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The Natural Resources Defense Council found that these boxes consume $3 billion in electricity per year in the U.S., and 66 percent of this power is drained when no one is even using it

The Natural Resources Defense Council has conducted a study that places the spotlight on how inefficient cable boxes and DVR's are in American homes.

These boxes, which guide cable signals and digital recording capacity into televisions, run at a constant rate and can utilize more power than a new refrigerator or air conditioning unit.

According to the study, there are 160 million set-top boxes in the U.S., and this number is increasing. 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. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council found that these boxes consume $3 billion in electricity per year in the U.S., and 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. 

The study notes that the problem here is that these boxes' hard drives are constantly on, which is a design made by electronics companies and cable/internet providers. There is a way of changing this feature, but these fixes are not being mandated in the U.S., even though these fixes could reduce waiting time and inconvenience associated with these boxes.

"The issue of having more efficient equipment is of interest to us," said Justin Venech, spokesman for Time Warner Cable. "[But] when we purchase the equipment, functionality and cost are the primary considerations."

Some countries in Europe already have boxes that go into standby mode or deep sleep mode when not in use. This reduces energy consumption by 95 percent, and when a cable box is in deep sleep mode, it only takes one or two minutes to reboot. 

"I don't want to use the word 'lazy,' but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them," said Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, of the industry in the U.S.

John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, remembers asking box makers why the hard drives ran even when they're not in use, and the typical answer was, "Nobody asked us to use less."

But now, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to strengthen its Energy Star standards by 2013. Some of today's boxes have obtained the Energy Star seal and do not possess standby or sleep modes. But according to Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the natural resources council, many of these boxes have an on/off button that just dims the clock and doesn't significantly decrease power use. Also, he noted that cable boxes are not designed to be turned on and off entirely, but adjusting the software over a cable could greatly improve energy efficiency. 

As of September 1, average electricity consumption of Energy Star qualified products are to drop to 97 kilowatt hours a year from about 138, and by the middle of 2013, they must decrease to 29 kilowatt hours per year. Cisco says it plans to offer new box models this year that will comply with the new regulations by cutting energy consumption by 25 percent. It will do this by adding a standby mode, but not a sleep mode. 

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By Motoman on 6/27/2011 11:33:21 AM , Rating: 1
It would appear that the boxes we got a few months ago from Dish do have "sleep" modes - since if you don't watch TV for a while, you have to hit a button on the remote to wake the thing up and get it to start showing TV again.

...and I love the morons who say things like "just put all your devices on a powerstrip and turn the strip off!" Right...because it's perfectly sensible to have to re-do your time and date info, possibly many other settings, every time you want to do something. Not to mention the fact you'd have to be thinking at least 10 minutes in advance, since many satellite/cable boxes take a really long time to warm up and get going from a true no-power state.

RE: Derp
By cserwin on 6/27/2011 11:42:34 AM , Rating: 4
That sleep mode is no sleep. I had Dish for 4 years until recently, and the receiver was too hot to keep in my media cabinet. I never put the kill-a-watt on it, but I'd guess it's taking 30 to 40 watts in 'sleep', based on heat.

My brother-in-law has cable, and his receivers cook, too. These things use waaay more power than a decent htpc. Based on my experience, I'd say the study above is plausible.

I agree on the powerstrip, it's no solution. But these guys should be building in proper low-power states, it's pretty inexcusable how much they burn in idle.

RE: Derp
By steven975 on 6/27/2011 12:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
I used my UPS to measure power consumption when my cable box was "on" and "off".

No change. Only unplugging them cuts the power, and they take 20 minutes to boot.

RE: Derp
By Motoman on 6/27/2011 12:05:12 PM , Rating: 1
And actually, I went to the source and looked at the .pdf - they show that over the range of the devices they tested, the difference between "sleep" and "on" is pretty darned negligible. They don't show exactly what devices did what though... while a device may indeed have that "sleep" mode, as noted it probably doesn't do much. Which is probably why it snaps right back to life with no delay...with current designs, my guess is that a more aggressive sleep mode would just make the device take a few minutes to get back up to speed.

RE: Derp
By michael67 on 6/28/2011 3:49:03 AM , Rating: 2
EU regulation is a lot stricter, so don't get it why the US dose not step up?

All electronics in the EU must follow these specs, ore they not allowed to be soled in the EU any more, don't get it that manufacturers that make stuff for both markets don't implement those in US electronics 0_o

consumption from January 07, 2010
Off-mode 1.00W
Standby mode without display 1.00W
Standby mode with display 2.00W

Maximum power consumption from January 07, 2013
Off-mode 0.50W
Standby mode without display 0.50W
Standby mode with display 1.00W

They say pretty soon also PC have to conform to those spec's as most PC use way more power when they are in off mode.
(mine uses a freaking 19W when its off !!!)

And don't know how it is in the US (its bin a wile I have bin there), but everything now a days got a mandatory easy to read energy label, from cars to household appliances, just about everything that uses energy, and I for one do use it.

Last month I got my self a refrigerator, and saw to models I liked, but one was more expensive but "energy class A", ware the other was "Class C", I ask the sales rep in the shop how long it would take to make the price difference back, he calculated it would be 3.5y, so I went whit Class A.

And if you look at the label every idiot can read it its that simple.
And they want to expand the label literately almost everything that uses lots or constant energy.

RE: Derp
By mindless1 on 6/28/2011 7:09:41 PM , Rating: 2
Are you certain you are measuring your PC's off (S5) energy consumption correctly? That is freakishly high, normal value is about 2-8W unless you are also counting all power for speakers, scanner, monitor etc all in sleep mode too.

RE: Derp
By michael67 on 6/29/2011 8:07:40 AM , Rating: 2
Think it has to do with the 1000W PSU that I have, but new laws like these are only good.

Makes every manufacture have a look at the standby/off power usage, and the new chips that come out, properly going to come whit better power-saving options.
Because if not, they are going to miss out of the biggest consumer market in the world, because they not allowed to sell any more in the EU.

RE: Derp
By mindless1 on 7/2/2011 3:37:25 PM , Rating: 2
The PSU wattage shouldn't make a difference. When in logical off mode S5 state the only part of the PSU that outputs is 5VSB, doing so uses under a couple watts except for what any devices in the computer consume off the 5VSB rail.

If your USB ports are operating off that rail then they could be wasting power when the system is otherwise off, but beyond that it tends to only be things with an ability to wake a system like system clock, network adapter, modem (telephone era analog type).

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: Derp
By Samus on 6/27/2011 1:51:56 PM , Rating: 2
You have to use one. Cable companies have gone all-digital and no longer broadcast analoge NTSC channels. Their reluctance to use unencrypted QAM streams leave QAM-compatible tuners built into tuners in the dark as well. Lastly, US-based cable companies hate CableCard as they prefer to lease you equipment to charge a monthly fee and heavily fine you for failing to return it.

It's all a gimick, and ridiculous power consumption is simply a side-effect of having additional devices that aren't even neccessary.

My brand new Comcast cable box uses 45-watts with power on and 14-watts power off according to my Killowatt so perhaps things are improving. However, my Samsung TV uses 56-watts power on and 1-watt power off, so annuallym assuming 2-3 hours of TV a day, my Cable box will cost around 1000 times more money to opperate since both devices spent 95% of their lifetime idle.

RE: Derp
By EricMartello on 6/28/2011 9:29:04 PM , Rating: 2
You do have the option of building an HTPC and using a digital tuner card that supports "cablecard". This will allow your PC to access and tune in on all the channels available to you normally with your STB, but you would sacrifice interactive options like on-demand TV.

I think there is a market for some enterprising company to create third party boxes that retain the functionality of the leased hardware (including on-demand video) while utilizing less power and operating much faster. I cannot understand why the OSD is so slow and laggy with my motorola STB. They should optimize the graphics and ensure that it is near-instantaneous when going through the menus.

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 2:15:54 PM , Rating: 1
I mean good grief people, this is NOT an issue.

Actually, it is an issue when you look at it from the an aggregate consumption perspective at a national level.

Going from their 160 million user figure and 446 kWh/year figure, that would total out to 71.36 billion kWh/year or 195,035 MWh/day. A waste factor of 66% gives you a figure of 129,035 MWh/day.

Now your average coal-fire generator is around 500MWh per unit or about 12000 MWh/day. So Americans are wasting the equivalent output of almost 11 coal-fire generators worth of electricity every day, all year long.

Absolutist retort in 3, 2, 1...

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/11, Rating: 0
RE: Derp
By Solandri on 6/27/2011 3:55:09 PM , Rating: 2
We pay for our power consumption, so it's our choice in what appliances we use.

Unfortunately, that free market mechanism is broken in this case, since the person paying for the electricity is not the person choosing which STB the cable company leases to you.

Since the manufacturer and cable company aren't the ones paying for the electricity, they will do silly things like forgo power-saving features which cost a few dollars to manufacture, but end up consuming $12/yr of additional electricity. We ran into a similar problem with AC adapters and power supplies (only the manufacturing cost difference there was a few cents to install a diode to shut off the circuit if there's no power draw). The EPA Energy Star certification has helped there.

The free market works most of the time, but this is one of those exceptions where it doesn't.

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 4:08:33 PM , Rating: 3
Cable isn't a necessity, hate to tell you. You CAN live without it or a DVR. The fact is though, people care more about their cable than they do about the $20 or so more a year they pay in power for it. The free market isn't broken here. You can buy a TiVo or other device of your choosing up front, you can choose a different cable package, or none of the above.

The free market works most of the time, but this is one of those exceptions where it doesn't.

How? I'm still not seeing how the free market isn't working here. Or do you just mean, isn't working the way you want it to? Obviously the cable companies are motivated to provide you with a box that costs them as little investment as possible up-front, because they have to buy tens of thousands of them for all their customers. This is an exact example of the free market working.

RE: Derp
By monitorjbl on 6/27/2011 5:13:32 PM , Rating: 1
The free market isn't working the way it should because cheap DVRs and cable boxes are less efficient than they could be (in general). The cable companies are being motivated by market forces in a direction that causes their customers to either not get cable or deal with an inefficient device. You see, the free market theory assumes a lot about the average consumer in any particular space when it predicts that pretty much any problem can be solved by its invisible hand.

First, buying a DVR separately like TiVo is something that most people are not going to understand well enough to actually do, if they even know that it is an option (and most cable companies aren't going to inform you about the choice). They see that the cable provider's DVR is cheaper because its amortized, in addition to being inferior, and comes with support built in. Most cable companies will set your box up and get it working properly for you before they finish the install. TiVo can't, you'd have to set everything up yourself, if you were knowledgable enough about DVRs to know that it was even an option for you.

Plus, people don't know much about physics. A significant majority of the world thinks that a car battery can kill you if you touch the positive and negative terminals with nothing but your fingers. It can't of course, but this should demonstrate how ignorant most people are to the mechanics of the most basic aspects of electricity: current flow. Most people will have no idea that the box they have is really power inefficient, how would they?

Furthermore, this sector is not a competitive industry. There are very few providers in any particular area and if the government did not regulate the leasing of telecom lines and conduit, there would probably never be more than one in any area. The sattelite providers compete, but they aren't as popular since they can't bundle other services for lower prices and their maintenance costs are higher. And even if they could compete as effectively, they're motivated by the same forces the cable companies are with regard to the DVR.

No startup can hope to make a significant dent in the market because the existing companies are so firmly entrenched. They own the land the lines run on and the lines themselves. The sattelite companies are in the same boat; the existing players own the bandwidth that the transmissions have to be sent on. Even if these factors weren't a problem (and they are a massive problem), the startup costs alone would be in the tens of billions for any appreciably-size area. No new company can get funding like that. The free market is incapable of existing effectively in these environments without government regulation.

So, they'll buy the cable/sattelite company's box and because power bills aren't itemized (how could they be?), they'll pay more for it over time than they should because they won't know what the culprit is. The free market is always doing something, but if its working in some way that adversely affects the general consumer population then it may as well not be working.

RE: Derp
By mindless1 on 6/28/2011 7:14:30 PM , Rating: 2
No. The free market works when customer have choices, when they get to choose between products based upon the merits of each, not in closed cable markets where you get what they require that you use.

Cable TV is on a list of basic things modern society needs to stay informed, as with telephone and (for continuation of a certain standard of living which is what we all strive for) internet access, running water, heated homes, etc.

None of these are really a "necessity", we could all go live in caves and hunt/gather food, won't that save a ton of electricity?

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 4:19:50 PM , Rating: 2
We pay for our power consumption, so it's our choice in what appliances we use. When you, Iaiken, pay my power bill I'll use any DVR etc etc you see fit.

Incorrect. Wasted electricity drives up the average unit cost of electricity for everyone and expends resources early that could otherwise still be available at a later date, which also drives up costs.

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/11, Rating: 0
RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 4:32:39 PM , Rating: 2
Nobody's power bill ever went up because of someone's DVR.

Apparently someone isn't familiar with how market electricity rates are arrived at... how convenient.

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 4:41:01 PM , Rating: 2
And someone doesn't understand supply and demand.

But this is all moot. Because the fact is that these devices are simply not drawing enough, per household, to have a market effect. It would require a major case study to prove, and as far as I can tell, none have been done.

All we have is some, probably, massaged statistics from an obviously biased Government think-tank organization.

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 4:56:48 PM , Rating: 2
And someone doesn't understand supply and demand.

That's really too bad then because that's what I've been doing all day every day for a living for 6 years now. Develop systems to analyze and ensure that the supply futures for over 22 million customers (and growing) meet their demand futures in such a way that they always get the best price. In most cases, it involves unilateral contracts that allow us to lock in before the market price has even been arrived at. If only there were some metric for this kind of success? Oh! I know! We're making money, while saving money for our customers vs the market rate. Tard. :P

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 5:10:11 PM , Rating: 1
LOL it's laughable how many times you play the career card. Almost every argument you try to end by playing that. That's not an argument, it's a weak closer. This is the Internet, anyone can say they do something for a living.

How many jobs have you had anyway? I guess next week you'll tell me you're an oil speculator...

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 5:33:18 PM , Rating: 2
I've had 3 jobs both in the same direction.

Previous to my current job, I worked for the IESO to develop their electricity forecast/actual systems for both volume and pricing as well as assisting in the development of the day ahead market.

The only public facing portion of my work can be seen here:

Not too bad if I do say so myself.

From there I moved into the private sector building similar information systems to help companies (in the US & CA) sieze upon competitive advantages in numerous markets, for various commodities (Oil, Natural Gas, Electricity, Carbon Credits).

Previous to that I developed production line controllers, but found the robots of real life to be boring compared to those of my imagination.

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 5:44:01 PM , Rating: 2
I've had 3 jobs; both past jobs in the same direction as this one.

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 7:28:18 PM , Rating: 2
Whoa wait wait. You're Canadian?

RE: Derp
By Solandri on 6/27/2011 3:48:33 PM , Rating: 2
Your numbers are close but a bit off. In 2009, the 1493 coal plants in the U.S. generated 1,755,904 GWh, or an average 1176 GWh/yr per plant. That works out to 3220 MWh/day.

The 446 kWh/yr figure is for one particular STB combo, so is not a reliable average measure. If you go from the $3 billion of electricity/yr figure, and 66% of it is wasted, that's $2 billion wasted. At an average $0.11/kWh, that's 18,200 GWh/yr. Or about 15 coal plants worth.

Across 110 million households though, that's $18.20 of electricity per year per household. Which is probably why nobody raises a big fuss about it. This is one of those areas which is screaming for a government regulation mandating a lower power sleep mode - small impact for an individual household, but a large impact for the country overall.

RE: Derp
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 4:12:49 PM , Rating: 2
Your numbers are close but a bit off.

Gee you mean the ones provided by the "Natural Resource Defense Council"!? Shocking. /sarcasm

RE: Derp
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 4:13:48 PM , Rating: 2
My numbers were for the average generator unit, not the average generation station. Most plants have been 1-3 generator units.

Sorry if my wording wasn't more clear on that.

Why am I not surprised...
By The Raven on 6/27/2011 12:03:09 PM , Rating: 2
...that in an ecosystem where there is little to no competition (i.e. I can't buy and use my own box) the devices are so crappy?

With cable internet I was able to buy a cheap energy efficient modem that rocked the socks off of the one they lease to you. It seems that it should be the same way with TV. But I don't subscribe anyway, so whatev.

I'm just saying..."why am I not surprised?"

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By wempa on 6/27/2011 12:29:27 PM , Rating: 2
I hate how the cable companies force us to rent these boxes. While I love the additional capabilities we get from the DVR, I really wish we could buy our own like with the cable modems. For one, it would be cheaper in the long run to buy one even it was a few hundred dollars. Also, I really hate that we can't expand the HD or transfer the files off to clear up room.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By mydogfarted on 6/27/2011 1:27:15 PM , Rating: 3
Clearly you've never heard of a TiVo. All you need to rent from television signal provider is a cable card.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By mckirkus on 6/27/2011 1:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
Or a Ceton cable card tuner. You can build your own Windows Media Center based DVR (cable card) that will use a fraction of the power required by a typical cable box.

There is no real competition so the cable companies have no incentive to use modern, low power technology.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By rikulus on 6/27/2011 2:18:55 PM , Rating: 2
It must depend on one's cable company though. I have Time Warner, and last time I looked over the channel list online, of the ~150? HD channels listed, the ONLY ones that included cable card support were the the big 5 networks.

Which doesn't leave many options then. HDPVR through the component feed, if you can get it to work reliably is a decent solution that I use. But about a year ago Time Warner started having their cable boxes go into a "screen saver" if it's left on the same channel for a few hours, which fouls (or at least really complicates) any efforts to record things now.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By Iaiken on 6/27/2011 2:28:49 PM , Rating: 2
their cable boxes go into a "screen saver" if it's left on the same channel for a few hours

The moral of the story is: Channel surf, or else...

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By steven975 on 6/27/2011 3:46:37 PM , Rating: 2
You must be thinking ClearQAM support.

Since SDV support was introduced shortly after Win7s launch (a month after), I can get EVERY channel except On-Demand.

Before that, with Vista I could get most channels, just not the Alternate premiums (HBO2, MAX2, etc).

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By wempa on 6/28/2011 12:33:48 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I have heard of TiVo. The problem is getting them to play nicely with your cable company. I have friends who have gone the Tivo/cable card route and all I hear from them is complaints. The cable companies do not help them out at all with any problems and they don't get any of the extra benefits of having the DVR integrated with the tuner itself. Ideally, it would be nice if cable boxes went the same route as cable modems. Let me choose which one I want.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By The Imir of Groofunkistan on 6/27/2011 12:40:36 PM , Rating: 2
you can buy/build your own device. Either buy/build a PC that runs windows media center and has a cablecard to decrypt cable tv. If you're running a PC, you can have it go to a low power mode (which can also turn off the harddrives) or turn it all the way off when you're not using it because you're in control (but if you turn it off, your scheduled recordings won't record).

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By name99 on 6/27/2011 1:20:11 PM , Rating: 3
Not true.
Or, more specifically, so untrue as to be useless.

Ignore the DVR part, consider the modem part, since no-one is interested in these services without internet. I have U-Verse and there is, as far as I can tell (and I have looked) NO way to buy a pure modem that hooks into their system. The best I could do is buy a crappy obsolete 2Wire box that doesn't support their maximum speeds --- and the whole point of the exercise is to get away from 2Wire which always runs hot.

I used to own a nice, small little Netopia DSL modem that did its one job well. Now I am forced to rent a large, crappy 2Wire box that always runs hot, and most of whose features (wireless, DHCP, firewall, etc) I have disable because they don't work properly --- instead the box feeds straight through to a decent wireless modem that doesn't need to be rebooted once a week.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By bobny1 on 6/27/2011 10:39:16 PM , Rating: 2
They should pressure the cable box manufacturers to use flash memory instead of hard drive. Less heat, less power and quicker read-write.

RE: Why am I not surprised...
By mindless1 on 6/28/2011 7:26:27 PM , Rating: 2
and it would only cost $1500 per box since even though you don't need the faster I/O, you do need massive storage capacity to record video regularly. Great idea. Not. HDD is trivial power, some models use < 5W when not being accessed.

TV set top box energy consumption.
By REALROBLAW on 6/27/2011 12:23:07 PM , Rating: 2
I was wondering the other day why these things are so big and bulky. My cell phone is probably just as powerful but uses less energy. Why can't they just use newer technology and make them smaller and more energy efficient?

RE: TV set top box energy consumption.
By fic2 on 6/27/2011 12:39:23 PM , Rating: 2
Newer ones are out. A friend of mine got a replacement last year for his old STB that stopped working. He said that his new one - Motorola DCX3400 - was very quiet and not hot like his old one. He didn't know what his old one was. I think the newer generation of STBs are much better than the old ones, but cable companies are going to just automatically swap out new for old since they are making way more money off of you if you keep the old, paid for STB.

RE: TV set top box energy consumption.
By Reclaimer77 on 6/27/2011 4:10:46 PM , Rating: 2
Is your cell phone spinning a hard drive for hours and hours every day?

By mindless1 on 6/28/2011 7:30:18 PM , Rating: 2
HDD does not account for much of the difference. Even before everyone started coming out with lower RPM "Green" drives, spinning HDDs were on average, a little under 5W while the typical set top box with one in it is pushing 20W or more total consumption.

I'd use the word lazy
By GatoRat on 6/27/2011 12:12:05 PM , Rating: 2
It would take very little engineering to reduce the energy usage of DVRs when not in use. Unfortunately, it takes management (ie. MBAs) with a clue (and who aren't spending most of their time covering their own ass.)

Now, to be fair, I work with embedded systems a lot and the crappiness of most the systems is nothing short of astonishing. It's like people had zero pride or something in their work.

Cable box
By Calin on 6/28/2011 3:55:21 AM , Rating: 2
I have a digital cable box, and is uses about 17 Watts under use and about 14W when not in use (showing the clock).

Pretty piss poor efficiency when "soft off". The good part is that it starts from a "no power" state in about 30 seconds, so it's totally feasible to keep it shut off

Slingbox too.
By jabber on 7/4/2011 6:26:22 AM , Rating: 2
I hate to leave my Slingbox on. The PSU and box get really hot. I even opened it up and stuck ramchip heatsinks on the main chips to help it live a little longer (I also do it with routers). The Sling is a US design iirc so I guess thats why it cooks.

But I just cant bare leaving 'hot' electronics on 24hours a day. Just giving money to the man if you do.

Luckily my PVR has a Standby mode that does actually work.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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