Q. I know that all US TV programming will go digital sometime in February of this year, but I haven’t quite decided yet if I want to replace my archaic analog television entirely, or just buy one of those digital TV converters so I can continue to use the old set. Which option would use less energy: an old, analog tube TV plus a converter, or a brand new digital set? – Marcia, NH
A. It’s a close call. A digital converter, which will allow you to continue to use your quaint, old, rabbit-eared set after stations permanently stop broadcasting in analog on February 17, would use very little energy. So little energy, in fact, that it’s not really even worth factoring into the equation. That means that the energy picture in this scenario really boils down to which television is most efficient, says Noah Horowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. In general, if you compare similarly-sized models, tube sets (also called cathode ray tube sets or CRTs) use considerably less energy than do plasma screen sets, but a little bit more energy than do LCD-screen sets. So if electricity use is your top concern, the first thing to do is pass on plasma. As for buying a new digital tube set, the new model would probably use about the same amount of energy as the old set, so that’s not an ideal option either, especially if you take into account the energy required to both produce that new set and dispose of the old one properly.
That leaves you looking at a new LCD set, which would actually be a little more efficient than your old set, if you went with an Energy Star model, and resisted the urge to upgrade on size.
The last thing to consider is that next years’ sets are expected to be considerably more energy efficient than the ones you see on the market today. So if you really want cut a few Cs when it comes to your TV habit, your best option might even be to get the converter box for now, and wait a year or two to consider any further upgrades. Who knows, by then there may actually be a few more shows worth watching on the networks, too.
Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2009.