EU Denies Review Process on Energy Requirements – What Will Set Makers Do?
According to an article in the Italian trade magazine Digital Day, the European Commission says it has no intention of revising a planned change to EU regulations on TV power consumption (8K Industry Faces Challenge with New EU Regulatory Ruling). The change will eliminate exemptions to power consumption regulations previously applied to 8K and microLED-based sets. On the face of it, that might cause 8K sets to disappear from the market, but the Commission said that it believed that the change in the regulations would not cause sets to be banned as TV makers would take action to meet the new rules. So what are TV makers doing?
First, some brief background. The EU, along with other national bodies around the world, wants to limit the power consumption of domestic appliances. In 2016, the Commission estimated that TVs consumed more than 3% of the EU’s power. It has two key ways to reduce the energy used. First, it has a labeling scheme that indicates to consumers the relative power consumption level so buyers can optimize their purchases. Consumers pay attention to these labels, so TV makers put in a lot of effort to get better ratings. However, the EU wants to push to even lower consumption levels over time, so the levels needed to achieve a particular label class have been getting more challenging.
As well as the labels, devices such as TVs have upper limits set – it’s simply illegal to sell sets that consume more. That’s the second way that consumption can be limited.
Every TV has an ‘energy efficiency index (EEI). The maximum energy efficiency index of a 4K TV or higher resolution will be 0.9 from March 2023, equivalent to 116 W for a 65″ set. That level was previously 142W for 4K sets.
The previous TV regulations came into force in 2019, and there was an exemption for 8K sets. One of the key reasons is that squeezing more pixels into the same screen area means that more of the display surface is taken up with a black mask that separates and defines each pixel. Further, four times more transistors are in the back of the panel to control the display, and the combination of the mask and transistors blocks more of the light. Display engineers talk about the ‘aperture ratio’ of a display panel, which is the area where light comes through (LCD) or is emitted (OLED or microLED). 8K sets have much smaller aperture ratios than 4K sets, so they need a brighter (more power-hungry) backlight to obtain the same front-of-screen luminance as an equivalent 4K TV.
8K TVs also have four times more video data to process, so the control and processing electronics take more power than lower resolutions.
The 2019 regulation can be seen here, but the exemption table is reproduced below.
When the regulations came into force, they included a provision that in March 2023, the exemptions would be taken away for 8K. However, the regulation also said that the Commission should “review this Regulation in the light of technological progress and present the results of this review, including, if appropriate, a draft revision proposal, to the Consultation Forum no later than 25 December 2022”. However, it seems that the Commission doesn’t intend to review the planned change.
The Commission seems confident that the regulations will not stop the sales of sets, so what are the makers doing to meet the regulations?
Modifying the Shipment Settings
When the first EU energy regulations were introduced, many TV sets were set into a ‘vivid’ mode when they came out of the box. TV makers wanted retailers to use that mode to sell their sets. Although those who care about good picture quality understand that careful control of the set brightness is needed, buyers often choose the brightest or more colorful sets in-store. As many consumers don’t adjust the picture settings when they get the set home, the default Vivid mode uses more power than was needed. The EU, therefore, adopted the policy of changing the regulations so that the energy label rating was based on the ‘out of box’ mode.
That gives set makers an option – to supply the TV with very low brightness settings in an out-of-box mode so that the power used meets the regulation. It seems that Sony’s 8K TVs are already adopting this approach.
In the past, that wouldn’t have worked very well because LCD backlights were fixed in their brightness, but these days, backlights are adjustable, and emissive displays such as OLED (and PDP in the past) always used less power with dimmer images.
Unfortunately, the user will probably not like the image quality ‘out-of-box’, but the makers will be able to make sure that buyers know that the settings need to be optimized in use. The regulations mandate that the consumer is warned if changing settings uses more power, but they don’t prevent this.
(It strikes the writer that forcing this change undermines the EU’s long-term aim of pushing power levels down for all sets, and almost inevitably, if this practice becomes the norm, the EU will have to come back and review the regulations again).
Drop the Tuner
Another way to reduce power consumption is to drop the tuners from the TV and ship the set ‘out of the box’ as a monitor. Many TV viewers use set-top-boxes (STBs) or even, in the case of the Sky Glass set in the UK, rely on streaming and IPTV. The writer hasn’t used a tuner for TV for 15 years or more. You need a monitor with multiple HDMI ports if you don’t use a terrestrial, satellite, or cable tuner. 30% of viewers, according to recent data from Dataxis, still depend on free-to-air digital TV, so tuners are still essential for some. Still, it’s reasonable to assume that many of those viewers will not buy 8K and other premium TVs.
The issue of monitors and TVs has been a complicated one in the EU in the past. TVs carry a 14% duty on import to the EU, but monitors carry 0%. When all TVs were analog and used tuners and SCART connectors and monitors had VGA inputs, the difference between a TV and a monitor was pretty straightforward. However, when HDMI came along, DVD players and STBs had the connectors, and so did both monitors and TVs.
The European Commission decided in 2003 that any display with an HDMI port was a TV and, therefore, subject to 14% duty. That caused a long (ten years or so!) legal battle between monitor makers and the Commission that went to the European Court of Justice and was also the subject of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) legal case that eventually found against the Commission.
When is a TV a Monitor?
However, the EU recognized that it was going to be harder and harder to differentiate between TVs and monitors, and so in the 2019 version of the regulations, all displays, whether monitors or TVs, were subject to the same rules (there are limited exemptions for some digital signage displays). Removing the tuners could reduce the set’s power consumption and get the set ‘over the line’.
There could be another barrier to dropping the tuner, however. Brands have tried selling tuner-less TVs in Europe but often found resistance from retailers. Usually, the monitors and TVs in a store are managed as separate departments with different margin structures. TVs have higher profit margins and are allocated more space and staff in stores, so that could make it challenging to sell sets without tuners alongside traditional TVs.
We spoke to experienced display specialist Paul Butler of MMD, which runs the Philips monitor brand in Europe. He confirmed that this kind of arrangement is still common in Europe, with retailers not wanting to put sets without tuners into the TV sections of stores.
Gamers Buying Bigger Monitors
Gamers have been buying bigger and bigger monitors to connect to PCs and consoles. At CES in 2018, HP, Asus, and Acer all showed 65″ monitors developed by Nvidia and optimized for gaming. HP launched its Emperium 65″ set, but at $5,000, it didn’t stay in the market. That set had a ‘typical’ power consumption of 420W, so it would have no chance of being legal in the EU now as it had an EEI of 3.26 – compared to a maximum of 0.9 under the new regulations.
Monitors might be challenged on power with HDR enabled. However, as with TVs, if they are set to a lower brightness out of the box, they can get better energy ratings, and the EU regulations set the labeling requirements using SDR.
Some monitors also have the option, for example, to act as USB hubs with up to 100W of power available for charging other devices such as notebooks. They couldn’t meet the energy requirements if that power was counted in. Still, fortunately, as the unit is not connected to a notebook in its ‘out-of-box’ condition, the charging capability is not added to the consumption. Some use the hub to also act as an ethernet connection, and this kind of feature can be turned off on delivery to reduce power consumption. In the same way, TV makers can turn off features such as tuners.
Another way set makers can reduce the power consumption for approval purposes is to include an automatic brightness control that reduces the brightness in lower ambient conditions. If this is included (and there are detailed requirements in the regulations relating to different light levels, the power consumption of the set for labeling purposes can be reduced by 10%.
In summary, it seems that set makers of 8K TVs will be able to meet the new regulations by
- Modifying the out-of-box settings to reduce the set brightness
- Making some of the features of the set only available by enabling them in firmware
- Ensuring that they have automatic brightness controls
- Continuing to develop display technologies that can meet increasing demands for higher performance and brightness while reducing the power used