and consumers fully understand the products they are purchasing.

“The DTG is uniquely positioned as the only independent, not-for-profit test centre and that’s exactly why we created to help UK retailers and consumers understand the attributes and capabilities of their TVs. We’re asking manufacturers to populate the site with details of their models to help UK retailers and consumers make informed buying decisions.”