NEWS: Dixons urges manufacturers to abolish standby mode on electrical goods

Demands by Dixons for consumer electronics manufacturers to phase out the standby function on their products as part of the retailer's green initiative have sparked controversy among specialist hi-fi and AV firms.

Dixons Group chief executive John Clare has spearheaded the campaign, saying: "We must work with our suppliers to offer more energy-efficient products, phase out, where possible, the standby function on electrical products and provide energy efficiency information to users."

The Government estimates that electrical devices left on standby use 7TWh of energy and emit nearly 800,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

However, the initiative has drawn criticism from some specialist consumer electronics companies. Peter Bartlett, owner of Cyrus Audio, says: "My take on this is that specialist manufacturers (cars, audio, wine etc) sometimes find it difficult to justify anything but perfect efficiency to the Green lobby.

"Our customers should not be made to feel guilty about using the equivalent of a 40 watt light bulb to keep their system sounding good. Specialist audio is about adding to the positive quality of the short hours we have to relax in our busy lives, so don't make consumers feel guilty because it sounds better if it's on standby trickling power through the critical audio stages.

"While the world's politicos work to balance the cynical headline with the need to care for our environment, those of us who are driven to be 'better' have to think before we make rash statements like 'get rid of standby'.

"As the owner of Cyrus Audio, I am personally very keen we embrace our environmental responsibilities. Our products are better made, so they last much longer and this has to be recognised when comparing our components with the quick-to-landfill stuff sold by the retail sheds.

"From a mass production perspective, Switch Mode power supplies seem promising because of the power efficiency promised, but they can sound very limited when used in audio products of true subtlety. So should we be banned from using less efficient but better sounding supplies based on superior audio technologies? I don't think the world is ready to make that call just yet, if ever."

Steve Harris, chairman of the British Federation of Audio, points out that if the standby function was removed on hi-fi and AV systems, then many consumers might leave them on all the time, which would consume even more power. "Ultimately, we need to reduce the power used in standby mode," he says.

This is the approach being used by Denon, as UK product marketing manager Roger Batchelor explains: "We have already started to implement low-level power consumption in standby with our D-F102DAB hi-fi system, which consumes just 0.1W in standby. Most similar products typically consume 1-3 watts in standby," he says.

But, adds Batchelor, "integrated systems require the standby mode in order for the timer on/off function to operate for the radio tuner and, if required, for recording on to an optional recording device."

Cyrus's Peter Bartlett agrees that reducing power consumption in standby is desirable, but may not be as straightforward as it seems: "As we develop new models we are introducing control systems that use less than 1 watt of power when switched into standby. This is not simple as we want to preserve audio performance so not every product can achieve this now, but it can be possible in many models."

In a separate development, two inventors, Peter Ensinger and David Baker have developed a power-saving device that enables a TV to be turned on from cold using the remote control. The Standby Saver featured on the BBC's Dragon's Den programme, and has secured £100,000 investment from the judges.

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Andy Clough

Andy is Global Brand Director of What Hi-Fi? and has been a technology journalist for 30 years. During that time he has covered everything from VHS and Betamax, MiniDisc and DCC to CDi, Laserdisc and 3D TV, and any number of other formats that have come and gone. He loves nothing better than a good old format war. Andy edited several hi-fi and home cinema magazines before relaunching in 2008 and helping turn it into the global success it is today. When not listening to music or watching TV, he spends far too much of his time reading about cars he can't afford to buy.