Last weekend I reluctantly undertook the unpleasant task of buying a new television. The task was unpleasant for several reasons: I have a countercultural aversion to updating electronic devices; I hate shopping; and I especially hate shopping at the only area retailer that sells televisions, a particularly repellent megastore headquartered in Arkansas.
The purchase was prompted by the fact that at least two of Vermont’s leading television stations — Vermont Public Television and WCAX in Burlington — switched from analog to digital broadcasting on February 17. (Surprisingly, the law passed by the U.S. Congress to delay the digital switchover to June 12 had no effect on Vermont broadcasters. Since the law merely permitted but did not mandate the delay, it was ignored by Vermont Public Television and WCAX.)
Rural residents lose out
Like many rural residents, we discovered that the new digital signals don’t travel as far as the old analog signals. Once WCAX made the switch to digital, we got no signal at all from the broadcast tower on Mount Mansfield, even when we connected a new digital converter box to a rotating rooftop antenna.
For years, my two kids have lived with three English-language television stations: Vermont Public Television, WCAX from Burlington, and Channel 11 from Montreal — a station that still uses analog broadcasting. We all soon got tired of unplugging the antenna wire from the back of the set — where the antenna needed to be connected to receive the Canadian analog broadcast — and plugging it into the converter box to get the digital broadcast from Vermont Public Television. Hence the trip to Wal-Mart.
The old TV drew 61 watts
Our 14-year-old television is a Panasonic with a 12-by-17-inch screen. According to my portable watt meter, the television generally draws between 60 and 69 watts.
I didn’t want a bigger TV, but I did want a TV that could process both analog and digital signals without moving the antenna wire from one jack to another. I also wanted a television that used as little electricity as possible.
What to expect at Wal-Mart
Here’s what I learned from my shopping experience:
- Most Wal-Mart salespeople don’t know whether a particular TV is Energy Star rated, so customers should be prepared to do their own power consumption research.
- Energy Star labeling is inconsistent. Sometimes the Energy Star label is mentioned on the Wal-Mart tag; other times it isn’t, even when the TV is Energy Star rated. Some TVs have a prominent Energy Star sticker; others don’t, even when the cardboard box they come in does have such a sticker.
- Researching power consumption in the store takes patience and persistence. Most TVs I looked at had a specification page in the owner’s manual; surprisingly, however, one model’s specification page lacked any information on watt or amp draw.
- Watt ratings can be found at the back of each TV set, but if the display model is on a high shelf, the sales staff is unlikely to be happy when you request a chance to examine the back of the set. This raises an obvious question: Why aren’t televisions required to display a yellow EnergyGuide sticker like refrigerators?
- Watt ratings are all over the map, even among Energy Star TVs — raising the question of whether the Energy Star label is much help. One Energy Star TV I was interested in had a disappointing rating of 135 watts. The one I ended up purchasing — one with a screen that was only slightly smaller than the 135-watt TV — had a much better rating of 60 watts.
- Actual watt draw is likely to be less than the maximum rating on the back of the TV. Once I got home with my new TV — a Samsung with a 12-by-19-inch screen — I was pleased to discover that it draws only 36 watts — about 59% of the watt draw of my old narrow-screen Panasonic.
A January 28 news story posted on this site included a misleading quote from the Los Angeles Times. The Times reported, “LCD — liquid crystal display — sets use 43% more electricity, on average, than conventional tube TVs.” While the Times statement may be true, my experience shows that a careful shopper should be able to replace an old cathode-ray TV with a newer, larger-screen LCD TV that uses less energy.
We still don’t get WCAX from Burlington, but the new TV pulls in an additional English-language Canadian station — an analog station, of course — that was too fuzzy to watch on the old Panasonic. Like our old TV, the new set is plugged into a switched power strip. Fortunately, my kids are well trained, and they always remember to “turn off the red switch” when they’ve finished watching — thereby killing the “phantom load” problem that plagues all TVs.
Last week’s blog: “Yes We Can.”