It's time to switch on those energy-saving
TVs and PVRs
Does going green add up? Some manufacturers don't put an off button on their devices, but others are
finding ways to be greener
A colleague was having trouble with his Sky+ box: it was humming. This didn't seem right, so he called an engineer in - who said it would be fine as long as he left it switched on the whole time (with the hard drive spinning), rather than on standby (with the drive stopped). Hold on, said the colleague: that's a disaster environmentally. The engineer shrugged and went on his way.
Though the engineer was not quoting Sky policy (when we asked, Sky confirmed it has no official policy on humming set-top boxes), the incident serves to raise the issue of just how many products are released without even the possibility of turning them off unless you unplug them at the mains.
Several items have an off switch that's hard to find. Mark Webb of Currys Digital confirms that many TVs have off buttons located on the side or at the top, although not all of them do. "We are noticing an increase in customer demand for clearly marked and easily accessible off buttons, as well as more efficient standby modes," he says.
"It has recently become standard for us to check for accessible off switches on all our own-brand and large-screen TVs, and we are working with the EST [Energy Saving Trust] to measure energy efficiency and establish targets for future products."
Can't touch this
Toshiba is one manufacturer that doesn't allow users to switch off its televisions - for good reasons, it says. "The idea of having a plush new LCD TV mounted on a wall is important to the consumer. However, if the TV is mounted on the wall it leaves the question of where to situate the on/off switch," says Ian Rea, the company's product manager for LCD TVs.
He adds: "We are now in the digital age and it is a necessity to carry out software upgrades and uploads of TV programs and services so that our LCD TVs are fully operational for the consumer. These upgrades are carried out via 'over air' engineering channels during out of normal viewing hours and the TV is required to wake up to perform the operation."
LG agreed, until very recently: "LG products previously featured the on/off button. Due to consumer behaviour and demand this was later removed. Consumers were using their remote controls so the on/off button was a feature that wasn't being utilised," says Daniel Aziz of LG.
"Due to the increase in environmental issues and awareness from both consumers and organisations alike, LG has decided to reintroduce the on/off button across its TV range over the next 12 months." Sharp also has a full off switch on every model.
The positive news is that everybody is trying to reduce their products' power consumption. Pioneer, for example, is a Sustainable Energy Partner of the European Commission and since 2000 has aimed to get every product on standby under 1 Watt. Toshiba has reduced the standby power of one of its televisions to a similar level and remains convinced that the standby debate is a distraction from wasted lighting, for example, which consumes a lot more power.
Some companies are taking a different tack on reducing the electricity that their products consume. Sky points out, reasonably enough, that the personal video recorder timers on its boxes simply won't work if the system has no power running through it. But it is campaigning to get customers to put the system into standby when it's not being watched rather than leaving it on, which will save between 30% and 50% of its usual idle power need.
As well as working on a means by which the box could be woken up from a full switch-off when it needs to record a programme, it is also trying other initiatives, explains Sky.
"In December, Sky launched a pilot scheme which saw nearly 4,000 energy-saving light bulbs distributed to a group of customers. Feedback surveys have shown that 95% of recipients had installed their bulbs and that 70% said they would like to receive further energy-saving advice from Sky," adds the company. There will be an announcement about a nationwide campaign in spring or summer this year.
If Toshiba's research is right, of course, people would rather leave their devices on and save the environment too, please. Bearing this in mind, Currys has investigated an alternative angle and made its latest two own-brand digital receivers, the Logik Vesa and the Ferguson FD1 Prism Digital TV Receiver, compliant with the Energy Saving Trust Energy Saving Recommended Endorsement scheme.
This gains them a 'blue badge', which tells consumers that they'll save both power and money with the products. The accreditation means they consume 2W or less in passive standby mode and an on-mode consumption of 6.3W for a single tuner or 8.3W for a double tuner.
These are the first energy-saving receivers in Europe, claims Currys. Given the increasing importance of energy saving, it's doubtful they'll be the last.
Guardian Unlimited ; Guardian News and Media Limited 2007