How big is too big when it comes to TV screen size? How much energy does the U.S. gobble up watching television?
If you ask the Environmental Protection Agency, the answers would be (a) anything over 50 inches and (b) about 4 percent of all household electricity.
"There are about 275 million TVs currently in use in the U.S., consuming over 50 billion kWh of energy each year - or 4 percent of all households' electricity use. This is enough electricity to power all the homes in the state of New York for an entire year," according to the Energy Star program, a joint effort of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Energy Star, which sets the standard for energy efficiency ratings on consumer products, says that televisions will have to become more efficient in order to earn its coveted sticker.
For their products to qualify, television manufacturers will have to meet a new standard by May 2010 and an even stricter standard by May 2012.
The version 4.0 Energy Star sticker, the standard set for May 2010, will require 40 percent greater efficiency, while the version 5.0 sticker will require 65 percent more efficiency than a TV sold today.
Generally, the new requirements put restrictions on the amount of power a TV can consume when it's in use ("on" mode), and when it's figuratively off but downloading programming information (DAM, or download acquisition mode).
The agency has also taken a stand on what it sees as responsible consumerism with regard to energy and the environment.
"EPA has decided to proceed with a requirement that TVs greater than 50 inches in size meet the same On Mode requirements as a screen of 50 inches - 108 watts," Katharine Kaplan, the spokeswoman for the EPA's Energy Star program, said in her cover letter (PDF) to the version 4.0 and 5.0 technical specifications for manufacturers.
(By comparison, past CNET reviews have found that in viewing mode the 52-inch Sony Bravia KDL-52XBR7 consumes 161.11 watts and the 52-inch Sharp Aquos LC-52D65 consumes 121.6 watts.)
Through this new policy, Kaplan and the agency have essentially said that anyone who feels the need to buy a television bigger than 50 inches is being a tad gluttonous. As an agency dedicated to energy savings, it's not going to condone that behavior with a feel-good sticker no matter how comparatively efficient the TV may be for its size.
"The issue in this case is what TV sizes can the federal government credibly designate as preferable from an energy and environmental perspective. This has become an important issue as the sizes of TVs and energy use continue to grow," Kaplan said in her letter.