The European Union is about to ban many of the best TVs you can buy. And if you think that can’t affect you, think again.
As of the time of publication of this article, the revised restrictions on TV power consumption come into effect in the 27 European countries that make up the EU on March 1, 2023. 8K TVs can be sold in the EU. This rule will affect a few 4K OLED TVs, 65-inch QD-OLED TVs, and at least 4K high-performance QLED TVs.
In short, most of the best TVs you can buy today can’t pass the new energy efficiency restrictions and will effectively shut down.
When I first heard these headlines, I disagreed. But when I dug deeper, I realized that this issue is not something we should shrug our shoulders at. While it may seem like this issue will only affect consumers in the EU, it will have a negative impact on many businesses in many countries. This movement has major implications, which I will explain shortly, but first, how did we get here?
Good intentions are bad
Several years ago, the EU produced something called the Energy Efficiency Index, or EEI for short. In order to understand what is the performance of the display power, the commission looked at the data from the displays sold between 2012 and 2017. That is, TVs that are 7 to 10 years old. I’m curious about the methodology used to determine these effective numbers and I’m investigating them in a future article, but for now the takeaway is that the television industry feels that the commission numbers they came up with are good and fair and meet the applicable standards were manageable. So, TVs have been meeting standards for many years.
8K TVs, by the nature of how LCD panels work, use more power than 4K TVs.
But these practical standards were developed for HD and 4K TVs. When the EU decided to update these standards a few months ago, it did not increase the efficiency requirement – this means that HD and 4K TVs will have to consume less energy than they do now – it also decided that it would copy and paste the energy efficiency standard . 4K TVs for use in both 8K and micro-LED TVs.
Therein lies the problem. Either someone in the governing body doesn’t understand the basic science behind how TVs and shows work, or they don’t care. The fact is that 8K TVs, by the nature of how LCD panels work, use more power than 4K TVs. And, in fact, many 4K TVs use enough energy, while they exceeded the demand before, as of March 1, 2023, they will not again.
According to FlatpanelsHD’s detailed report, it appears that no 8K as currently manufactured has an EEI low enough to pass the current proposed standard. Some 65-inch 8K TVs are over the line, while others will have to see their EEI cut in half to pass. It also appears, based on the current EEI numbers, that Samsung’s S95B QD-OLED or Sony’s A95K QD-OLED would not pass, or Samsung’s QN95B 4K QLED TV.
It’s not like 8K TVs step over the line, either. Most 8K TVs on the market blow over the limit by 300%, so it’s nowhere near compliant. There is no quick fix for this, either.
Why 8K TVs use so much electricity
I spoke with Chris Chinnock, who leads the 8K Association and recently wrote a paper on this topic. He points out that an 8K TV panel has four times the pixels of a 4K TV panel. And because of the way LCD panels work, it’s very difficult to get light through the small area of those tiny pixels. The harder it is to pass light, the more you have to push, and that means increasing the brightness of the TV’s backlight system, which, as you can imagine, requires more power.
Since 8K TVs require a lot more power to be as bright as 4K TVs – not to mention brighter, as expected from a premium TV category – significantly reducing the power consumption of 8K will require replacing the LCD panel as we know it. decades. That won’t happen overnight—if at all.
What is the solution?
So what can be done? Another idea that has been floated is that TV makers are establishing an “EU picture mode” of some sort. The way the EU law works is that the TV only needs to pass the standard that works in the default picture mode to set the SDR signal – one set at the factory, and then it will be the default setting out of the box. Owners may be able to change the picture mode of their TV to a power-guzzlingly option at their discretion. But, in the proposed scenario, out-of-the-box TV picture quality will be unacceptably dim.
Considering the behavior of consumers, such a solution is not only inelegant, it is likely to be a disaster. Imagine consumers buying a television based on the quality of the good picture they saw in the store display, taking it home, setting it up, and turning it on only to find a picture that is not the same as what they saw at the dealer. They might think the TV is defective and send him back!
In order to prevent overwhelming returns, sellers may warn consumers that when they get their TV home, they will have to read a long list of instructions to make their TV look good. However, it has been my experience that getting new TV owners to adjust their picture settings at all has been an uphill battle. From where I sit, EU graphics mode doesn’t sound like a real solution at all.
TV technology is not the problem
I would say that the state of the art in 8K and 4K TVs is not a problem. The issue is the inappropriate way in which the EU revises its laws. This new standard needs to be revisited and updated. But unfortunately, sources close to the commission responsible for this standard are said to be reluctant to reconsider its decision. That seems childish, doesn’t it?
There are better ways to deal with how much electricity a TV uses.
To be clear, I am not against efforts aimed at reducing energy consumption. As a tree lover, an avid composter and recycler who supports wind and solar power and drives a small electric car in Oregon’s lush greenery, I consider myself a conservationist. I agree that TVs should be as efficient as possible. I would very much like to see the energy consumption during the energy crisis decrease.
But there are better ways to manage how much electricity a TV uses. I would suggest implementing something like Netflix’s “hey you’re still watching”, where users would be asked to press a button on their remote every hour or so to make sure they were watching TV vs. logging in. original or accidentally left while away from home. Since users can set their TVs to be energy converters, perhaps taking steps to prevent unnecessary energy waste would be a more effective step.
First the EU, then you
As we have seen recently, EU policy decisions have a way of extending beyond its borders. The EU’s recent decision to adopt USB-C as its charging port standard will change how your next iPhone looks and works. Apple’s hand has been forced—soon all iPhones and iPads will be moving away from power ports in favor of USB-C.
California’s emissions standards are another example of how the tail wags the dog. Car manufacturers don’t make one car model for Californians and one for the US All cars must pass California emissions standards off the production line, whether they’re destined for California or Connecticut.
Whatever TV manufacturers have to do to get their TVs sold in European countries can work on TVs sold in North America and beyond. Whether intentional or not, the EU is making decisions that will affect the way your TV looks for years to come.