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We did it again! Yup, my very own State of California has once again been the first to ring the Stupid-Bell in an attempt to lead the Nation into yet another set of ill-advised legislations destined to cost its population jobs, cash and freedom of choice.

Previous debacles include the insistence, years ago, that all gasoline dispensed in California have an additive (MTBE) to reduce the environmental effect of leaded fuel, only to just a few years later slap warnings on all the pumps that the same additive “may be hazardous to the environment”. We shine too, for being the most (and longest) “duped” state during the infamous Enron power grid swindle. Where were the watchdogs then ? …!

Undoubtedly you have read about our most recent embarrassment, the enactment into law of “Standards” that will require most flat panel televisions sold in the State to be 33% “more efficient” by 2011 and 50% more-so by 2013.

Consider for a moment the perspective of the Manufacturer. He has every natural motivation to design for power efficiency. (A), it plays to an ever more aware “green” population. All other considerations being equal, today’s buyer might just opt for the least power-hungry set……and (B), perhaps more compelling, sets that draw the most power generate the most heat. Heat is by far the guiltiest culprit for device (set) failure. Returns or on-site warranty repair are hugely expensive to original sellers. Truth is, if the manufacturers were left alone, advances in energy efficiency would progress just fine, thank you.

It’s hard to know where to begin to show the folly of this most recent California knee-jerk.

Let me start by confessing to some possible complicity in all of this. Clear back in Wide Screen Review (WSR) issue #118 (March, 2007), I wrote an article entitled “A Convenient Truth”, grabbing a twist on Mr. Gore’s movie. In it I described a consulting assignment that I was party to (California P. G. & E. hired an ecology-centric consulting firm, ECOS, who then hired the ISF to conduct some TV mode vs. power draw testing). Thankfully, I am pleased to report that what we found (and reported) bore little or no correlation to what happened last week. Please don’t blame us…………L

What we found of course, is that how much power a set draws is very much a function of what “user” mode it’s in (Movie vs. Sports vs. Vivid, etc.) and what’s on the screen at any instant in time. Bright pictures, i.e. the polar bear in the snowstorm, draw much more power than the deserted street scene at midnight. Since the set’s are all shipped in “torch mode”, (contrast and brightness turned up wide open, and the menu defaulted to Vivid), and many people don’t touch those settings for 10+ years, so much of the state’s power grid could be saved by simply shipping the sets defaulted to a tamed down collection of settings……not unlike where they would be post an ISF calibration. A properly calibrated set, of course, would not only render the “Director’s Art”, it would do so with optimum power efficiency.

A very odd statement in the press release from the California Energy Commission went as follows; “Californians buy four million televisions each year and they deserve the most energy efficient models available” ……..well, Arnold, if that’s what you really meant, that would be the iPhone. What should have been said of the aforementioned households is; “God bless you for buying ANYTHING in the face of the 10.8% statewide unemployment we have crafted for you, and, for your thanks and willingness to help us out of this mess, you should be allowed to purchase sets anywhere on the continuum between smallest power supply and best image quality”…………indeed, with today’s technology, that disparity is rapidly closing.

Instead, they wrote the wrong prescription. Here’s the thing.

These contraptions we call televisions are, at their core, just light machines. Throughout the genus, some kind of light source excites some kind of display technology and we get to see pretty pictures. We want to see the best pictures we can, and we’d prefer to do that leaving the smallest carbon footprint – it’s really that simple! Since we can transform what comes out of the wall outlet into light many different ways, if something must be regulated, without destroying image quality, it should be light output.

Case in point. There are LED backlit displays on the market today that would meet the standards destined to be in effect next year that measure 140 fL (foot-lamberts) of light output. Watching a movie with those settings would be roughly the same as having two sticks poked in your eyes simultaneously, except it would last longer. Personal preferences vary, but most videophiles would be very satisfied if whatever “box” they were watching had a 40 fL governor on it. What if the new rules stated that all televisions shipped as of a certain date must not exceed 50 fL out of the box. That would make calibrators happy because they had some “wiggle room” with which to calibrate, the viewers happy because even if they never opted for calibration, the default picture would be less offensive and it would leave manufacturers to duke it out with the variety of technologies and “display tricks” they are used to. The only thing they may have to give up is the infamous “torch mode”, which isn’t really a take-away if ALL must comply.

So, Terry, why didn’t the Green-police jump on this scheme as quickly as you did, huh, huh, huh!

Well, my guess is, such an implementation of the “law” would require a couple dozen of the finest to attend a one-hour distillation class on Imaging Science and be equipped with a few thousand dollar light meter instead of a few hundred dollar watt-meter. What the hell, let’s just force the several million viewers (and counting) to watch (potentially) inferior images, in favor of a no-brainer implementation!

There is a “temporary” saving grace for videophiles. In it’s infinite wisdom, the commission is only holding those sets 58” (diagonal) and below to the new standard. The biggest “offenders” are north of that, of course, and therefore (currently) exempt. The sweet spot, that is, the size that delivers the most square inches/dollar began at about 40”. When flat panels entered the “way-cool” era, it escalated to 50”. Currently, it rests at the 58 and 60” size, which is where I encourage my clients to invest, room and viewing distance permitting. There is no sign that this trend will subside any time soon. The consumer chant is still saying larger, please, witness the new crop of 65”, 85” and the surprisingly well selling 103” plasmas. By the time watt-punitive laws ratchet up, perhaps either these XXL sets will have design break-throughs or our law makers will have gravitated to a more rational approach………………I’ll put my money on the breakthroughs. In the meantime, have you considered a projector/screen combo? Even the lesser ones can all zoom out to beyond 58”..!!

Look, I’m (almost) as interested as the next guy in conserving this planet’s precious resources. Still, I’m not yet a card-carrying Sierra Club member. Recent headlines have more than half the country’s “serious” geologists still claiming there is no correlation between Co2 gas emissions and a melting iceberg, so my shirt is VERY light green. It seems to me, though, that if just a few of our state legislators would take one less trip to Washington per month, the savings in jet fuel alone would more than pay for a six-pack of new power plants……uh, nuclear ones, of course. What I know for sure is, I do not want to give up any high image quality options to a less-than-thought-out, albeit politically correct, “solution”.

Posted by Terry Paullin, December 14, 2009 8:46 AM

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About Terry Paullin

After 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.

Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).

Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.

Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.

Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.

Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.

Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.