Samsung, LG, Vizio Accused of Exploiting TV Energy Standards

A trio of consumer electronics giants is being accused of exploiting government testing flaws for the energy consumption of TVs, costing owners of newer models as much as $1.2 billion on their electricity bills over a decade.

The international nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) singles out Samsung Electronics, Vizio and LG Electronics as taking advantage of poor Department of Energy (DOE) testing methods for the energy use of new TVs, with 2015 and 2016 models of sets 32 inches and larger using up double the energy as promised.

NRDC said it shared its results with the companies “and none of them disputed the accuracy of the results or claimed they were limited to a subset of models.” However, both LG and Samsung disputed the findings of the report, with LG telling B&C that the company took "great exception to the assertion that LG is 'exploiting a loophole' in the government test procedure."

"LG has had a generally cordial and respectful relationship with the NRDC," a company spokesman said. "We met with them and listened to their concerns. We raised our concerns about their methodology. We respectfully disagree with their conclusions, at least as far as LG is concerned."

Additionally, Samsung “firmly reject[ed] the accusation that we are misleading consumers,” issuing a statement that emphasized its compliance with U.S. regulations, and touted it’s six straight years of being named an Energy Star Partner of the Year.

“The majority of users stay within the default viewing settings through the lifetime of their television,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, we strongly believe that consumers should always have the option to customize the viewing experience on their TV.”

Vizio did not respond to a request for comment on the study.

During a Sept. 21 call with reporters, Noah Horowitz, senior scientist and director of the NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, said that while the results may not show any illegal activity by the companies, "it certainly smacks of bad-faith conduct."

“A few seemingly inconsequential clicks on a remote can cause a TV’s energy use to as much as double, compared to the levels reported by the manufacturer in the DOE’s test," he said. "The national impacts of this are staggering. If one-third of the consumers who purchased a TV 32 inches or larger from these manufacturers in the last two years change their picture setting, $1.2 billion of electricity could be consumed.”

Detailed in NRDC’s “The Secret Costs of Manufacturers Exploiting Loopholes in the Government’s TV Energy Test: $1.2 Billion for Consumers, Millions of Tons of Pollution” report, the analysis accuses Samsung and LG of designing TVs to get better scores on DOE tests, with all three companies designing software to disable energy features with no warning.

A major part of the problem, according to NRDC: DOE energy-use tests rely on shorter video scenes and more frequent cuts between videos, compared to actual, real-world consumption of content. NRDC pointed to motion-detection dimming features on LG and Samsung models that dims or turns off screen backlights for content with frequent scene changes. Additionally, NRDC noted that all three companies have TVs designed to disable energy features when picture settings are changed. The LG spokesman said the company is implementing software upgrades for 2015 and 2016 models to help notify consumers that changing picture modes may impact energy consumption, and also agreed with NRDC that the DOE needs to develop a new test clip. 

One issue that has cropped up thanks to advances in technology: when the companies’ Ultra High-Def (UHD) 4K sets play content enabled with high dynamic range (HDR), as much as 50% more energy is consumed to handle the better colors and higher contrast.

NRDC called on the DOE to update its testing criteria to better reflect how the sets consume energy.

“With millions of televisions purchased annually across America, all of this extra energy use has a major impact on national energy consumption, consumer utility bills, and the environment,” Horowitz said. “In some cases, a TV’s annual energy use will be twice the levels that manufacturers reported. Steps must be taken to ensure televisions are as energy efficient as possible during actual use and not just during government testing.”

However, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of Consumer Technology Association, accused the NRDC of having an “inexplicable hostility to an industry that has done so much to reduce energy usage,” adding that the group was misrepresenting facts.

“The TV settings used in the energy efficiency testing processes can be and are used in the real world, unless consumers want a different viewing experience,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Any deception here comes only from the NRDC, and we hope its board and contributors begin an internal investigation into this misplaced hostility toward energy-efficient technology, blockage of science-based policy and personal vendetta by NRDC's so-called scientists."