As if citizens all over the world were not already painfully aware of the fact that politicians of questionable morals, bureaucrats of questionable value and technocrats of questionable competence dictate how people are allowed to live their lives on a daily basis, random absurdities like this one truly drive the point home: the European Union is planning to enforce a revision of the limits on TV power consumption already imposed back in March 2021. This revision is even more strict, lowering the allowed levels of energy consumption by modern TV sets — based on their screen resolution — even further. It is planned to go into effect in March 2023.
The problem: the upcoming revision has rendered those power consumption restrictions so severe, that it threatens to not just make many, many TV sets illegal to sell in any European Union country, but literally hurt the development and natural evolution of the television product category as a whole. Here’s how.
An already strict directive, lazily revised
A little bit of background: the EU had already massively lowered, about two years ago, the levels of maximum power consumption all manufacturers should allow their TVs to reach. It did so in the name of a more energy-conscious, environment-friendly TV market, so nobody really complained. There was a new energy scale introduced that downgraded many, many popular TV sets at the time from any other energy label they might be accompanied by (even A-Grade ones) to the worst possible (G-Grade). That move did not outright ban any television models back then, but it did force TV manufacturers to pay closer attention to energy consumption than ever before: the G-Grade came uncomfortably close to the point where a device would not receive approval for being sold in 27 countries.
That March 2021 directive took all televisions through the process of being assigned an energy efficiency number based on the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Index (EEI for short), which was developed with all consumer appliances in mind. That number represented the maximum power limit of any commercially available electronic display and was stipulated as 0.90 for FullHD (1080p) resolution displays and 1.10 for displays of resolution ranging between 2K and 4K. There was no other official power limit set, despite the fact that, by 2020, there were already several different 8K TVs and other 8K electronic displays available globally and at least one manufacturer (Samsung) had already made at least one MicroLED-based display available for purchase.
The new revision of that March 2021 directive, coming into effect in March 2023, strives to do two different things. One: lower the maximum power limit for 1080p electronic displays from 0.90 to 0.75, as well as lower the equivalent limit for 2K up to 4K displays from 1.10 to 0.90. Two: include every other type of electronic display in the general EU Energy Efficiency Index, assigning it the same maximum power limit of 0.90 (!).
Readers that have an idea of where things stand in the current TV market in terms of consumer display technology and power consumption may have already realized where the problem lies. Every major development that happened in the TV product category during the last three or four years — 8K resolution, decidedly better HDR performance, MicroLED screens, QD-OLED screens, etc. — required more, not less, energy. Not only will this revised EU directive (should it end up being applied in its current state in March) affect similar developments in the future, it will even affect TVs already available on the market. Hard to believe? Read on.
Certain 2022 top TVs already affected, many more come March
FlatpanelsHD — one of the first websites to bring up the issue of this revised EU directive — calculated how much power modern TVs would have to work with in order to comply with it… and the figures are almost laughable. Ranging from 178 watts for an 88-inch TV to just 48 for a 40-inch one, these numbers are so low most current models barely pass the barrier of wattage assigned to their energy class. These numbers are low enough to render certain 4K models uncertifiable for Europe already. The type of display technology in use does not matter either. A 55-inch Samsung QN95B LED/LCD with full array local dimming? Doesn’t make the cut. A 65-inch Sony A95K QD-OLED TV? Doesn’t make the cut. The same Samsung QN95B model at 65 inches? Doesn’t make the cut. These are top-quality, best-in-class 2022 TVs, by the way, not some carelessly put-together knock-offs.
It’s when one takes a look at 8K models, though, that things truly become ridiculous. There is not a single current 8K TV, of any display tech, at any size, made by any manufacturer, that can work within the power limits of this revised EU directive right now. In many cases, the wattage needed by an 8K model is almost double what the revised directive allows — and that’s for plain old SDR content. In HDR, some models need three times as much power as their class has to work with, which is telling all on its own.
It’s worth noting that the revised EU directive about TV energy consumption limits does not take into account emerging display technologies that are even more power-hungry than LED/LCD, OLED or QD-OLED. MicroLED TVs, for instance, work by assigning a physical individual LED to every single pixel of their screens. Those TV models wouldn’t be able to work as intended within the power limits imposed by the new EU revision, but they are considered to be “the Holy Grail” of electronic displays nonetheless (offering perfect blacks and the brightest highlights of any display tech in existence).
Based on the above, it’s painfully obvious that what the European Union officials responsible for making policy on TV energy consumption really did was “copy and paste” the power limit figures of typical 4K TVs to a field next to that named “all other TVs”… without taking into account anything else. At all. If that is not a shamefully simplistic, haphazard, lazy way of taking decisions affecting the second most popular product category in tech and hundreds of millions of consumers in 27 countries, then what is?
To be clear, this new revision of the EU 2021 directive — that further reduces the power limits available to TVs — refers to the default picture setting that’s pre-selected at the factory. It does not prohibit the inclusion of other picture settings that can offer much higher brightness (obviously requiring much more power delivered to a TV). But, as Caleb Denison of Digital Trends points out in his own article on this issue, the majority of consumers never touch the default settings of the TVs they’re buying. Many of the readers going through this story probably know how to find the picture modes list in a TV’s menu and select a different, much brighter one, yes. But that’s not a given for most people by any stretch of the imagination.
As a result of the above, one possible way to circumvent this power limitation the EU is planning to impose on TVs could actually be in the hands of manufacturers already: they could create an “EU picture mode” for their future models (or add it to current ones through a firmware update) that lowers the screen brightness just enough so as to fall within the power consumption limits required by the EU. But what would most probably happen if this revised directive is applied in March is this: all manufacturers would suddenly start receiving an absurdly high number of service or return requests, as most EU customers will turn on their new TVs and think that there’s something wrong with the dim picture displayed. So not a workable solution to this problem, is it?
A serious limitation holding the evolution of TVs back
All this is a clear indication of how irredeemably out of touch politicians and bureaucrats truly are with almost every market they affect with their decisions. This has always been true of tech, but the TV power consumption situation is telling because it proves that these people don’t even know how technology works. Tech, as it is currently implemented in consumer products, can’t easily be revolutionary — or even radically evolutionary — and super efficient at the same time. Progress in performance and features is made on current tech and manufacturing processes — and, in time, that tech becomes more efficient energy-wise as new, more advanced manufacturing processes come into play.
What the European Union tries to do is impose restrictions that, in practice, will allow for almost no advancement of the TV product category. This is what the same situation would look e.g. in the PC graphics cards market, a product category that’s notorious for its high energy consumption needs: it would be like the EU all of a sudden addressing nVidia, AMD and Intel and letting them know that, from now on, their graphics cards should not ask for more than e.g. 180 watts of power in any PC sold in these 27 countries.
This would practically mean that the current flagship nVidia 4000 series or the upcoming AMD 7000 series of GPUs — the graphics cards that feature all the latest tech in 3D rendering, but need more than double that wattage — would be banned outright. It would take literally anything between 3 to 5 years for a 200-watt GPU to catch up to what e.g. an nVidia 4090 can do today. Wouldn’t we be talking, in that case, about the EU holding modern consumer graphics technology back?
The people trying to impose these revised TV power consumption restrictions are now exhibiting the same kind of inexcusable ignorance that would considerably set back the advancement of flat panel displays. Modern TVs, either OLED, LED/LCD or QD-OLED, cannot evolve if they cannot get brighter. They need energy for that. The view that “8K TVs are pointless” for a number of use cases right now is valid, but they do represent the next natural step in display resolution after 4K, so they are practically inevitable — and these will most definitely need more energy than any current 4K TV does in the short term.
Last but not least: HDR content as presented in the home entertainment environment cannot match the post-production grading of many blockbuster movies in nits — say, 4000 nits as found in UHD BD discs — without TVs getting brighter. In order to be bright enough for impactful HDR, a modern TV’s energy needs overall will be high, even if SDR content — which the revised EU directive refers to — does not need that much power.
All three — brightness, resolution, HDR impact — along with emerging technologies, such as MicroLED, define the future of televisions. So one can see why the EU’s attempt to limit the energy consumption of these devices to such low levels will affect the TV product category as a whole.
An absurd situation, a problem in need of an urgent solution
What the whole situation proves is obvious: these European Union officials are not qualified to decide how much energy a modern TV should consume, if they do not understand the differences between 4K TVs and 8K TVs, between small and large TVs, between bright and dim TVs, between emerging display technologies and current ones. Had they proposed strict but somewhat realistic maximum power levels for televisions — depending on the size and/or display tech used — it would have been a different story. Maybe some kind of compromise could have been reached. But by trying to impose the same energy consumption restrictions on so many different types of TVs, as if they all work in the same way, those officials fail to make any kind of sense.
It’s worth noting, too, that this situation is not of interest to European Union consumers only: it has far more reaching implications. Should this revised directive be enforced in its current form in March, manufacturers will essentially have to either create “EU versions” of their new televisions — ones that comply with these nonsensical power limitations — or decide to not offer these TVs in Europe at all. The EU is not the biggest market globally, but it’s always among the top three, so this new status quo would definitely disrupt the way TV manufacturers plan for product availability — especially regarding their top, most expensive models, which happen to be the ones most affected by this revised directive.
Last but not least: there’s something to be said about these decision-makers and policymakers of the European Union who feel that it’s their place to dictate consumers’ life choices on such basic things as the TV sets they’ll be using. It most certainly isn’t. Is it wise to purchase any TV model without taking a single look at its energy consumption label (as most consumers tend to do)? No. Would it be irresponsible to buy a 120-inch MicroLED TV that’s capable of producing 10000 nits of brightness and have it on all day long? Yes. But it should still be up to each consumer to act responsibly or not (especially since it’s his/her electrical bill to pay anyway). Not up to some ignorant bureaucrat.
Fortunately, it’s not too late even for these people to realize their mistake and reconsider the imposing of nonsensical TV power consumption restrictions on hundreds of millions of consumers in Europe. It’s also not too late for those officials to find some actual technocrats who understand how modern TVs work and have them explain to policymakers in a clear manner why this revision is not applicable without dire consequences to one of the most popular product categories in tech today.
Word is that EU officials are to review the 2023 Energy Efficiency Index as a whole by December 31st, so there’s still time to adjust the EEImax numbers in a more pragmatic fashion when it comes to advanced TVs and displays. During the next few months, manufacturers should express their concerns to these officials as often as possible. Consumers who do not wish to see their options limited should also express their frustration about this revision in a public, vocal way. Industry and mainstream media publishing stories about the whole thing should also help. Here’s hope that 2023 won’t find the very future of the TV product category threatened by the inadequacy and indifference of a tiny group of people who happen to be in a position of power right now. It’s as simple as that.