As a resident of California who owns a "green home" complete with new windows, high efficiency air conditioners, space-age insulation and drought tolerant planting on over two acres of hillside - today's decision to toughen standards on HDTVs is a real head-scratcher. Flat HDTVs are a relatively new technology that in their early goings use more energy than a traditional CRT television. At the same time - LCD and plasma HDTVs consume at an even higher rate the content that we create here in Los Angeles including broadcast television, HD downloads, Blu-ray and even San Fernando Valley's best, most smutty porn. All are industries that pay Californians - who pay taxes.
In the past year the consumer electronics manufacturers have made great strides towards making flat HDTVs easier on the power bill. Most specifically, the LED backlit LCD technology has cut down power consumption dramatically, but this technology is only found on the newest and often most expensive sets. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) argues - why penalize an industry that is already policing itself as it fine-tunes its sexy, meaningful and relatively new video technology that is part of tens of millions of Californians' lives?
It's important to note that in terms of videophile performance, plasma HDTVs still make the best picture in terms of black levels. Most of today's plasma HDTVs have improved their energy consumption, yet this legislation aims to make them even harder to sell to customers who are willing to pay more for their energy bills to get a better picture. LCD sets have become more popular than plasma sets and it's likely that within three or four more years there may not be any more plasma sets sold. There was no need to legislate an early demise in the middle of a deep national recession.
A strange twist in the decision says that the new regulations are on HDTVs up to 58 inches. Most of the biggest users of power are 65 inch and larger HDTVs, yet seemingly this bill doesn't deal with those. In addition to a structural engineer needed to hang the set, 103 inch plasma sets also require a dedicated 240 AC line be installed by an electrician; yet they are somehow exempt. I can see the press releases now for the 59 inch plasmas featured at the Consumer Electronics Show this January. How much you want to bet that they use close to the same amount of energy as a comparable LCD set?
Southern California is without question the biggest market for home theater in the world. There are more installers, retailers and design firms in the area than anywhere else. As the home theater business morphs into more of a subcontractor or trade that is also selling green technology like automated window shades, lighting control, solar and beyond - these new standards punish those trying to make a living by selling green. And if HDTVs are first, what other AV components can we keep from selling in the state? How about power amps? Tube electronics? Where does it stop and couldn't the problem be better solved by creating your own power? Yet solar power incentives are nothing in comparison to the federal tax credits that sold so many Range Rovers as "farm vehicles" to small business back when the White House was more of a pawn for big oil and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.
So in a state that paid ten fold the going rate to Enron for electricity and in a city like Los Angeles where John Q. Resident can't sell his extra solar power back into the grid and get paid for it - our legislators have found another way to keep people from buying high performance video equipment. Exploiting and misusing the meaningful marketing hype of the green movement - the state legislators skip addressing the real problems in the world's seventh largest economy. In the past decade or so California has hosted the dotcom boom and seen the hottest real estate market in recent memory. Both pumped vast volumes of new income into the state treasury and these same legislators failed to invest it into a new power grid, new schools or a better infrastructure for water, power, cars and beyond. These same legislators are the ones who are truly afraid to deal with the real problems of the state - the ones that people like Warren Buffett are warning about - such as Prop 13. Prop 13 for those who don't live in California is another genius tax cut from the 1970s that basically makes it so that the state can't increase a home owner's property tax, so there are millions of Baby Boomers who own homes bought decades ago that have increased by millions of dollars yet pay taxes in 1977 dollars thus leaving the state strapped for money. It's a political hot potato that Mr. Schwarzenegger won't deal with. The same goes for the state legislators from both sides of the aisle who would rather spend their time on the decreasing power consumption of today's best HDTVs. Consumers (AKA: voters from the left and right) hopefully will see through this political smoke screen and will remember this when they want to help out the economy by buying a new, high performance HDTV of their choice.