Adding Little Green Touches to Your Entertainment System
Energy efficiency and home theater may not mix well, but here are some steps you can take toward big-picture eco friendliness.
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SIM2’s Mico 50 projector uses eco-friendly LED light engine for its images
November 02, 2010 by Arlen Schweiger

We know what you’re thinking: “You’re an electronics magazine and you’re trying to preach green A/V? So, my room-thumping, eyeball-glazing home theater should be energy-efficient, too? No way.”

It may be too much to ask that your 1,000-watt sound system and $25,000 theater projector be energy-efficient. And we understand that you may not have solar panels powering everything in your house, like the Guiltless Green Home Theater developed by the Home Technology Specialists of America.

You shouldn’t have to dump some of your cherished audio and video gear simply because it lacks Energy Star certification. In fact, don’t trash anything when you’re ready to replace components. Look to recycle, instead. When it comes to home theater, little things help contribute to the much wider picture—that of our health and our planet. So let’s see where else you can contribute.

Televisions

It’s easy to think about green in terms of just power consumption, and that’s the information we’re generally fed about displays. David Berman, director of training at the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA), gives us more perspective. Aside from his involvement with HTSA’s Guiltless Green Home Theater, Berman has been on virtually every side of the consumer electronics industry—manufacturer, custom electronics installer, retailer, advocate—and he emphasizes that energy use is just one of three key green components. The first involves a product’s materials, including construction elements, chemicals and potential waste, plus the manufacturers’ eco efforts and how they do with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. Then Berman looks at power consumption. Last, he looks at sustainability and the infrastructure role within a home.

With that in mind, Berman jokes that some of our old CRT (cathode ray tube) sets could rival those that have emerged during the current focus on green. “We’re lighting up larger screen surfaces in a smaller design, and using a lot more electronics with printed circuit boards [that can contain hazardous substances and plastic casings]. In the old days, you had giant glass tubes and not much other electronics going on inside.”

Of course, most of us have replaced those TVs in our primary viewing rooms, so what now? If you’re shopping for TVs, look at LED-based LCD flat panels, whose light-emitting diodes produce the most efficient ratings among the Energy Star-qualified models and are more recyclable than gas-infused plasma sets or fluorescent-lit LCDs, says Berman.

Then again, you may never have to recycle the next TV you purchase. The expected lifespans of today’s models can be in the 50,000-hours range (and that’s to half-brightness), so it could stay in your home a long time. Speaking of which, more flat panels also feature web connectivity and video streaming functions from sites such as Netflix, potentially allowing you the very green step of eliminating one or two components from your entertainment center.

There are also steps you can take while watching TV. After it’s installed and powered on, head to the menu and start adjusting the settings—and this might be a bigger aid if you don’t have a new TV. “We did some research, and especially with older TVs—even a few years old—just calibration can save you up to 50 percent in energy,” says John Dahl, senior fellow and director, of education at THX.

Dahl notes that THX’s “Cinema Mode” included in many displays was derived from commercial cinema viewing quality and is best in darkened rooms. That mode and other tweaks involving reduced brightness and contrast may take some getting used to, especially compared with that wall of TVs you see at big-box stores, which crank up the brightness so sets look good under the bright conditions. Proper calibration will not only save on electricity, but result in greater detail and more accurate colors.

Projectors and Screens

Home theater projectors are getting into the LED game, too, which is good news if you can afford them. Companies such as SIM2, Runco, Digital Projection International and projectiondesign are offering “lampless” LED projectors in their high-performance product lines. (If you’re not familiar with these companies, think five-figures.)

Like television counterparts, there are a few big benefits to an LED-based projector: the LED light engine is less toxic than lamps used in LCD and DLP projectors, you don’t have to worry about discarding and replacing the bulb every 2,000 or so hours, and you’ll probably own a projector with a 50,000-hour lifespan longer than you own your home theater.

If you can’t spring for an LED projector, there are steps you can take with many traditional high-def models. First, research the lamp ingredients if possible, and try to find companies that cut down on brominated flame retardants (BFRs), polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) and other harmful substances. Second, look for projectors with “ecomode” or “energy saving” modes that decrease the brightness output, thereby extending the lamp life—a 2,500-lumens projector lamp will run 1,500 or 2,000 lumens in ecomode, for example, and improve lamp lifespan from 2,000 to 3,000 estimated hours.

The catch? You’ll need to ensure darker conditions to maintain an uncompromised image from the dimmer mode. “If you’re not willing to invest in controlled room lighting, you’re spending more to drive the output of the projector to overcome ambient light,” says Berman. “So you’re better off spending on motorized shades and dimmable lighting with a decent TV.”

The screen you mate to your projector can be environmentally friendly, too. Manufacturers such as Da-Lite, Draper and Stewart Filmscreen have earned Greenguard certification on some screens whose materials meet indoor air quality standards and emit low amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals that can lead to health risks, especially in children.

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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