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

Audio Components

If you’re a tried-and-true audiophile, chances are you have big tower speakers, possibly monoblock amplifiers driving each, a fancy preamplifier-processor, thickly sheathed speaker wire and electronics interconnects, and additional components such as a digital-to-analog converter, turntable, SACD player and more. So going “green” can raise some issues. No worries, though. If you can’t part with the special two-channel gear, you can focus your eco efforts on multichannel home theater.

Berman admits there’s a perceived quality compromise if you’re reducing your footprint from amplifier-preamp “separates” to a single A/V receiver running your system, but that’s becoming less of an issue. Today’s receivers can do surround sound and two-channel quite well—and without doubling as a space heater for your room. “There’s still no substitute for tubes and lots of power, but at some point you have to make a choice,” he says. “Digital is so good, and it’s so close, so opt for an A/V receiver where you have good current handling and overall sonics housed in a single component. The chemical and materials to construct the device are reduced—and it uses less power.”

The market is still dominated by traditional Class A or A/B amplification, but more efficient Class D digital or “switching” amps are gaining strides. Rotel and Pioneer Elite, to name two, have released beefy AVRs with Class D amplification. There’s still room for improvement—Pioneer Elite’s flagship receivers are the only Class D variety to earn THX certification, says Dahl. At least one company, Sunfire, has worked to make its Class A/B amp more palatable. Its TGR-401 receiver’s whopping 200 watts per channel are tempered with a patented “tracking downconverter” power supply that Sunfire says dynamically adjusts depending on the incoming audio signal, so the unit runs cooler and more efficient.

Also, THX will have a hand in some improvement in this area, too. You may cringe at lowering the volume on your receiver because of the potential loss of surround effects and bass frequencies, but THX Loudness Plus technology (and Dolby Volume and Audyssey EQ technologies, in a different manner) keeps the effects and bass louder relative to the rest of the audio signal. “From an energy standpoint, it’s not going to save a significant amount, but it will save some,” Dahl says. “The sound is still balanced, but you’ve turned the front speakers down, which is where all the energy’s usually going.” THX is also working on amplification that will “take the best of the old analog world and achieve digital types of efficiency” and slimmer form factor, according to senior VP Laurie Fincham. 

Loudspeakers

You’ll have to be content with winning small green battles. Using five or seven (or more) loudspeakers and a subwoofer or two to achieve surround sound isn’t exactly reducing your footprint. But if the surround effects aren’t as important to you, try a single-cabinet soundbar—one speaker to deliver front left/right/center signals, where most of a soundtrack is located, and some are packaged with wirelessly connected subwoofers.

Look for products with wood-grain cabinets, and stay away from plastics and composite materials, says Berman, unless the manufacturers have used 100 percent recycled materials. Staying away from plastics and composites can be difficult, especially if you’re seeking more aesthetically pleasing in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, but Berman cites Triad Speakers for its use of wood with some of its architectural offerings.

Internally the options aren’t much better, and sophisticated crossover technology typically adds eco-unfriendly circuitry to the mix. Some driver materials are better on the biodegradable scale, like paper, minerals and silk, notes Berman, but speakers using titanium, beryllium and other unfriendly elements can be tough to avoid. As for subwoofers: like receivers, you can find powered products that contain Class D amplification.

Power, Furnishings and Accessories

Adding power conditioners to your system can be beneficial in a couple of ways. Conditioners will ensure that your gear receives clean and consistent power, which helps optimize theater performance. Products with individually or IP-controllable outlets also have the ability to cut power to particular devices to curb wasteful vampire power, or the wattage that continues to flow in standby mode. Just be careful what gets fully turned off—DVRs usually stay on because they continue to record at night, for instance, and some products such as AVRs and TVs may lose memory settings if powered off for a long time, notes Dahl.

For theater seating and acoustical treatment, investigate the materials and shipping process. Companies such as Kinetics Noise Control, for example, say they use more natural materials and have rid products of harmful chemicals to create friendlier acoustical panels. You can find theater seating manufacturers that use chemical- and acrylic-free leather and the like. Seats and cabinets can also be good spots to pick up recycled goods or support shops with locally constructed products that save on global shipping emissions.

Don’t forget about the power of your PC or media server, either. More savvy theater owners are streaming all of their media from computers or storage devices, and Berman notes that the future is all networked entertainment, and potentially greener infrastructure (starting with some efficient PCs already out). So rip that big CD collection, properly dispose of all those plastic jewel cases, and know you’ve done something for the environment as well as for your entertainment convenience. 

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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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