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Home entertainment and technology

About this guide

Home theatre systems, smart phones, game consoles and computers are transforming our homes into modern hives of connectivity and entertainment. As the number, size and variety of home gadgetry ramps up—so do our power bills. It's a good time to be aware of hidden energy costs.

  • Televisions are now the fourth largest electricity user in our homes.
  • Video game consoles can add up to a considerable proportion of your energy costs if left on 24 hours a day.
  • Home entertainment products alone are responsible for at least 5 per cent of our household energy use—more than your washing machine, clothes dryer and dishwasher energy use combined.
  • Home electronics and computer products account for around 15 per cent of global household energy use.
  • Electronic (e-waste) is now growing three times faster than any other type of waste in Australia.

The good news is that you can save energy and money with home entertainment and technology and still have a quality viewing and listening experience.

Whether you're in the market for new equipment or wanting to reduce energy consumption of your existing equipment, our guide to home entertainment and technology offers some simple actions to suit a variety of budgets, homes and technical know-how.

Before you buy

A checklist to help decide what features you're looking for before you shop.

©iStockphoto.com

Technology is moving fast and can be expensive so it makes sense to work out your requirements and do some research online and then in-store before you buy.

Many products have the same or similar features, so think about whether you need the latest laptop, smart phone, e-book reader, tablet etc—or whether fewer items or upgrades can meet your needs.

With the facts you'll be able to work out whether you really need a new product to do the job—and if you do decide to buy, you can feel confident you're purchasing equipment that will give you optimal experience with features you will use and that pass the test of time.

Here are our key tips:

  • Consider whether any of your existing equipment can be refurbished or upgraded. This can save money and valuable resources while delivering the performance you need.
  • Make a list of features that are important to you—for example: size, audio and visual quality, and connectivity. Look for products that meet your requirements.
  • Consider how your products will work together to provide the functions you need—as well as the range of technologies you may already have access to within your household and workplace.
  • Take energy use into account. While the lowest price tag might seem the cheapest way to go, the running costs over 10 years can add up to much more than you realise.
  • Consider reading the reviews on technology sites to find the innovators who produce energy-efficient products and features.
  • Look for quality items that will last and think about how you will dispose of them at the end of their life. Why waste money, time and resources to buy inferior products that will end up as e-waste in landfill in a couple of years?
  • Check that any technology you're buying can be adapted to new technologies in the foreseeable future. Whether they're high quality or low cost, there is little value in purchasing products that will become incompatible or redundant before too long.
  • Once you've short-listed your potential purchases, you can calculate the annual running cost to narrow down your selection. The most energy-efficient products have the lowest input watts. The energy savings may not seem much at first, but with the increasing number of electronic goods, your energy bills are likely to become more expensive over time.
  • Look for products with low standby consumption. Check the manufacturer's standby power information—ideally you are looking for products that use half a watt or less in standby mode. These products are up to 90 per cent more efficient than other models.
  • If products have similar features and energy output and you're tossing up which one to buy—choose the product that uses less standby power.

Televisions

One in four Australians buy a new television each year and they're now the fourth largest electricity user in our homes.

While it may be tempting to go for the cheapest or the biggest, over the course of its lifetime an inefficient TV can really add to your power bills and energy use, and may not even give you the best viewing experience along the way.

Woman and a group of girls watching television

© Jupiterimages/Getty Images

The television is the centrepiece of most home entertainment activity, so it's well worth the time to do a little research online before you navigate your way through the in-store sales experience. This way you will not only save on petrol but you'll improve your ability to negotiate for the best TV to suit your needs and budget.

  • Make a list of things that are most important to you. For example, screen size, picture, sound quality, features, ease of use (including the remote control), brand, and range of use (like internet connection). Ensure you add technology type and energy efficiency to the list.
  • The Energy Rating Label will help you choose the most energy-efficient model that meets your needs. You can compare the energy efficiency of the various brands and models of equivalent sized televisions on the Energy Rating website.
  • As technology prices come down, try to resist the temptation to upsize. Bigger screens don't necessarily mean better quality viewing.
  • Consider opting for a smaller screen size—it will use less power. If you take room size and seating plan into account, you may find you don't need a huge screen. The bigger the screen, the further away you'll need to sit. As a rule of thumb, multiply the diagonal measurement of the screen by 2.5 to estimate the ideal viewing distance. If you've got a 117cm TV multiply this by 2.5 and the best distance to sit from your TV is about 3 metres.
  • When you're in the store, ask the sales person about energy efficiency. You can also calculate the annual running costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Understanding TV power consumption

There are four main factors that influence how much power your television uses:

  1. Technology type (the light source used to produce the picture)
    • LCD (liquid crystal display) is back-lit using a single fluorescent (cold cathode fluorescent lighting—CCFL). Newer LCDs use LED (light-emitting diodes), making them more efficient.
    • Plasma is lit by charging each sub-pixel individually, meaning plasma technology generally uses more power than LCD.
    • OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is the most energy efficient technology, but it's newer and not as widely used.
  2. Screen size—the bigger the screen, the more power consumed.
  3. Picture brightness—the more light output, the greater your power consumption.
  4. Use—modern TVs are designed to continually be in 'standby' mode, ready to be operated by remote control. Unless switched off at the wall, they're consuming power continuously even when you're not watching.

Use your TV efficiently

A big screen television used 6 hours a day can use more energy than a family fridge—and generate around half a tonne of greenhouse gases a year.

You can make a few simple adjustments to reduce how much energy your television uses:

  • Turn off the TV and any connected devices like DVD players when you're not using them. Standby power is a significant contributor to household energy waste. If you're inclined to leave the TV on for company, try swapping it for something less energy-intensive, like listening to the radio or a CD, or use the 'picture off' mode.
  • Use the television's built-in speakers instead of the energy-intensive home theatre speakers when you don't need the full home cinema experience.
  • If you have more than one TV, use the smaller one for everyday shows like the news (the news reader doesn't look any better on the big screen).
  • Turn off the 'quick start' option that keeps the TV warmed up and ready to turn on a few seconds faster. This can consume a considerable amount of power during standby. Also turn off 'movie mode' or similar picture mode settings. It doesn't usually make much difference using these high resolution settings which use more power.
  • Think about the physical location of the TV. Keep it out of direct sunlight or other locations that may require the use of higher resolution settings.
  • If your LCD has an option to turn down the backlight (making the TV less bright) you'll not only save power, but may improve image quality as well. You can also reduce light output and improve picture quality with picture settings like 'contrast' and 'brightness'. Running your television on higher power settings can also reduce the life of your TV.
  • Check that the 'power-saver' mode is turned on. Some new televisions also have a 'presence sensor' that turns off the picture and then eventually the television itself when you're not in the room. Light and ambient sensors can automatically adjust picture brightness and energy saving switches.
  • Opt for a good universal remote control or powerboard that can power down the whole system with one click; saving you time, energy and money.

Home theatre systems

Home theatre system

©iStockphoto.com

Whatever your budget, do some research to find out which system will deliver the sound and picture quality you're looking for. More expensive systems with all the extra components may not necessarily be the best option for your particular circumstances. Buying inferior quality items or products also contributes to waste.

  • Start by concentrating on a couple of quality components that you can build on and refine over time as your budget allows. For example, home theatre kits may come with features that you don't need or have varying quality of components. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, it can be worthwhile to tailor your system to your individual preferences. Connecting your TV to existing stereo and speaker equipment is one option.
  • Home entertainment components including DVD, Blu-ray, DVRs, AV amplifiers/receivers and speakers don't have the Energy Rating Label. For these products look for components that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark. It can help you identify energy-efficient products.

Game consoles

Video game consoles are now among the biggest power guzzlers in the home. Switching off the game console after use could save you up to $193 a year—enough money for some great new games.

Use your console efficiently

Person in headphones playing video game via the television

©Getty Images

It's not just about what console you buy—it's also about how you use it. You can significantly reduce the amount of energy your console uses by taking a few simple steps.

  • Turn off the console when you're not using it (if you're taking a break in the middle of a game, save it so that you can pick up where you left off). A game console that's left on continues to draw almost full power.
  • Check the operating menu to see if your console has an automatic power-saving auto-shutdown feature. Enabling auto-shutdown will help in case you forget to turn it off after use. Set it to go into 'sleep' after 15 minutes or 'auto-off' mode after 1 to 3 hours of inactivity. If your console doesn't have this option, you can look online for downloadable software applications to do this.
  • If you're not using the power-saving settings because you're worried you'll lose your place in the middle of a game that can't be saved and reloaded in the same place if the power is turned off—look for games that offer the ability to save the progress at any point.
  • Avoid using your console to play movies. Movie playback uses up over three times as much energy as that of a stand-alone Blu-ray player and a DVD player uses considerably less power than a Blu-ray.
  • Maintain the cooling mechanism. Regular dusting and vacuuming can help keep the system temperature down as well as improve overall performance and lifespan.

Computers

Home computing is a growing area of household energy use. With the number of computers used in Australia expected to reach 46 million by 2020 energy usage is also on the increase.

Before you buy, consider whether you really need a new computer. Perhaps you can upgrade your existing equipment?

Laptop

©iStockphoto.com

Consider purchasing a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Laptops and notebooks require fewer materials to manufacture and come with mobile processors designed to use less energy, meaning they can be battery-operated for longer periods.

Look for computer monitors that have an Energy Rating Label, the more stars the more efficient the monitor. You can also look for computers and peripherals that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark. This can also help you identify energy-efficient products.

Use your computer efficiently

If left on 24 hours a day, computers and monitors can significantly add to your power bills. If you'd like to reduce energy consumption and costs, try these suggestions to help you get the most out of your power saving options.

  • Take a moment to set your monitor to switch off after 20 minutes of inactivity and reduce screen brightness to the lowest setting you're comfortable with.
  • Use black screens instead of active screensavers. Active screensavers use full power and can interfere with power-down features. It's a myth that screensavers are energy savers—they were invented to prevent something called 'burn-in' on the old CRT monitors. They don't save energy.
  • Adjust the power management options. Opt for 'hibernate' instead of 'sleep'. Hibernation shuts the computer down and saves everything in its present state. Modern computers are designed to withstand frequent on-off cycles.
  • Switch off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when you're not using them as they draw a substantial amount of power.
  • Unplug any external USB devices (like mice, keyboards, and portable music and flash drives) when not in use. Remove discs from drives when you're not using them.
  • Defragment your hard drive regularly. This'll increase the speed of your hard drive so it won't have to hunt all over the place to access all the pieces it needs to run your applications; placing more demand on power use. Computers have a defragment tool that you can schedule or operate manually.
  • Close any programs you're not using. The more programs and applications you have open at once, the more power you're drawing.
  • Don't let anything get in the way of the cooling vents, making your PC or laptop work harder than it needs to, and in some cases lead to system failure. Excess heat from PCs and appliances can also add to your cooling bill. If your laptop is prone to overheating, consider a cooling (chill) pad. Depending on the degree of overheating, you can choose from the increasing range of 'active' pads that have multiple fans and connect via USB to your laptop, cooling the laptop simply by circulating air under the base. 'Passive' pads made from materials that are thermally conducting. If you use the laptop on your lap or pillow, choose a design where the fans won't be obstructed.
  • Put the laptop AC adapter (charger) on a power board that can be switched off (or turn off automatically). The AC adapter draws power continuously, even when the laptop is not plugged into the adapter.
  • Look online for instructions on how to shut off any unwanted programs running in the background or on start-up. This'll save energy and improve system performance.

Phones

Mobiles

Since their invention back in the 70s, mobile phones have become a necessity instead of a luxury for most Australians. Handset innovations, such as the smart phone and tablets and cheaper deals have given us a strong appetite for mobile technology. We use our phones to juggle work and social lives and many of us see the mobile as essential to personal security.

Girl on the lawn playing with a smart phone

©Martial Colomb/Getty Images

With the allure of attractive features to help us stay connected, in touch, and organised, the smartphone is now firmly in the palm of our hands. The downside is poor battery life—meaning we're dealing with the frustration of having to charge up every day or so, consequently using more electricity and reducing battery lifespan.

There are a number of things you can do to reduce energy use and get the most out of battery life that won't require a degree in rocket science:

  • You may not realise it, but your mobile phone charger is quietly chewing through power even when it's not being used. So switch phone chargers off at the wall once charging is complete. Your phone may even tell you to do this.
  • Avoid charging overnight unless you need to—once the battery has been fully charged it doesn't need to sit there using electricity all night. Another option is to recharge in the car on your way to work. Most cars have a connection to do this if you have the right kind of adapter.
  • Reduce screen brightness and turn off live wallpapers (animations)—a major cause of power drain.
  • Turn off Bluetooth and GPS when you're not using them. These radio signals chew a lot of power. You can set the GPS to 'automatic' so it activates only when needed.
  • Most mobile phone batteries these days are lithium-based rather than nickel-based. It's not advisable to fully discharge a lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery because it can quickly lose its ability to hold a charge. It can be better to do many small (bump) charges. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • It's important to keep your phone out of the sun or a hot car as heat will significantly degrade your battery's performance.
  • If your phone allows access to the battery, remove the battery when it isn't going to be used for an extended period of time. This'll prolong battery lifespan.
  • Keep the phone in an open area when you don't need to hide it away for security reasons. When hidden away in a desk or handbag it has to work harder to maintain a signal, using more battery.
  • Shorten the amount of time for the screen to turn off automatically—try 30 seconds.
  • The more applications your smartphone has, the more power it will churn through (this particularly applies to Android phones). Consider uninstalling any applications or widgets you aren't using. You can check to see what's hogging your phone's battery—look for 'Battery use' in your phone's settings.
  • Set your social media alerts to check at 30 minute intervals (or more) and close the applications when you don't need them. This can also make a big difference to your data usage. If you have the option, connect to online services using 3G instead of a Wi-Fi hotspot. Wi-Fi uses lots of battery power. A 3G connection will generally chew through more data, which may impact your costs depending on your monthly data allowance. Check to see if you phone has a built-in data usage monitor to alert you when you're approaching your limit, or download a third party application to do the job. You can also use apps that automatically switch off data services when you reach your limit.
  • Switch off 3G or 4G until it's needed. It's really only useful when you're web browsing or downloading files. 2G is fine for calls and messaging.
  • Play music from your phone instead of streaming. This'll also reduce your monthly data usage saving you money and energy.
  • Using a smart phone for internet activities like banking and shopping can save you time and petrol. As with any computer, it's worthwhile protecting your phone from malicious software and keeping your information secure.

Cordless phones

While power consumption on cordless phones may not seem significant compared with larger appliances, they use energy 24 hours a day which contributes to your overall energy use, especially if you have more than one.

  • Consider switching back to a conventional cord phone which uses only a trickle of energy via the telephone line. These phones also have the advantage of not being cut off during power failures.
  • If you have a number of cordless phones in your home, consider keeping just one cordless phone strategically placed and use cord phones in other locations throughout the household.
  • Try to find a phone that consumes less than 1 watt when in standby mode. Look for phones that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark. It can help you identify energy-efficient models.

E-books, readers and tablets

News on a digital tablet

©iStockphoto.com

It's now possible to access books, magazines and newspapers online and download them to your smart phone, computer, tablet or electronic book (e-book) device. Purchasing and downloading reading material rather than travelling to shopping centres to purchase in a retail store can help reduce your transport-related costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

An e-book reader allows you to download and store hundreds of books on one compact, portable device. You can also have greater access to out-of-print, and public domain titles for free as well as independent material. E-book readers have added features including the ability to make electronic notes while you read. You're not limited to trading hours and can make purchases in private from any location.

Before investing in an e-reader it's worth doing some research online to consider if it's the greener option for your particular circumstances—as every product we buy has its own unique carbon footprint. For example:

  • Printed books require wood fibre which is harvested from forests; they use lots of water for pulping, are bleached with chemicals and printed with ink. They need to be shipped and delivered and release harmful methane gas if disposed of in landfill.
  • E-readers are made from plastic (derived from fossil fuel), metal, glass and other mineral resources. They need water to produce the batteries and circuit boards, consume energy when in use, and contribute to e-waste if not recycled.

When tossing up which way to go, some questions to ponder include:

  • Are you an avid reader who wants to reduce frequent car trips to the bookshop?
  • Do you read and dispose of lots of newspapers and magazines?
  • How many e-books do you think you might read in the lifetime of the device?
  • Will you continue to buy paper books and newspapers even though you have the reader?

Borrowing from the local library remains the most sustainable option of all. You can search your local library's online catalogue and reserve your books from the comfort of home.

Tablet computers are another mobile computing device on the market. Larger than a mobile phone and smaller than a conventional laptop, they are operated by a touch screen rather than a conventional keyboard. They offer a range of applications but generally have less functionality, power and connectivity than a laptop while priced in the same range. They are mainly used for leisure or work presentations on the run.

Given many tablet functions can be performed on your existing technology, such as a laptop or smart phone, it's worth considering carefully if you need to fork out for and maintain another electronic device. As with e-book readers, you can weigh up the resources used against your usage habits and requirements. Consider also any additional costs and resources in relation to accessories such as carry cases, headphones, power cords and protective covers.

Turn devices off at the wall

Off switch

©iStockphoto.com

Standby power is a key source of hidden energy use that can amount to more than 10 per cent of your household electricity use. Almost all electronic devices draw power, even when they're switched off at the unit. If it's got a little light or clock—it's using power.

Home entertainment products and computers often have a standby mode so they can turn on quickly. However, standby mode can use a lot of energy even when the appliance isn't being used—and all for the sake of powering up the device a few seconds earlier.

When connected to a power source, home entertainment products generally have four power modes:

Power modes of home entertainment products
Power mode Description
Off The device performs no function. It doesn't produce any sound or picture, or transmit or receive any information. It can only be activated by the power switch on the unit itself.
Passive standby The device doesn't perform its main purpose (is 'sleeping') but is ready to be switched on, usually via a remote control or internal sensor or timer, or it may be performing a secondary function such as an active display or clock.
Active standby The device is on but doesn't perform its main function. For example, the DVD may be on but is not playing or recording. Home entertainment products use much more energy in active standby than in passive standby mode.
On The device is in use.

The most effective way to save energy is to turn things off at the wall when you're not using them. If this sounds like too much fuss, look for 'intelligent' powerboards that cut power to the majority of devices using a remote or a switch separate from the board. Or try boards with multiple ports that have a 'master' to cut power to all devices once the 'master' device has been switched off.

Waste not, want not

Electronic waste sitting in a recycle bin

©Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Many of us will go through more than one computer and other electronic devices over the years.

With the abundance of cheaper products that have shorter life spans, electronic waste (e-waste) is growing three times faster than any other type of waste.

Sending these products to landfill poses a number of problems including the loss of non-renewable resources and risks to our health and environment because of the hazardous substances they contain.

There are a number of ways to re-use and recycle e-waste such as giving your old technology to someone who needs it, like schools and charitable organisations.

If you're disposing of your computer, it's a good idea to destroy your private data. Your home computer stores a lot of information about you (like bank, medical and password details). Simply deleting this information isn't enough. Look online for reputable disk-erasing tools to help you permanently wipe all traces of personal data.