According to The Guardian, an independent lab claims to have found evidence that some Samsung TVs use software designed to cheat energy efficiency tests. The EU Commission will launch an investigation into the matter.
Less energy efficient in real lift
ComplianTV, an EU-funded laboratory, has found inconsistencies. The test has not been published but the EU and The Guardian have seen the documents that were presented at a conference Tuesday. The tests showed consistently lower energy consumption on Samsung TVs in the lab compared to real life.
ComplianTV believes that Samsung’s "motion lighting" function, designed to automatically adjust the screen brightness depending on the type of content and ambient light in the environment, is responsible for gaming the tests. The energy consumption level on LCDs is determined by the level of backlight intensity; when backlight intensity is reduced energy consumption falls.
The lab used a standardized test sequence, developed by IEC, consisting of video clips from DVDs, TV channels and TV programs. TV manufacturers are familiar with the IEC test. When the lab switched to a test sequence of real life video, energy consumption rose.
ComplianTV has been aware of the inconsistencies since February and has conducted more tests since then. In February, they wrote: - “The laboratories observed different TV behaviours during the measurements and this raised the possibility of the TV’s detecting a test procedure and adapting their power consumption accordingly. Such phenomenon was not proven within the ComplianTV tests, but some tested TVs gave the impression that they detected a test situation.”
To be clear, Samsung is not accused of doing anything illegal but several parties believe that EU’s test procedure is too lax and generous, which is why manufacturers can game it.
- “Samsung is meeting the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law,” said Rudolf Heinz, project manager at ComplianTV to The Guardian.
EU wants to ban “defeat devices”
The European Commission has already promised to ban "defeat devices"; products with manipulation mechanisms. They will initiate a study of TVs and other consumer products.
"televisions that clearly recognise the standard film (IEC) used for testing"
A few years ago, EU introduced its so-called "TV ecodesign regulations", which are designed to reduce TVs’ energy consumption levels. The regulation also made it difficult to continue selling plasma TVs.
- “The commission is proposing specific text to clarify that [the use of defeat devices] is illegal and that products found to behave differently under test conditions cannot be considered compliant,” a spokesperson said. - “The commission will investigate whether this practice is used in other product sectors.”
Other EU states have made the EU commission aware of the same problem, including Sweden. The Swedish Energy Agency's Testing lab has found similar discrepancies in the past.
- “The Swedish Energy Agency’s Testlab has come across televisions that clearly recognise the standard film (IEC) used for testing,” said a letter presented to The Guardian. - “These displays immediately lower their energy use by adjusting the brightness of the display when the standard film is being run. This is a way of avoiding the market surveillance authorities and should be addressed by the commission.”
Three years ago, the UK made the EU Commission aware that certain TVs came with pre-installed software designed to cheat the tests.
National Resources Defense Council in the US has found similar problems. They called it “a curious anomaly with one manufacturer’s TV’s”.
TVs are estimated to account for 10% of an average European household’s energy consumption.
Samsung denies cheating
Samsung denies cheating. They claim that “motion lighting” also reduces energy consumption in real life.
“There is no comparison [between motion lighting and VW defeat devices],” said a Samsung spokesperson to The Guardian. “This is not a setting that only activates during compliance testing. On the contrary, it is an ‘out of the box’ setting, which reduces power whenever video motion is detected. Not only that, the content used for testing energy consumption has been designed by the international electrotechnical commission to best model actual average picture level internationally.”