The Secret Costs of Manufacturers Exploiting Loopholes in the Government’s TV Energy Test: $1.2 Billion for Consumers & Millions of Tons of Pollution

Recently purchased TVs may end up costing consumers an extra $1.2 billion or more on their electricity bills than they anticipated, according to a new NRDC study. In some cases, the TVs could be using twice the levels reported on the government’s yellow EnergyGuide label mandated for every new TV. The extra electricity required over the lifetime of these TVs (32 inches and above) would be enough to power all the homes in Los Angeles for a year—and create an additional five million metric tons of the dangerous carbon dioxide pollution fueling climate change.

NRDC and its consultant Ecos Research performed laboratory testing on TVs made by the three major TV manufacturers—Samsung, LG, and Vizio—using the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) test method for measuring TV energy use. Per our analysis, we believe that the test loop used by DOE does not reflect the characteristics of content people typically watch. Samsung and LG appear to be exploiting these anomalies to achieve lower energy use levels during the test than in real-world viewing. These two manufacturers, as well as Vizio, have also designed their TVs to automatically disable key energy-saving features such as automatic brightness control or motion-detection dimming—often with limited or no warning—whenever users change main default picture setting on their TV. While the manufacturer’s actions may not be illegal, they smack of bad faith conduct that falls outside the intent of the DOE test method designed to accurately measure TV energy use.

Meanwhile, TV energy use is also poised to grow as the new generation of UHD TVs capable of displaying high dynamic range (HDR) content achieves broad market adoption.

We recommend a number of actions to ensure consumers get a clearer picture of their TV’s energy use—enabling them to reduce their electricity bills as well as carbon pollution. These include:

  • Manufacturers must ensure TVs do not automatically disable energy-saving features whenever certain picture settings are changed. If they continue this practice, they should, at minimum, provide consumers with adequate warning about the ensuing change and its consequences.
  • The DOE should update its energy use test method by creating a new set of clips that includes the latest types of content, including UHD and HDR, and by tightening the testing protocol language to minimize potential gaming. 
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should move forward with its efforts to update the specifications for its Energy Star label indicating the more energy-efficient TVs on the market.
  • The TV industry should pay greater attention to limiting the increased energy use caused by displaying HDR content on HDR-ready TVs, which our limited testing showed could increase electricity consumption by 25 percent to 50 percent.
  • Consumers should restore the energy-saving features on their TVs and avoid overly bright and energy-intensive picture settings that use more electricity but may deliver suboptimal viewing experiences.