The coming shift to digital from analog TV doesn't need to be an anti-environmental boondoggle for the consumer-electronics industry.
The Federal Communications Commission is changing our national television transmission next year from an analog signal to a digital one, saying the move will free up airwaves for police and fire transmissions.
The home-entertainment industry, meanwhile, is creating a lot of ballyhoo around the transition to hawk new products and services.
The Consumer Electronics Association released a consumer survey back in December, showing that 50% of U.S. households now own a digital television. The association self-servingly predicts that 32 million more digital TVs will ship this year and estimates that 79% of those will be high-definition. A slowing economy, of course, could quickly take the rosy tinge off of those very optimistic statistics.Even so, that's potentially a lot of older televisions being retired in a short time. The EPA says that the cathode ray tubes in conventional TVs contain enough lead to classify them as hazardous waste. It's worth putting some thought into whether to replace your old set and how to do so responsibly. And if you do upgrade, remember that getting rid of the old one in an eco-sensitive way requires more care than simply carting it to the curb. Here are some things to consider on the eve of the digital revolution: You don't actually have to replace your television. If you are one of the 58% of television owners who have subscription television, you have no worries. Cable providers such as Time Warner (TWX - Get Report) and Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) already deliver their programming via a digital signal. Satellite services like the Dish Network (DISH - Get Report) and Directv (DTV - Get Report) do, too. If you don't do cable, you can buy a digital converter box at stores like Best Buy (BBY - Get Report) and Circuit City (CC) for between $40 and $70. The Department of Commerce is even offering $40 coupons to mostly defray that cost. If you do indulge in a fabulous new TV you can do it in an eco-friendly way by paying attention to energy efficiency and other details. Start by taking the Sierra Club's Green Screen quiz, a quick 10-question exercise that will tell you all kinds of things you didn't know about television technology and energy consumption. LCD screens are the most energy-efficient, for example, but that doesn't mean that all upgrades to LCDs are eco-friendly. If you trade in a modest 20-inch cathode-ray TV for a whopping 42-inch flat screen, it's the equivalent of upgrading from a conventional sedan to a Hybrid SUV: While your choice might be efficient for its size, you're still using more energy than you were before. Energy Star provides buying guidelines and lists the TVs that meet its standards, which include using 30% less energy than regular TVs. If you want to go further, MyGreenElectronics lists televisions by brand and model number and points out their green credentials, such as energy efficiency, resource conservation, use of recyclable materials or the reduced use of hazardous materials. After buying your new TV, try to recycle your old set. Television makers lag computer companies in setting up programs to take back their own goods. But programs are slowly coming online. Sony (SNE - Get Report) will take back its electronics including TVs, via a program is has with Waste Management (WMI). It seems to be a work in progress. MyGreenElectronics had a more exhaustive list of drop-off locations than Sony's own Web site. Sharp, Panasonic and Toshiba have formed a recycling joint venture that at the moment recycles televisions in Minnesota. The venture is supposed to expand over this year and next to include Connecticut, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Royal Philips Electronics (PHG - Get Report) is one of several TV makers that are still recycling holdouts, a stance Greenpeace drew attention at the end of March, when it posted a giant robot made from electronic trash outside of the Dutch company's shareholder meeting. Other groups are picking up some of the manufacturers' slack. Office Depot (ODP - Get Report) sells recycling boxes for $5 to $15 that you can fill with electronics including TVs and bring to your local store outlet. And several environmental and anti-waste Web sites can help you find a free recycling program near you, including Earth911, the National Center for Electronics Recycling and the Electronics Takeback Coalition, which makes recyclers take a pledge of environmental responsibility. One of the advantages of digital TV is, of course, a cleaner picture with sharper color. With just a little responsible consumerism you'll be able to clearly see the green in yours.