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The new deal will reportedly save $1 billion in energy costs annually for over 90 million American homes

Cable and satellite television boxes are getting a 10 to 45 percent boost in energy efficiency thanks to a new agreement.

According to, the new agreement was made between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Appliance Standard Awareness Project, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The new deal will reportedly save $1 billion in energy costs annually for over 90 million American homes. The energy saved will be enough to power 700,000 homes. 

This latest agreement is expected to improve efficiency on the TV boxes by 10 to 45 percent over the next three years. The amount of energy efficiency improvement will depend on what type of box you have. 
By 2017, about 90 percent of American homes with set-top boxes will work on par with the most energy efficient boxes on the market today.

“These energy efficiency standards reflect a collaborative approach among the Energy Department, the pay-TV industry and energy efficiency groups – building on more than three decades of common-sense efficiency standards that are saving American families and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “The set-top box efficiency standards will save families money by saving energy, while delivering high quality appliances for consumers that keep pace with technological innovation.”

Making set-top boxes more efficient won't require any new regulations; they'll simply be voluntary. 

Cable and satellite providers like Verizon, Comcast and Dish Network are already onboard with the new deal. 

This is a welcomed deal, as a 2011 study measured the extent to which cable boxes and DVRs are energy efficient in U.S. home, and the results weren't looking good. According to the study, which was conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, there were 160 million set-top boxes in the U.S. at the time and they consumed $3 billion in electricity per year (66 percent of this power is drained when no one is even using it). Also, one high definition cable box and one high definition DVR use about 446 kilowatt-hours per year, which is 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot refrigerator that is energy efficient. 

These boxes run 24 hours per day, even when they're not being used. The study found that add-on DVR's use an additional 40 percent more power than the set-top box. 


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Who cares?
By CaedenV on 12/24/2013 12:46:58 PM , Rating: 2
I do not mean to belittle this agreement, but what we are talking about is on average $11 per year in power savings. Even with the huge volume of devices we are talking about powering 700,000 homes powered in a market of 132,000,000 US households, so we are talking about a .5% decrease in household electrical usage... which is a very small portion of overall power usage when you factor in business and industrial usage.

And for that matter, only a 10-45% decrease in power usage? Really? How hard would it be to automatically put the box in a low power mode when the TV is turned off, only to turn part of the system on when recording a show? That single change could lower electrical usage a lot more than 10-45% while still using the same inefficient parts and processors.

I am all for efficiency, but this is so insignificant! My wife's last PC idled at ~60W, and when in active use was using ~200W, and as she is untrainable about putting the computer to sleep it was pretty much always on. Her new computer is now almost a year old and has a maximum power usage of ~100W, and an active idle that is somewhere around 20W... again with very little sleep time. If we could get people to make similar changes to their desktop and laptop systems then we would be talking about significant power savings across the board, and much more than an $11/year savings on their utilities. Her current PC is running on a crappy old PSU that came with the case, and due to noise considerations we are going to replace it with a modern 80+gold or platinum PSU which will further decrease power usage.
We have a 20 year old side-by-side fridge that we are going to replace soon (finally!), and that is expected to save us some $20-30 per month in electric usage (down to a cost of a mere $6/mo). We are talking about saving ~$250-350 per year. Updating to modern energy-star appliances is still one of the biggest things that people can to do save power and lower utilities, because there are a ton of people out there using crappy old refrigerators either as their main or secondary fridge in the house.
I use to work in low income apartment housing, and do you know how many low income apartment units use crappy old 20-30 year old window units? It is pretty much all of them. And when they die then there is a huge aftermarket of similar refurbished crappy 20 year old AC units to choose from for dirt cheap, rather than a newer more efficient system. A few incentives for apartment owners to buy new units rather than refurbished ones would go a long way towards lowering the overall US electric bill.

I guess what I am trying to say is that there are tons of technological upgrades which could cut US household power usage a lot more than a bunch of stupid cable boxes. This agreement is less than useless.

RE: Who cares?
By Spuke on 12/24/2013 3:15:51 PM , Rating: 2
This agreement is less than useless.
Well said. Great points!

RE: Who cares?
By FaaR on 12/24/2013 3:58:28 PM , Rating: 2
It's not only about saving $11 per household per year (which, for the owner of the household is entirely inconsequential), it's (amongst other things) about not having to build more power plants to run devices that we don't really need in the first place, and obviously use more electricity than they need to, with all the environmental impacts more powerplants would have.

This idea that breaking everything down into $11 per household per year, and then arguing it doesn't matter, or saying it's stupid to care about so little money, it's completely fallacial, because add a little here - which doesn't matter - and a little there which also doesn't matter, and then some more here, there, everywhere, and all of a sudden it isn't little anymore. Straw that broke the camel's back and all of that, you know.

Also, as soon as we're talking tax hikes then suddenly the sky is friggin falling even if it's just a small amount spread out over an entire year. So yeah. There went that argument.

Not everything can be measured in dollars and cents. Air pollution from coal powerplants for example can't be measured in dollars and cents. Strip mining devastation from coal mining can't be measured in dollars and cents. Well, you could assign a number to it, but it wouldn't make sense, because throwing money at a problem like that can't fix it. Once you've wrecked the environment it's gonna stay wrecked, until you stop wrecking it more.

RE: Who cares?
By Solandri on 12/25/2013 1:03:44 AM , Rating: 2
I do not mean to belittle this agreement, but what we are talking about is on average $11 per year in power savings. Even with the huge volume of devices we are talking about powering 700,000 homes powered in a market of 132,000,000 US households, so we are talking about a .5% decrease in household electrical usage...

That's the wrong comparison. If the average STB is used for 3 years, you'll save $33 over its lifetime. If the manufacturing cost to implement these energy efficiency improvements is less than $33, then it's a good program.

As I understand it, most of the losses come from (1) inefficient AC adapters (whether internal or external), and (2) power-hungry components or lack of power saving modes. Both of these can be mitigated for a few extra dollars. But manufacturers tend to build the STBs with the power-wasting components because they compete based on price, and they only see the manufacturing cost of the device. It's the buyer who bears the electricity costs.

Add in the cable company as the middleman, and there's zero feedback from the eventual STB owner back to the manufacturer to lower electricity consumption. I favor a government light on business regulations, but this is clearly a situation where regulation is needed due to the regular feedback loop of market forces being broken.

How hard would it be to automatically put the box in a low power mode when the TV is turned off, only to turn part of the system on when recording a show? That single change could lower electrical usage a lot more than 10-45% while still using the same inefficient parts and processors.

I'm pretty sure that's the goal - to get every STB to do that.

RE: Who cares?
By Lord 666 on 12/25/2013 1:14:40 AM , Rating: 2
Think the ultimate goal is to eliminate the dedicated STB and bring on the multipurpose Xbox One type devices.

RE: Who cares?
By Reclaimer77 on 12/26/2013 10:03:10 AM , Rating: 2
I favor a government light on business regulations, but this is clearly a situation where regulation is needed due to the regular feedback loop of market forces being broken.

First off I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays.

Now then; this kind of statement drives me nuts to be honest. If you think cable box power consumption is a federal issue, you clearly do NOT favor a Government "light" on regulations.

You know what? I'm getting sick and tired of a Government who recklessly disregards it's Constitutional obligations making increasingly intrusive demands on it's people and businesses.

We're talking a few dollars a year here, people don't care. Market forces aren't being "broken", people just don't care about a few dollars a year in electric costs. If they did, they would put their A\V equipment on a power strip and turn it off when not in use.

Or hell, they would put the real vampire in their homes on a timer. I speak of the electric water heater, which kicks on 6-8 times a day regardless of you being home and using hot water or not. And they use a hell of a lot more power than a DVR.

But why not? Because people don't care. And if the people paying the power bill don't care, why should the goddamned Government?

Just...just stop!

RE: Who cares?
By troysavary on 12/26/2013 5:15:59 PM , Rating: 2
If the hot water heater is kicking in, it is because the water has dropped below the preset temp. Putting it on a timer would just mean that when it does come back on, the water would just be farther from that preset temp and would have to run longer to get it back to that temp, resulting in pretty much the same energy usage. Lowering the temperature of your water heater will go a lot farther towards reducing the energy usage than any timer. They tend to be set at ridiculously high temperatures by default. Only if you are planning to be away for a significant amount of time would this help.

RE: Who cares?
By CharonPDX on 12/25/2013 6:21:52 PM , Rating: 2
All fairly valid points - but this is something that was a voluntary agreement between government and industry, that doesn't require any direct input from individual users. The set-top-box industry just agrees to make newer models more energy efficient, and as users roll over to new STBs, they'll get the efficiency.

Yes, the individual energy improvements aren't huge, but taken together, it is still a decent chunk. Not the same as some other changes, but nothing to scoff at, either. Every little bit helps.

As for the PC for your wife you suggest - this is basically doing that, only with almost NO decision-making needed by the end user. (By the way, for your wife, just set it to sleep automatically after 30 minutes, with wake-on-mouse-or-keyboard. Since it's a fairly new computer, she likely won't even notice the wake-up time...)

By Cheesew1z69 on 12/24/2013 11:40:23 AM , Rating: 2
That's quite a big margin.

RE: 10-45?
By Spuke on 12/24/2013 11:57:08 AM , Rating: 3
Some are already pretty energy efficient so the increase won't be as large.

RE: 10-45?
By sorry dog on 12/24/2013 5:28:25 PM , Rating: 2
Some maybe.... but most of the boxes make by Motorola and SA are power pigs and but ugly space pigs as well....and Moto and SA probably cover 90% of the market for cable co boxes.

This will be welcome change but I'm not holding my breath since the national CableCo I used to work for would keep throwing boxes (not really an exaggeration) into customer homes for years and years until roach feces and cigarette smoke sludge buildup would finally smoke the power supplies. I knew a few techs who would intentionally kill boxes beyond repair when nobody was looking since the offending box would cause 8,10,12 or more trouble calls. I don't know much about how Sat providers are, bbt just saying that any new stuff will take quite a while to filter into mainstream considering how cheap most MSO's are about customer equipment.

RE: 10-45?
By fic2 on 12/24/2013 6:11:33 PM , Rating: 2
While I agree with the 2nd part of your statement, I don't really agree with your first.
Most of the NEW boxes (4-5 years) made by Arris (bought Motorola) and Cisco (bought SA) use less than 35W.
Most of them are also Energy Star compliant and when not in use or "off" the will spin down the HD and turn off tuners that aren't being used and lower the cpu clock.
But the box in my home was built 10+ years ago and is an energy pig. Cable companies won't take a box out of service until it is absolutely dead and can't make them any money.

I am not sure what this buys anybody since the boxes were being pushed that way anyway by the cable companies.

By Dr of crap on 12/24/2013 12:47:43 PM , Rating: 2
So even though the cable subscription rate is falling lets make the boxes better. Ok, nothing really wrong with that, might as well use less if you can.

How about giving everyone a reduction on a new TV as well?

Just bought a new 40" TV and the govt sticker on the front, the ones that are on everything stating the yearly energy usage, states that TV uses $11 a year!! Remember those energy hogs the plasma TVs?? Or how about all the tube TVs still out there. The govt could do a cash for you old TV program. Think of ALL that energy saved!!!!!!

By Flunk on 12/24/2013 1:00:39 PM , Rating: 2
They probably won't bother, most people have ditched their tube TVs at this point and Plasmas have a limited service life (because the colors fade). The least power-efficient LCD around still isn't drawing that much power.

By Philippine Mango on 12/26/2013 1:29:10 AM , Rating: 2
I've seen people with 10 year old Plasma TVs still in use in their houses. CRT tvs are actually significantly more power efficient than garbage plasma televisions. As for inefficient LCD tvs, the least inefficient LCD tvs are pretty much on par with Plasma Televisions in power consumption, like 4-500 watts. I should know, I have a few energy guzzling TVs in my house.

Natural course?
By CaedenV on 12/24/2013 1:24:50 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure why it bothers me so much that the government would waste it's time on an agreement like this, but I can't seem to get off of it.

The government does not need to get involved in this. All that needs to be done is for cable providers to realize that lower cost devices can be made much smaller and cheaper than their current over-sized counterparts.

A modern cable box is roughly the size of a small VCR with a plastic front plate, a metal chasis, a large internal PSU, and an array of heat-sinks to cool the processors and a few other parts.

If cable providers wanted to go cheap then they could make cable boxes essentially out of cheap smartphone parts... but without all of the expensive bits of the screen, battery, and 3D capable GPU. There would be little to no need for any metal in the construction save for a bit of foil to act as a heat spreader and small wiring, and the PSU could be replaced with a wall-wart similar to the ones used by other such low power devices. All the connectors it would have would be power, cable, and HDMI. If it needs an internet connection then throw in a $0.05 wifi adapter. No more clock on front, just a few indicator lights and an OSD just like any other modern device.

Much less metal usage, much smaller power supply, much simpler construction, much cheaper shipping per unit; It all adds up to a much cheaper device to build, while they can still charge their outrageous $5/mo device rental fees for these $20 devices. They would end up saving a lot more than 10-45% in power usage. They could then run adds about being 'green' and saving enough power to run 1 million US households because of their efforts. It is pretty much all up-sides for them to do it, it would just require a little bit of effort and change in an industry that is averse to both.

RE: Natural course?
By woody1 on 12/25/2013 3:29:51 PM , Rating: 2
Obviously, you have the mistaken idea that a libertarian approach is the solution to all problems. Two possible scenarios here:
1. It's in the interest of the cable tv oompanies and they would do it anyway. One question here is if this is the case, why aren't they already making them more efficient?

2. The cable tv companies haven't given it much priority and also, they're not paying for the electricity, so they don't care.

Either of these could be true. Whichever is the case, I doubt that it cost very much for the government to study this and make the recommendation, so what does it matter, really?

As far as the total savings being negligible, I think the aggregate savings is pretty significant. And in the bigger scheme of things, if more and more devices in the home were made more efficient, the savings would be quite large.

RE: Natural course?
By troysavary on 12/26/2013 5:18:14 PM , Rating: 2
I have yet to see evidence that the libertarian approach would be worse than current approaches.

holy crap
By kleinma on 12/24/2013 12:01:50 PM , Rating: 5
"Set-Top TV Boxes Set ot Receive 10-45 Percent Improved Energy Efficiency"

too much work to bother even proofreading the headlines now huh?

Shouldn't be hard
By Flunk on 12/24/2013 12:59:01 PM , Rating: 2
Some set-top boxes use 100W+ of electricity and idle at over 10W. So it shouldn't be hard. Everything that the average set top box needs to do could be managed by an SOC like the Snapdragon 800 at less that 5W load and under 1W idle.

They were already working on this anyway, the set top box I recently got from my "cable" company has a power supply rated for 36W so it can't possibly be drawing more than that. Doesn't stop it from recording 8 streams at once. It's nice that power usage is now a priority.

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