May your TV be merry ... but not too bright

Looking for a new TV for a holiday gift or for the new year? Don't give yourself -- or the recipient of this largesse -- a wallop in the monthly electric bill as well.  TVs use a lot of energy, but you can lessen the dose by buying one that is more efficient.

The government's Energy Star website has lots of hints. (Click on home electronics, then televisions.) But perhaps the simplest guide is one put out by the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a blog post, electronics expert Noah Horowitz has a click-on guide showing which TVs meet the more stringent energy requirements. These aren't going into effect until May 2010, but he lists all the models that meet those future standards now.

The Energy Star website also has information about other home electronics, including set-top boxes, audio equipment and more. By the way, the EPA has just come out with new requirements for audio/video products, including: home-theater-in-a-box, audio amplifiers, AV receivers, shelf systems, DVD players, Blu Ray players, and docking stations that offer audio amplification or optical disc drive functions..

Overall, those that meet the new standards will be 60 percent more efficient than conventional models. They must consume less power when they are on and must power down automatically after a period of inactivity, using only small amounts of power to maintain settings and other features.

The new requirements for audio/video products that were previously included in the Energy Star program won't go into effect until July 30, 2010. But for products previously excluded from Energy Star, such as commercial AV products and docking stations, the new requirements became effective in mid-November.

The short version of all this: Whatever you buy, if it uses electricity, look for the most efficient model available.