On The Bright Side: Advancements In Energy-Efficient LCD Technology

Energy loss is like a leaky faucet: You’ll notice just one drop of water at any given time and not fully realize the impact. Collected over months, however, it’s a lot of waste. And it’s costly.

That “drip drip drip” you hear is the sound of all of your household devices endlessly bellying up to the energy buffet. Appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners are the hungriest. Old-school analog amps also require heavy power supplies.

Many people didn’t really think about the energy these devices consumed until recently, and now they want to make more “responsible” buying decisions. For example, new data collected by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reveals that the vast majority-89 percent-of households want their next TV to be more energy efficient. In fact, green CE products are on the wish lists of 33 percent of consumers within the next two years, the study concluded.

Today’s hottest electronic components-plasma and LCD (liquid crystal display) flat-panel TVs-are dropping in price and becoming available to an ever-wider range of consumers. It’s a fabulous thing for the home entertainment experience, but energy-conscious consumers will be concerned to learn that these sexy screens gobble up power at alarming rates, even when they are off.

limited-edition-stand

Manufacturers have taken steps to remedy the problem and meet increased consumer demand for more eco-friendly products. A growing number of flat panels have earned the ENERGY STAR, and some offer ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) calibration, which allows a professional installer to adjust the TV’s settings to the most energy-efficient levels. And don’t forget ambient light’s role in a TV’s brightness requirements; preset levels help get the best performance out of the TV for the lowest possible energy consumption.

These features and strategies are encouraging, but what else can LCD manufacturers and professional installers do? How can they guarantee maximum output and brightness levels while saving energy at the same time? Ultimately, how can integrators spec LCDs and say with a straight face that they are contributing to eco-friendly home interiors?

There’s good news on the horizon. A survey of some new LCD innovations reveals a noticeable, industry-wide trend toward green product design on the manufacturer level.

For instance, Sharp recently introduced two residential LCD TVs that run on solar power: a 26-inch model that consumes just 40 watts of power (less than a conventional light bulb does) and a 52-inch model that runs on a larger solar panel and consumes 220 kilowatt hours of solar power in an average year. The sets debuted in Japan, but the technology could eventually reach the North American market.

Sharp says it always considers the bigger picture, and not just for its LCD screens. When it comes to environmental protection, it wants company-wide efficiency, from factories to finished products. While many manufacturers are just starting to “think green,” Sharp is close to celebrating 50 years of using solar energy. The company’s second largest plant in Kameyama, Japan, reflects its strong environmental commitment; it provides one third of its own power, primarily via a solar-paneled roof.

Sharp’s new manufacturing facility in Sakai City, Japan, is slated to open by 2010. It will include Sharp’s tenth-generation LCD factory, and double as a production house for thin-film solar cells. The facility will generate enough solar capacity every year to power a quarter of a million homes, according to the company.

At this year’s custom electronics integration trade show, CEDIA, Sharp US introduced a new HD line of Limited Edition LCD TVs, available in 65- and 52-lc-52d85u-ho-hiresinch screen sizes, that utilizes a 10-bit Advanced Super View LCD panel. That translates into a super-slim profile of only one inch at its thinnest. Additionally, Sharp’s new Power Saving Mode, available in several Sharp LCDs, enables active contrast and active backlight to reduce the energy consumption of the television while in use. What’s more, in January, Sharp says it will donate a minimum of $50,000 to The HOPE Program to launch the Green Collar Project, which will provide job skills to low-income New Yorkers interested in working in environmental fields.

At Japan’s CEATEC electronics show this fall, Sony performed a revealing and encouraging “taste test” of sorts. It lined up a 42-inch Sony LCD TV from 2005 next to a 2008 Sony LCD set of the same size. The 2005 panel consumed 131 watts during play mode; the 2008 model consumed just 57 watts. That’s progress! Sony also plans to introduce a new organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV model in 2009. OLEDs don’t require a backlight to function, so they draw far less power and can be much thinner than LCDs.

Plasma TVs, which as a category are considered more energy-hungry than LCD TVs, are benefitting from energy-aware product development, too. Panasonic, one of the leaders in plasma technology, says it will reduce the power consumption in its plasma TVs by two-thirds by 2010 or 2011, by reducing the number of components used in its devices. Plasmas, which create images by a veritable Chem Lab experiment of gas atoms, free-flowing ions and electrons, require more complex innards than LCD TVs do. Panasonic claims it is also devising ways to route more plasma light emissions from the light source to the screen itself for enhanced efficiency.

There are countless other examples of flat panels designed with performance, energy, and utility bills in mind. It’s great to know manufacturers are taking “efficiency” more seriously than ever. For homeowners who want to make eco-conscious decisions and have the best picture quality available at the same time, the compromises they need to make are growing fewer by the month.

Posted by Margot Douaihy

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