Energy Adviser: Big game calls for big screens

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Win or lose, the outcome of your favorite team on football's big day will show up brighter and bigger thanks to newly emerging television technology. And for a win all around -- bigger and brighter hasn't trumped television energy efficiency. New technology is making it possible to go bigger without a bigger hit to the monthly electric bill.

• What to watch: As screen size continues to grow, the big push in television displays is increasing the pixel density to improve picture clarity. Ultra-high definition using OLED (organic light-emitting diode) and 4K (3840 pixels by 2160 lines) makes the "jaggies" surrounding pixels less pronounced and the picture clearer to the naked eye, especially on behemoth screens. OLED displays use a thin layer of organic material that lights up each pixel when electrical current stimulates it, while 4K technology packs tinier pixels in tighter.

These new TVs won't be for everyone though. At least not yet. "OLED and 4K sets are just entering the market, and won't benefit from the switch to digital broadcasting that drove up LED and plasma TV sales," said Ty Stober, an initiative manager at the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, who tracks television technology. "So we expect their adoption rate to be slower."

Right now, there's another reason: They're darned expensive. Samsung recently announced a gargantuan-sized 98-inch set TV combining OLED and 4K technologies. While not yet available, its price may exceed $40,000. Smaller OLEDs without 4K are going for $10,000 or a bit less. Also, larger OLED displays curve, sort of like a Cinemascope movie screen, and for some viewers this takes getting used to.

One of the drawbacks to any ultra-high-definition screen format is the lack of equally high-definition content, Stober said. For now, another is that with UHD, broadcast and cable companies must push four times the pixels into homes. Problems with current content delivery systems will need to be solved before sales will take off.

While costing less than OLED sets, a 4K set can run up to $5,000 or more. The movie industry is pushing theaters to adopt the technology, which may help. (For the price of a movie ticket, you can see what 4K UHD looks like locally at the recently upgraded Kiggins Theatre.)

Increased and denser pixel count and bigger screens hasn't affected manufacturers' commitment to meeting energy-efficiency standards, Stober said. "We've done well influencing market demand for energy-efficient televisions."

• Putting the pieces together: As screens widened, television depth shrank, pushing sound technology outside the box and into discrete add-on audio components. Even with additional electronics, it's possible to use less energy because of increased efficiency, energy-saving settings, and smart strips that let you turn off all components when then TV turns off.

The way families watch the big game is also changing. For many, we no longer gather as a group around a big set to stare at a single color screen. Today a family is likely to have added "second screens" to the mix — smartphones and tablets. Although everyone lounges in the same room, each could all be viewing different screens using streaming technology to follow the game or interacting with friends using Facebook or Twitter.

There are so many new options emerging every day. Just make sure as you compare features and pricing that you factor in the cost to turn on your new TV every day.


Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.