Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So California just banned power hungry HDTVs?

It would appear that our famous California Energy Commission has placed new & sharp limits on HDTV power consumption. These rules go into effect in 2011, so the change is not eminent. The rules govern power consumption for all HDTVs 58 inches and smaller. The new rules specify hard caps for how much wattage an HDTV at any given size can consume. For instance, in the year 2011, 42 inch HDTVs cannot exceed 183 watts. In 2013, 42s will be cut down lower to 116 watts.

What is the impact of this supra-legislative action? About 75% of all HDTVs currently on the market will meet the 2011 requirements. That is an easy jump. Only about 21% of the 1,400 known HDTV models will be vendible in 2013. About 300 of our current HDTVs will be able to remain on the market about 4 years from now.

The industry's response was to scream. They declared that this action would force the industry to cut image quality and features. Oh really? Some of your best quality models actually meet the current spec. For instance, my 55inch Luxia 7000 meets the spec. My intended, the LaserVue, would not be impacted at all by this spec. Even the power-hog 60 inch Panasonic Kuro would be vendible in 2013. By all accounts, these three HDTVs belong at the top of the heap in terms of quality.

So what in the devil are the HDTV vendors crying about? Let us do a more logical and rational assessment of the situation.

  1. If you want to make a smaller HDTV (smaller than 58 inches) you better make sure that it is based on the very latest efficient technology.
  2. This will raise the price.
  3. You better make sure it is not bloated with stupid features, such as an integrated DVD player.
  4. This will lower the price, and produce more focused products.
  5. Both facts will enhance the quality of the HDTV, not reduce it.
  6. Old stock will have to liquidated at any price necessary to clear it.
  7. This would put smaller and worse quality technology in the hands of precisely the people who can least afford to foot the power bill: The poor!
  8. The poor will gladly buy these liquidation units anyway, completely oblivious of the cost of ownership
  9. You can make the case that this is rational policy, as it has several coherent effects. It forces bad stock off the market. It makes future stock better. This helps both the poor and the middle class. It prevents Cali from needing to build more power infrastructure. It will allow the rich to continue doing anything they like.
  10. That is how you define a rational policy in governmental terms.
So why are HDTV companies crying? Nobody likes supra-legislative bodies. Nobody likes it when an unelected group steps hard on your neck. There are a lot of lame and crappy HDTVs that will be flat-cold killed by this action. Low-power features such as LED back-lighting will have to become the norm. Older and inferior tech will be killed outright.

Basically, the industry doesn't like the fact that they will have to kill (early in their minds) a series of low cost HDTVs that they think are perfectly fine machines. They don't like the fact that they will have to clear them from the market during 2010, and probably at painfully low prices. They don't like the fact that they won't be allowed to bilk old architecture for a bit more profit in the low-end market. All of this adds up to lower margins or higher prices or both for the next several years.

One technology is going to get hit hard by these changes: Plasma. One company in particular has much to loose: Panasonic. Although Panasonic has made strides in reducing Plasma power consumption over the past two years, Plasma still consumes a lot more wattage than LaserVue or LED LCD.

So here is how we would expect this legislation to play out.
  1. LCD vendors will have to complete the transition to LED back lighting, and limit stupid features. Old stock will have to be purged soon. Expect fire sales soon.
  2. DLP & Laser vendors can keep on doing whatever the hell they want, as long as it is bigger than 58 inches. Since both are pretty power efficient, I would not expect 56 inch models to be harmed by this move.
  3. Plasma is going to get hammered. Expect small plasmas to disappear from the market. Expect plasma to get larger than 58 inches.
If I were to evaluate this as a partisan fan of DLP and LaserVue, I would be pleased. This move will place the two competitor technologies under great stress. It will leave DLP and LaserVue alone. Eventually, it will flush Plasma in our direction (really big screens), but this will not be soon.