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Is 'watching' your music at home wasting energy?

Posted by Tony Mauro

One of the great things about today's cable services and online media is how it expands access to music. Instead of having to pick a bunch of CDs to play as background music, you can fire up the "music channel" on your cable box and have a variety of songs played without any direct involvement in the selection.

This is great, but did you know there is a hidden energy penalty? Can you spot it?

It's the TV itself. We'll ignore the additional energy consumption of a cable box since it's on all the time anyway, so you might as well make use of it. But instead of enjoying the music with your ears, it's highly likely you are also enjoying the music with your eyes.

More audio options

The cable box is not the only source for music. With network-connected products like Apple TV, Google TV and various other products from companies like Western Digital, there is more and more audio content being driven by a TV interface. This is great because it's a faster and more efficient way to see what you are going to select to play, but it can also drive up the energy required to listen to music.

If we look back to the old days of CDs for music, it was a pretty predictable energy situation. ENERGY STAR has had criteria to qualify devices for a number of years now, so you knew that buying from that list you'd get a pretty good energy performer.

In addition to energy performance while in use, ENERGY STAR also set criteria for off-mode energy consumption, something that seems to be forgotten in newer devices.

Today's world of multimedia is blurring the lines when talking about energy related to video and audio. But there are things you can do to wrestle back some of the energy consumption:

  • If you use TV speakers to listen to music it might be a good idea to buy an ENERGY STAR-qualified stereo. You can then use the TV to select what you'd like to play and then power off the TV and still enjoy the music.
  • Check to see if your TV has an eco-friendly setting for music that turns down the brightness or turn off the display
  • Apps! If you have an Apple TV or are thinking of getting a Google TV box and have a smart phone, most have apps that let you control the music selection from your phone! No need for the TV to power on. Of course you still need a set of speakers for the audio to play through
  • If you find you listen to a lot of online music, consider a dedicated music solution, like a SqueezeBox or a Sonos.
  • A stereo with an iPod dock or audio cables might be what you need if most of your music lives on your iPod or iPhone.

Technology is advancing so rapidly it's outpacing energy efficiency guidelines. But that doesn't mean you can't have the latest and greatest – just take time to consider how things work, what the technology's core function is, and what is supplementary.

If you're looking at buying a music product that connects to your TV, ask the question: Can you control or listen to your music without the TV on? Minimize the number of electronics switched on when you're listening to music, and you'll get the same enjoyment with lower energy use.

Tony Mauro is a Power Smart Engineer and frequent contributor to Unplug This Blog! and Future's Shop's BrandTalk blog.