Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Does Your Big Screen TV Equal Big Power Consumption?


According to a 2010 Nielsen Survey, the average American household has 2.93 televisions (TVs), up from 2.86 sets per home in 2009; the largest year-to-year increase since 2006. Moreover, today’s high-definition, liquid crystal display (LCD) and plasma flat-screen models are much thinner and lighter than the older cathode ray tube (CRT) models, requiring no more room than a framed picture. As a result, it is not unusual to find them in many of the places where you spend time away from home, including airport terminals, offices, restaurants and schools.


In addition to the increase in TV sales, sales of video game consoles, digital video recorders (DVRs), surround sound systems and so on, have also increased. This has many of us wondering how much energy it takes to power these bigger, brighter TVs. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer, since the amount of energy used depends on the technology (LCD or plasma), screen size and picture brightness. For instance, the larger the screen size, the greater the energy use when the TV is turned on and displaying a picture (active mode). Today’s big-screen TVs and all of the connected components can add nearly $200 to your annual energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In a recent CNET test of 107 TVs ranging in size from 32 inches to 58 inches, the calibrated setting (watts) was measured,  which includes adjusting luminance (light output) to a certain level using the calibrated picture setting when the TV's picture is on. Since power use varies with luminance, this wattage number provides a better, direct comparison than default settings, where luminance is not equalized. The calibrated setting ranged from 47 watts to 490 watts, at a cost of $11 to $108 per year.

Plasma TVs often use two to three times more energy than LCD TVs that are similar in size and resolution. The amount of energy consumed also increases as the resolution increases, which means a 720p plasma TV will consume less energy than a 1080p plasma TV. With recent improvements in active mode energy use, however, studies show that newer plasma models are comparable to LCD TVs when it comes to energy efficiency. Moreover, the picture quality of many plasma TVs exceeds the picture quality of LCD TVs.

The performance and energy efficiency of TVs will continue to improve as new products are introduced. Newer LCD TVs are switching to LED backlights, which are usually more efficient and are also equipped with dimming capabilities that turn down either the entire backlight or independent sections. Other energy-saving features, such as sensors that automatically turn off the picture and/or the TV when you leave the room, are being added.

Energy-saving tips

There are also steps you can take to improve the efficiency of your television without compromising picture quality, including the following:

  • Reduce the contrast or picture control (brightness) to cut energy use nearly in half.
  • Use the picture off (available on some models) setting when listening to the TV but not actively watching.
  • Use the programmable timer (sleep timer).
  • Not using the instant on feature will reduce energy use almost 50 percent in standby mode.
  • If your TV is equipped with a power save mode, use it.
  • Turn off the TV, DVR  and other connected components when not in use.
  • Save energy by lowering the volume setting 2 percent and turning the volume off during commercials. 
  • Read seating recommendations before purchasing a large screen TV. You may find that a smaller screen (40 inches or less) is more appropriate for the size of your room. In this size range, LCD TVs are more efficient than CRT TVs; plasma TVs are not available in this size range.
  • When choosing a large screen TV (50 inches or more) a projection TV is likely to be 50 percent more energy efficient than a plasma or LCD TV of a similar size.

You may also want to consider replacing your current television with an ENERGY STAR qualified model since they are over 40 percent more energy efficient (on average) than standard models. Finally, larger sets must meet more stringent efficiency levels to earn the ENERGY STAR label.


Katzmaier, David and Moskovciak, Matthew. CNET Energy Efficiency Guide. April 21, 2010. Last accessed April 4, 2012.

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