Vizio's energy-efficient VO320E 32-inch LCD TV
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I’d like to elaborate on a theme I raised a couple of weeks ago regarding the amazing advances in technology.
Free enterprise and capitalist competition sometimes (deservedly) get a bad rap for encouraging greed and gluttony, but the flip side is that this same competition is spurring firms to develop better products with a small physical and environmental footprint.
Last month, I talked about this phenomenon in the desktop PC market where my new Compaq CQ2009F computer uses approximately 70% less energy than the seven-year old machine it replaced, weighs 70% less (fewer raw material inputs), takes up less space and costs approximately 70% less than the previous machine.
The same forces are at work in other technology markets, including of course the television market. When my bought my last TV (again about seven years ago), I think the only two options were CRT tubes and projection televisions. Both types of sets were large, bulky and heavy. I bought a 20-inch Sony TV on 86th Street in Manhattan, found that the box was too big to fit into the trunk or backseat of a taxi cab and nearly gave myself a hernia trying to carry the box 8 or 9 blocks to my apartment. The TV weighed nearly 70 lbs.
I’m a value shopper. Last month, I finally decided that prices had fallen far enough that I could justify upgrading to a widescreen 32-inch LCD TV. (I knew that plasma televisions have a reputation as energy hogs, so I didn’t even consider a plasma set. Plenty of other consumers are apparently making the same decision and most manufacturers have already exited the plasma TV market or announced plans to do so.)
Vizio's energy-efficient VO320E 32-inch LCD TV
After loads of research (much of it conducted with the help of the shopping website dealnews.com), I settled on the Vizio VO320E 32-inch LCD TDTV with Eco HD Performance. What drove my decision:
1) Performance – I had seen Vizio TVs in plenty of hotel rooms and figured that the sets must be at least somewhat durable for hotels to install them in rooms where they would get heavy usage. The technical specs (primarily contrast ratio, brightness, pixel response time and viewing angles) all looked pretty good.
2) Reputation – Other Vizio TVs had generally good reviews – or at least no worse reviews than many of the other brands in the market. Vizio also rose from obscurity to become the #1 selling brand of flat-panel HDTVs in North America in just a couple of years. I figured the company must be doing something right to see that kind of growth.
3) Price – Purchasing the TV through Dell’s website and using some coupon codes highlighted by dealnews.com, I was able to buy the TV for under $400 (including tax and free shipping). That seemed like an excellent price for a 32-inch LCD TV with the specs and reputation of this Vizio.
4) Eco Factors – The Vizio VO320E is branded as an “Eco HD” television. Vizio’s website says taht the VO320E consumes less energy than traditional HDTVs and exceeds current Energy Star Guidelines by at least 15%. The tech specs declare that the VO320E should use an average of 84.5 watts when operational and just 0.33 watts in stand-by mode. For the sake of comparison, I checked the posted specs for a variety of other 32-inch TVs:
Now I did not have a chance to verify power consumption on all these other TVs with my handy Kill-a-Watt meter, but I did test the Vizio VO320E and found that it came pretty close to its claimed power consumption, generally drawing around 86 or 87 watts of electricity when in use. Watching analog or digital channels did not seem to make any difference in terms of power consumption.
I also liked the fact that the Vizio VO320E was lighter than many of the other 32-inch TVs I considered. The 32-inch Sony Bravia, for example, weighs approximately 28 lbs when mounted on its base pedestal. For comparison, the VO320E on its stand weighs just 22.5 lbs – nearly 20% less. Less weight equals less raw materials, which should generally mean a smaller environmental footprint. (Note that this calculation is really just educated guesswork since Company A could theoretically extract more raw materials and produce more plastic in a more eco-friendly manner than Company B, but in the absence of details on extraction and production methods, weight seems like a reasonable factor to consider when calculating the environmental impact of household machines.
- Unfortunately, I no longer have the receipt for my old 20-inch CRT TV, but I’m fairly confident that the TV cost somewhere north of $500 when I purchased it back in late 2001 or early 2002. That makes the Vizio at least 20% less expensive for a television that weighs almost 70% less, is almost 80% thinner and provides a screen more than twice as large (as calculated by square centimeters) compared to the old TV. That certainly sounds like remarkable progress.
- LCD manufacturers are making remarkable strides in terms of power consumption. As measured in my original Kill-a-Watt review last year, the 20-inch Sony CRT required approximately 70-watts of power consumption. The new Vizio delivers a much brighter, clearer and more than twice as large image with only 25% more power. And the amount of electricity needed to power a flat-panel TV will surely fall further if history is any guide. Consider Vizio’s VX32L LCD HDTV launched in 2007. That earlier generation Vizio LCD TV weighed 32 lbs (42% more than the VO320E) and had an average 180-watt power consumption! Take a minute to consider that fact – in just two years, Vizio lowered the power consumption on its 32-inch LCD TV sets more than 50%. If the trend continues, the latest generation 32-inch sets sold in 2011 will need only around 40 watts of power. A 2013 LCD TV will need only 20 watts of power and so forth. If we can achieve similar reductions in the energy needs of other household appliances, imagine the cumulative effect on the energy needs of the our nation and other nations around the world.
On the other hand…
- It’s great to highlight the latest and most energy-efficient appliances and electronics, but do better/smaller gadgets solve our environmental problems or contribute to them? Consider that nothing was truly wrong with my old Sony CRT TV. The television still worked fine. In an age where television technology had stagnated, I (and millions of other consumers) would probably have kept our CRT televisions for another 10 or 20 years. My parents kept televisions for decades. The calculation is complicated by the fact that my new TV may be more efficient than my old TV (it certainly uses less energy than a 32-inch CRT), but in absolute terms it actually increased my energy consumption a little bit.
- To extrapolate on this last point, Good Clean Tech recently ran a story about a French report suggesting that any efficiency gains in electronics have been outweighed by skyrocketing demand. The argument goes something like this – each new PC may be more energy efficient, but if falling prices and increasing functionality prompt a family to upgrade from one family computer to four computers (one for each famly member), energy usage will actually go up.
How can consumers who are concerned about the environment deal with this challenge? It sounds obvious, but I think all of us simply need to consider the environmental impact of each purchase decision. Are you purchasing a new television because it will significantly enhance your quality of life or simply because you want the latest toy? Manufacturers are experts at stoking consumer wants and getting us excited about the latest bells-and-whistles on their gadgets. But is it worth going into debt or stressing the environment simply to keep up with the Gateses?
In our household, we watch a lot of movies on DVD and the new TV has made a huge improvement in this entertainment experience for only a small increase in energy usage. It’s slim size has also made our one-bedroom NYC apartment seem a lot more spacious. So it’s had a major impact on our lives, but I can’t see upgrading to a larger or slimmer TV anytime soon unless the manufacturers had made another major improvement in energy efficiency – saying reducing the energy usage to just 20 watts without losing performance. (Of course, if efficiency improvements continue apace, we could reach that point in just another few years.)
Ultimately, I believe most people do want to reduce our impact on the environment. Simply by taking the time to consider environmental factors like energy consumption in our purchase decisions we can perhaps accelerate the move toward greater energy efficiency and lower overall energy usage.
Final thoughts – I haven’t spent much time talking specifically about the Vizio VO320E’s performance in this rather long review, but overall I’m extremely pleased. The picture is bright and beautiful – especially on digital HD channels. The menus are easy to use and the TV’s scan feature found us several channels we could not access before. I only have three quibbles:
1. The remote control started acting very wacky on the first day of usage. Essentially, it started communicating with my stereo (turning it on and off) and refusing to communicate with the TV. After 10 nerve-wracking minutes, I finally managed to get the TV and remote talking to each other again. I’m still not sure what went wrong, so I’m a bit anxious at the thought it might happen again.
2. The VO320E lacks a headphone jack. As mentioned, I share a one-bedroom apartment and office with my spouse. Sometimes one of us wants to watch TV while the other works. Our old TV made this easy with a headphone jack right on the front panel. The Vizio VO320E has no headphone jack. Apparently, Vizio’s consumer research indicates that most people don’t want this feature and don’t care about it, so Vizio eliminated it to save money. I do appreciate the good value of the Vizio set, but found the headset jack’s absence extremely annoying. Ultimately, I was able to find a cable (RCA input to female headphone jack) at J&R that allowed me to connect the headphones, but encountered another problem when the volume controls on the TV had no impact on the uncomfortably loud sound coming through the headset. Fortunately, I had a backup pair of headphones with an in-line volume control on the headset wire. With this ad-hoc setup, we are able to watch TV and use the headphones, but it isn’t very customer friendly.
3) The third quibble is the most annoying for me. Most television manufacturers insist upon putting obnoxiously large and prominent versions of their logo and name on the front of their television sets. Personally, I can’t imagine why they think that viewers want to be distracted from their shows by obtrusive set logos. I’d prefer a tiny logo/name in the same color as the rest of the set. In any case, Vizio has outdone their competitors in the Logo Distraction wars by making their logo glow – orange when the set is off and white when the TV is on. I have to admit that the soft orange glow doesn’t really bother me when the set is off. It wastes a little bit of power (which is annoying from an eco perspective), but I guess it also helps keep me from bumping into the set if I get out of bed in the middle of the night. On the other hand, having a glowing white logo below an active screen seems just totally idiotic.
I’m not the only one bothered by the glowing logo. Plenty of other online reviewers have complained and message boards are filled with Vizio owners asking if there’s any way to turn off the glowing logo. (Apparently there isn’t.)
In any case, there is an easy way to solve the problem – just go out to Staples or whichever office supply shop you like and buy some black card stock paper. Cut a little rectangle just large enough to completely cover the Vizio logo and tape it to the frame of the TV. If you pick your card stock carefully, the paper will be unobtrusive by day and invisible when watching the TV in a dark room. Again, this problem was not insurmountable, but forcing the customer to come up with an inventive solution to a unnecessary problem is just stupid from a design standpoint. At the very least, Vizio should give consumers a menu option to turn off the glowing logo. (I’d make the ‘off’ setting into the default option, but that’s just me…)
Would I recommend the Vizio VO320E to a friend?
Yes. I still think this is a great TV for the price with nice eco-friendly qualities and efficiencies. I’d like to see Vizio address some of the flaws listed above, but in the meantime I’ve got plenty of leftover black card stock if you need it.
Where to buy:
Vizio’s website directs shoppers to Walmart.com where the VO320E is on sale for $398.