Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power United States Hardware Entertainment Technology

DVRs, Cable Boxes Top List of Home Energy Hogs 324

Posted by timothy
from the devil-will-find-work-for-idle-volts dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Elisabeth Rosenthal writes that cable setup boxes and DVRs have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, causing an increase of over $10/month for a home with many devices, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator. The set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are running full tilt, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. 'People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,' says John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission. 'Companies say it can't be done or it's too expensive. But in my experience, neither one is true. It can be done, and it often doesn't cost much, if anything.' The perpetually 'powered on' state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Similar devices in some European countries can automatically go into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half and go into an optional 'deep sleep,' which can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent (PDF) compared with when the machine is active. Although the EPA has established Energy Star standards for set-top boxes and has plans to tighten them significantly by 2013, cable providers and box manufacturers like Cisco Systems, Samsung and Motorola currently do not feel consumer pressure to improve box efficiency."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DVRs, Cable Boxes Top List of Home Energy Hogs

Comments Filter:
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:19AM (#36582190) Homepage Journal

    Do STBs really use more energy than things which push heat around?

    • by EvilRyry (1025309) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:27AM (#36582232) Journal
      Mine takes 28W powered, 25W on standby :-(. I put mine on a timer to turn it disconnect the power at night. While it certainly sucks to have a device sucking a constant 25W all day long, I can't imagine that it takes as much power as my refrigerator.
      • My fridge uses 140 watts when drawing power. Maybe 100 watts over the course of a day, and its pretty efficient.

        • My fridge uses 140 watts when drawing power. Maybe 100 watts over the course of a day, and its pretty efficient.

          If I read that right, it suggests that your fridge is "running" about 70% of the time. I think mine has a much shorter duty cycle, but I guess I need to plug it in through the "Kill-A-Watt" to find out.

      • by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:01AM (#36582540) Journal

        Don't think power, because Watts are really not the unit to be using. You should compare energy; Watt-Hours.

        Let's say you have a typical refrigerator that uses ~150 watts average for 5 minutes total operation every hour. That's 150 * 5/60 = 12.5 watt-hours of energy. Your STB uses 25W on standby, which is constant. So that's 25 * 60/60 = 25 watt-hours of energy. Fully twice as much as your refrigerator.

        YMMV of course but it's quite plausible a seemingly minor appliance uses more electricity over the course of a day than a major appliance. Those "Vampire Loads" can be a real killer!
        =Smidge=

        • by TheThiefMaster (992038) on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:38AM (#36582890)

          Actually you have calculated average watts (which is what is really relevant). Your numbers are "watt hours per hour", cancelling to watts, not watt hours.

          • Energy companies bill in Kilo-watt hours, though. You pay some number of cents per kWh. So to calculate costs, you have to multiply it right back in. It would be more scientificially proper to measure in Joules, perhaps, or even kJoules, but that unit would be one very small fraction a a cent. kWh works out nice, because it translates into an easily grasped monitary amount.
            • Right. Which is why you multiply smidge's numbers by 1 month to get watt-hours for one month. Which is another point in favour of his numbers not already being in watt-hours.

        • by Thelasko (1196535)

          Don't think power, because Watts are really not the unit to be using. You should compare energy; Watt-Hours.

          Why do electrical engineers always insist on using non-SI units? The correct unit for energy is the Joule, or Watt-second. [wikipedia.org]

          There, I've done it! I've become a unit Nazi!

          • by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday June 27, 2011 @10:26AM (#36583416) Journal

            Because a watt-second is so small a unit it's practically useless outside academia.

            Now get outta here before I start converting everything to BTUs!
            =Smidge=

            • Because a watt-second is so small a unit it's practically useless outside academia.

              Indeed, it is much too small. Oh, if only there were some system we could use to indicate that we are working in large multiples of the unit. It could be a system of prefixes indicating orders of magnitude. Alas for the fact that no one has invented such a system.

        • by jittles (1613415)

          Let's say you have a typical refrigerator that uses ~150 watts average for 5 minutes total operation every hour.

          Maybe there is something wrong with my fridge, but according to my measurements, my fridge turns on 3 times an hour, for 5 minutes each instance. It doesn't seem to matter much if I open the door to grab something out, as long as I don't leave the door open for an extended period.

          As for DVRs. The piece of crap I have from ComCrap(TM) will not power itself on to record a TV show. I have to leave it on 24/7 if I want it to record things I may not have explicitly scheduled. The good news is that it only us

        • I really don't think your hypothetical is very realistic, nor is the hyperbole about "OMG!! More power than you REFRIGERATOR!!" anything more than typical media hype designed to drum up some outrage toward cable companies, instead of it being directed at the state energy commission, which can only respond to increasing demand by trying to get people to use less (don't start).

          How many times do you open your fridge? Me, at least 4 times a day, usually more than than. Just grabbing a beer will take about 5 s

          • by wagnerrp (1305589)

            The average freezer is around 14 cubic feet, or just over a pound of air. Assuming its 100 degrees out, and you leave the door open long enough to flush all the cold air out, that's only 17kJ. The cycle used for refrigerators is known to achieve up to 60% that of the Carnot cycle, meaning it can operate at over 500% efficiency. In order to extract that much heat back out of the refrigerator, you need to consume roughly one watt-hour of electricity, or 0.01 cents worth. Assuming you open the refrigerator

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:28AM (#36582242) Journal
      At least in the colder regions of the country, "heating" doesn't usually show up on the electric bill. Electric heating is extremely convenient to install, and good for point work; but the inefficiency of burning something, converting it to electricity, running that through transmission lines, just to dump it into a big resistor at the other end is a bit much.

      Air conditioning is likely a lot worse; but, because everybody knows that it is extremely energy intensive, thermostatic regulation has been standard since the mechanisms for achieving it were bimetallic, and microproccessor based scheduling systems creep in pretty quickly once you get away from the nastiest of basic window units.

      By contrast, it sounds like team STB has somehow managed to miss Every Single Development in computer and embedded device power management in the last decade. Ironically, they've probably even managed to achieve an outcome where Intel muscling in with their x86 (barely) SoC designs would actually be more efficient than highly-integrated task specific media SoCs; because at least they would incorporate their laptop power management techniques more or less for free. Impressive work.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by chemicaldave (1776600)

        the inefficiency of burning something, converting it to electricity, running that through transmission lines, just to dump it into a big resistor at the other end is a bit much.

        Is it any more inefficient than using a fleet of trucks to store that something in peoples' homes and burn it there, i.e. oil?

        • Yes, it is, actually, and the price reflects this.

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:41AM (#36582358) Journal
          Obtaining the precise numbers would be a bit hairy; but I suspect so.

          Depending on the fuel in use, your heat->mechanical energy conversion will always live in the shadow of that spoil-sport Carnot, along with any engineering limitations. In practice, I'm told that you get something in the vicinity of 30-50 percent(of the fuel at the plant, it still has to be shipped there, though at least bulk shipping is easier, per unit goods, than household delivery). After that, you still have the generator that the turbine is driving, along with the power transmission apparatus.

          By contrast, since heat is the desired product, the only 'waste' heat in an onsite burn is whatever goes up with the stack gasses and whatever goes to the delivery truck. At least with oil heat, in the northeast, we had about one delivery a year. Unless the truck managed to burn half its payload getting to us, I suspect that we came out ahead.

          Peripheral electrical generation, with heat engines, is something you do only for backup purposes; because small heat engines pretty much inevitably suck more than huge ones; but when all you want is heat, the only real efficiency issues are the engineering problems of cooling the exhaust gasses before they leave the premises.
        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:47AM (#36582404) Journal

          The difference in energy cost between getting the oil to a power plant and delivering it to someone's house is not that great. My mother's house is heated by oil, and they get deliveries once or twice a year. The amount of oil that the delivery tanker burns is pretty small compared to the amount that it carries - well under 10%. Getting the same level of efficiency with electricity is very hard.

          Oil is close to the worst case though. My house is heated by gas, which comes in via pipes. The amount of energy required to keep them pressurised is really tiny. I'm not sure how much the prices are skewed by tax, but electricity costs me about four times as much as gas, per kWh, so I'd be crazy to heat my house with electricity.

          • The distribution method used for natural gas is no doubt more efficient than that of heating oil, but the amount of energy used to keep the pipes pressurised is hardly tiny. Being a gasfitter, I've had reason to be in the distribution buildings, and there is some heavy equipment in there. they pump the gas around, using large, powerful positive displacement gas pumps. the one in my relatively small city contains three of these pumps to serve a population of 13,000, and they're connected with 40 amp disconne
            • It still sounds like it's well under one Watt per customer, which is pretty trivial compared to the amount of energy from burning the gas.
        • by drolli (522659)

          Yes, massively.

          The Oil has also to be brought to the power plant, and transporting the oil inside the US or Europe is not the largest factor.

        • by robbak (775424)

          Simply put: Yes. The fact that you throw about 50% of your heat away at the station - and that's in the best combined-cycle gas turbine - trumps transport costs for anything. For a normal coal-fired power station, or nuclear for that matter, plant, you discard 60 or 70%.

          Even when you take flue losses into account, burning it where you need the heat just makes good sense.

        • A lot less efficient, yes. Do people use oil a lot for heating in the USA? It's almost always natural gas over here (UK).

          • by NevarMore (248971)

            I don't have numbers but oil for heating is more popular in the northeast/New England than it is anywhere else.

          • by yarnosh (2055818)
            Some people use oil. Depends on location. A lot of places are either too rural to effectively pipe natural gas to homes or it just isn't available in the area.
        • by yarnosh (2055818)

          Yes, quite a bit more inefficient. You need to transport that fuel to the plant also, so I doubt there's a whole lot of difference there. I can't imagine you would use more than a few percent of the total fuel delvered to a home to get the fuel to the home.

          Just to give some example numbers. You can get roughly 95% efficiency from natural gas heat with a modern furnace. I assume oil is similar. Now, figure you can get at most 50% efficiency generating electricity at a power plant. Then you lose another 40%

      • by petes_PoV (912422)
        Although you could argue that during the winter the 25W or so (mine is 35W) consumed by your DVR/STB displaces the same amount of power used for heating. Though in summer, people with wasteful aircon would see an additional cooling load from the STB.

        The best way to cut your winter heating bills is simply to put on a sweater.

      • by ffejie (779512)

        By contrast, it sounds like team STB has somehow managed to miss Every Single Development in computer and embedded device power management in the last decade.

        I'm guessing that the real problem is the average age of a STB. The TV company does not swap out STBs unless you complain, leaving a lot of people untouched since they first moved to digital cable. A few more jumped on the HD bandwagon. A few more hopped in at HD DVR. But realistically, there hasn't been a reason to upgrade your cable box in a few years. Go into any local business and you're bound to see a cable box circa 2001 providing signal to their TV. The TV might be brand new, but the cable box is old

      • by rossdee (243626)

        "At least in the colder regions of the country, "heating" doesn't usually show up on the electric bill"

        While the heat may be provided by burning fossil fuels directly, it takes electricity to power the fan to blow the hot air around the house. I was told that the fan in our central air setup is about half a horsepower. Turning the mode to auto, so it only comes on when the furnace (or A/C) is running helps.

        And for most people, hot water is a big consumer of energy. I guess /.ers reduce that but not showerin

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        The usual excuse of STB designers is that people want instant-on. If the STB is turned off it then has to re-download the EPG etc. That doesn't seem to be a big problem on some platforms (on Freeview my TV has all channels in the guide within 30 seconds of turning on) but on others it can take much longer (back when I had cable five minutes was not uncommon).

        I agree with you though, a lot of it is lazyness on the part of the developers. The original NTL cable TV boxes decode video all the time. When you put

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No, of course not. Of course, if you're trying to air condition your house, the energy that the set-top-box uses not only adds to your bill that way, but it also adds to your air conditioning bill due to the heat generated. Same for all the other electronic devices that are on in the house.

      More simply, if people aren't actively using the electronic device, any power used is an unnecessary waste.

      Also, as someone else pointed out, the cable company/satellite company doesn't care about power use, because the

    • Do STBs really use more energy than things which push heat around?

      It didn't say that set top boxes draw more than a new refrigerator, it said that some home theatre "configurations" draw more power than a refrigerator, ie. STB, media PC, HD TV, surround sound system, game console (or 3), etc.

      • by number11 (129686)

        It didn't say that set top boxes draw more than a new refrigerator, it said that some home theatre "configurations" draw more power than a refrigerator, ie. STB, media PC, HD TV, surround sound system, game console (or 3), etc

        Wrong. TFA said:

        One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator

    • I'm calling bullshit on this if they claim $10/month is the "largest drain." Your climate control costs will vary by your location and house size, but they are pretty significant for many people.

      For example: I live in the desert, so it is mostly A/C here. I have a new, efficient, dual-stage A/C unit. A couple months ago when it was idle, my electric bill was about $45. This month, when it was on a lot, my bill was $120. I've made no big changes in lifestyle, don't have tons of new electronics or anything li

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:24AM (#36582216)

    The set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are running full tilt, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use.

    Isn't that kind of the point? If their drives and tuners weren't running then they couldn't record stuff while you were away. (I mean how else would it build up a buffer of the last 30 minutes of a show or record suggestions if it wasn't running.)

    • Re:Not in use? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:27AM (#36582234)

      Isn't that kind of the point? If their drives and tuners weren't running then they couldn't record stuff while you were away. (I mean how else would it build up a buffer of the last 30 minutes of a show or record suggestions if it wasn't running.)

      A scheduler running in low power mode can wake up the device (including hard drive) shortly before the scheduled recording. Depending on how long it takes the STB to get its shit together this could be a few minutes or as little as a few seconds.

      • Re:Not in use? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by chemicaldave (1776600) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:33AM (#36582300)

        Sounds like lazy programming.

        "Hey, don't you think it would be nice to turn off the unit to save energy and turn it on before it records a show?"
        "Well John, that's a nice idea, but I just can't imagine a use case where that's necessary. Besides, it's not our problem."

    • Re:Not in use? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gbjbaanb (229885) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:35AM (#36582316)

      they go to sleep, and wake up when its time to record something.

      My lovely Topfield [superfi.co.uk] box does this quite happily, sends itself into a low-ish power (8W) state most of the time when its not being actively used. When it wakes up, it runs at 25W (apparently). However, even when running it will put the drive to sleep after a while, which can be slightly annoying when you click the button to view the recordings and it takes a couple of seconds to spin it up. I can live with that.

      8W in standby can be further reduced by turning off the pass-through mode though, so its still not so bad.

      I think the problem is that many of the cheapo PVRs don't do this kind of thing and run, even in standby, with a large power consumption.

    • I guess it means that even if you're watching a single channel and not recording anything else at the moment, the second/third/etc. tuners are still powered on.

      It could probably be helped further if the device recognized when your TV was turned off, so it could turn off tuners/HDD completely when it's not recording. There are probably other things like hardware MPEG codecs and video-out that could be turned off as well.

      I don't know how much power they consume but I can attest to the tuners I have in my PC

      • by delinear (991444)
        I thought they already did this - I certainly know the disk platter in my cable DVR always spins up when I switch on the news in the morning, I'd assumed it was detecting connectivity from the HDMI.
    • by Eivind (15695)

      It needs to run while recording, sure. But these typically don't do this 24x7x365.

      When they don't, they could spin down the hard-disc, and for that matter go into sleep-mode with a wakeup-timer set to one minute before the next scheduled recording starts.

      Hell, even while recording or playing back you could power down the disc much of the time if you've got a reasonable ram-buffer. Typical PVR-boxes record at a quality of on the order of 1GB/hour, which means that a single gigabyte of buffer would enable it

      • by delinear (991444)
        Better use of flash technology would be a big help, too. Not only is the hard drive in the average DVR sucking up more juice, it's also hotter and usually noisier (since they often use the cheapest drive they can source). Again, it doesn't necessarily have to record everything to the flash drive, a smallish 4 or 8GB drive would give a few hours of recording time for live TV.
        • by swb (14022)

          With DRAM as cheap as it is, I'm surprised that a 'modern' Tivo-type box couldn't use DRAM as its 30 minute buffer. 8GB Flash could be used for recordings. When a recording was complete, the HDD would be woken up, the recording dumped to HDD, the HDD powered off.

          If you bumped flash to 16GB and applied some intelligence to flash management, there may be some people who seldom would watch a program from the HDD (ie, they watch mostly recently-recorded programs and only rarely go to flash).

          I don't know what

      • So if its 8:15 and the person turns on the TV, their expectation would be that they could go back in time 15 minutes to catch the show from the beginning.

        They'd be better off designing more efficient components, particularly power supplies.

    • My comcast DVR has an off. When I turn it off it leaves its scheduler running and wakes itself up a few minutes before any scheduled recordings, and periodically to get schedule updates. But it doesn't buffer live TV when "off". I generally turn it off when I go to bed, but it automatically turns itself off after some time of non use as well.

    • by jrumney (197329)
      Until someone invents an electronic switch, then the STB designers will be able to turn the power hungry tuner and hard drive on when the schedule says something worth recording is on. Until then, we'll have to put up with our hard drives and tuners being on all the time.
  • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:26AM (#36582228)

    MythTV does this just fine ; it can turn off your computer, and turn it back on again when a recording is scheduled.

    The only problem would be that when it boots into "recording" mode instead of "manually started", there's a different screen explaining it, which involves a single button press on the remote to put it into manual mode.

    Call my cynical, but I think that the engineering department for these things are just told to leave it on all the time, because the perception in management is that the general public couldn't work this out.

    • Although the EPA has established Energy Star standards for set-top boxes and has plans to tighten them significantly by 2013, cable providers and box manufacturers like Cisco Systems, Samsung and Motorola currently do not feel consumer pressure to improve box efficiency."

      I know this is all panacea, but wouldn't it be nice if these companies did in spite of pressure from consumers. I don't know much about these boxes, but it doesn't seem like a task that would cost them very much to change.

      If they won't do i

      • by necro81 (917438) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:48AM (#36582418) Journal
        If it were an open marketplace like, say, refrigerators, you could slap a green sticker on it and perhaps differentiate yourself. But that's not what is going on here. A tremendous problem in the particular case of these devices is that very few of them are sold directly to consumers: they are sold by the millions to cable companies, who then sell/lease them to their consumers with the myth that "If you want cable, you must use this box". The cable companies don't give a damn about how much power the boxes use: they aren't paying the bill. The consumers are largely oblivious, because it isn't their equipment, and they just want their insipid reality TV shows. Everyone with half a brain can look at this situation and say: gee, this is stupid, let's make the boxes use less power. But there is no incentive for any party to do it on their own. This is a clear case where government regulation makes a lot of sense.
        • .. who then sell/lease them to their consumers with the myth that "If you want cable, you must use this box".

          I am not sure if this is a myth... I am pretty sure that cable co's scramble most of their digital channels, requiring their descrambling equipment. You definitely cannot plug cable directly into your tv and get all channels, with Rogers here in Canada.

          So, I won't be getting cable. OTA is good enough for me!

          I spent a whole WEEK trying to get my MythTV to power down and bios-alarm-boot to wake up for recordings. It turned out that the new linux kernel modules for bios alarm did not think my bios could wa

        • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday June 27, 2011 @12:54PM (#36585788)

          The government regulation ought not to be making the boxes use less power; it should be breaking the cable and satellite companies' control over them!

      • The big green sticker isn't enough, there needs to be a scale. I would love to see a sticker on every box saying how much electricity it would use in a year of normal use, for every electrical or electronic device that I buy. We have something a bit similar with white goods, where they're given a rating from A to F for power efficiency, but there's no real indication of what the difference is. Is it worth paying £50 more for one that is one category better? How long will I have to wait for the mor
        • In the USA we have something like that for large appliances, like fridges. The sticker on the front shows Kwh used per year, and estimated cost based on a range of electrical prices.

      • by ffejie (779512)

        I know this is all panacea, but wouldn't it be nice if these companies did in spite of pressure from consumers. I don't know much about these boxes, but it doesn't seem like a task that would cost them very much to change.

        When cable companies evaluate new STB, they do indeed evaluate draw on standby and active. It isn't worth more than one tiny decision point, but it's there. Ultimately, if they get a "green" STB as an option, they can sell that value-add to the consumers and you'll get pretty much exactly what you're asking for. It's a free market, but the cable company is the customer, you're just the end user.

  • I find the worst culprit is users (i.e., wife and kids) who turn off the TV and forget to turn off the set-top box in the process. The box continues to process the incoming signal and generate the outgoing picture and audio, which the TV ignores while off.

    Waiting to program while you are away is not an excuse to hog power. Only a wake-up function is required when the box is not actively recording.

    • Yes, I get this. Most annoying.

      Since I'm on MythTV I suppose the solution to this is to just put some cron jobs on it that cancel live TV playback during school hours.

      • Since I'm on MythTV I suppose the solution to this is to just put some cron jobs on it that cancel live TV playback during school hours.

        If all boxes could do that, we'd also see the crisis in our education system averted, as the kids have no reason to stay home anymore...well, I guess you'd have to hack PlayStations to not play during the day too, but that shouldn't be too hard.

        • by delinear (991444)

          If all boxes could do that, we'd also see the crisis in our education system averted, as the kids have no reason to stay home anymore...

          Aside from lack of engagement in boring lessons, being bullied at school, peer pressure, parents who takes kids out of school during term time (to be able to go on cheaper holidays or whatever), etc. I knew plenty of kids who skipped school all the time, none of them stayed home and watched TV, if kids are doing that then it sounds more like they're doing it because it's all that's available and they'd still skip school and do something else if the TV wasn't on (after all, if they have DVR they can record s

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Then you are second guessing the users and that can end very badly.

        For a personal box this might work but for a generic appliance being stamped out by the thousands, it's going to cause a mess of trouble.

        An STB is an inherently passive device and there's really no good reliable clues you can use for engaging in power saving activities.

        At least with a PVR you have a schedule of activities for automated tasks that don't depend on user input. You can easily manage those without running the risk running afoul o

    • Wow, you seriously didn't even glance at the article, did you? STBs in "idle" mode aren't any less energy hungry than when they're "on". The only way to turn most of them "off" is by unplugging them.
      • Wow, you seriously didn't even glance at the article, did you? STBs in "idle" mode aren't any less energy hungry than when they're "on". The only way to turn most of them "off" is by unplugging them.

        One joker claiming that the boxes only dim the clock when "off" is not a definitive statement about the boxes IMHO. For example, there is no mention of my Verizon FIOS box. Regardless, users who don't bother to at least press the off button MUST be using more electricity in general than those that do bother.

    • I don't use DVR functionality, so I'm not worried about it recording anything while I'm away. My entire living room entertainment area is on a power strip, which stays OFF unless I decide I want to watch TV or play the Xbox. Such an easy solution to save all that power, just turn the damn thing off. My power hungry PC also gets turned off whenever feasible. I've noticed significant savings on my electric bill this year over the previous year when I was leaving everything on.
    • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:38AM (#36582888) Journal

      Don't blame the users. More than half the blame lies on those boxes. They're practically full blown computers complete with hard drives and long boot up times of over a minute--- and almost no power management, and that's definitely not the fault of the users. Linux can be booted in 5 seconds, and could be made even faster with things such as the ancient technology known as ROM. No excuse for boxes taking so long to boot, and dodging the problem by just having it always stay on. Long ago, we were introduced to the "Power" button to get around the requirement that "Off" means off, with VCRs that would lose all their programming whenever power was interrupted. The industry has completely punted on this issue.

      We could have had a standard for sensing the state of connected hardware so that if the TV is off, and no recording is being made, the box will sleep. Actually, we do have that, but the boxes can just ignore it. Or perhaps we could have more integration, with set top box functionality built into the TV. There are a whole lot of things that could have been done. Lot of cabling is still carrying analog signals. Instead, a top priority in the design of things like HDMI was that users should have to burn even more power on useless anti-piracy measures, such as HDCP.

      I have a very simple solution. I don't have cable TV. Saves me a bundle.

      • Don't blame the users. More than half the blame lies on those boxes. They're practically full blown computers complete with hard drives and long boot up times of over a minute--- and almost no power management, and that's definitely not the fault of the users.

        I have a very simple solution. I don't have cable TV. Saves me a bundle.

        For someone who doesn't have a cable box, you purport to know a lot about them. I don't know how off "off" is on my FIOS box, but there is most certainly not a full minute of boot up time. The box is on withing two seconds of pressing the on button.

    • by phlobus (103053)

      Funny -- I plugged my cableco-provided STB into my kill-a-watt meter to check just this.

      When turned ON, sending a signal to the TV. Power usage = 20 watts.
      When turned OFF, it shuts off the output and sends a blank screen to the TV. Power usage = 20 watts.

      Indeed, that green power LED in front is just a comfort light that does not much of anything.

  • The problem here is that the price of energy usage is largely hidden for the consumer, who can't make the connection between the purchase and an increased monthly bill. The price of the box itself is visible to the consumer who can discriminate according to price, but the fact that one box might cost him $100 less in the course of a year is invisible to him so he doesn't choose it even though he might have if he was aware of that fact.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The problem here is that the power consumption is hidden from the consumer, even though the manufacturer knows what it is. Unless there is a law saying they have to give you the information, they won't unless it's actually a selling point (e.g. electronics parts compete on the basis of power consumption and the information is found in the datasheet.)

    • The problem is that the buyer is the cable company. They don't pay for your electricity and they don't care if you do.

      I mean, the end user is typically paying "rent" on the set-top box that the cable company provides, but it's not like you get much of a choice of models. Unless you go with TiVO or myth but I think those are in the minority.

    • by Eivind (15695)

      Indeed. Given a choice between a $299 box that eats electricity for $100 a year, and a $339 box that has the same functionality, but consumes only half the electricity, most users will go for the first.

      It's partly that users are dumb, and partly that the information needed isn't easily available. The situation would improve to *some* degree if typical energy-consumption pro year was required info on the price-tag.

      • by toonces33 (841696)

        We don't even have that choice. If I call the satellite company and tell them I need a box, they pick whatever they happen to have and don't give me a choice at all. The only choices are whether it is HD or not, and whether it is a DVR or not. Those are the only choices I have. Well, not having a box is a choice...

        We got a few newer boxes a few months ago - I am in thie middle of a new audit with the Kill-A-Watt to see what the new box/TV combos actually use. I usually let each one go for a couple of w

  • Consumer Choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasdrewid (653176) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:30AM (#36582270)
    Cable box manufacturers "do not feel consumer pressure to improve box efficiency" because consumers don't have a choice with which to pressure them. Last time I got cable setup somewhere, we got a box from the cable company. There was no "pick from the list", the installer pulled it out of his truck, put it there, and left it. Supposedly I can go out and buy a 3rd party box because I'm on cable, but they're hard to find info on and properly investigate, and don't seem to provide any real benefits (and no one advertises energy efficiency). And if you're on something like U-Verse of FiOS, you're pretty much screwed, best I can tell. The manufacturers don't listen to consumers, they listen to cable companies because they buy the vast majority of the boxes. And the cable company doesn't give a rat's ass about your electric bill.
  • DVR boxes are evil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gemtech (645045) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:33AM (#36582298)
    My biggest complaint is the UI (Motorola box). When I press a button on the remote, it may or may not respond to it. That's ok, but the real problem is that it will queue up several button presses before acting on them, that's crap. I can't tell if the remote was pointing in the right direction or not. They need to do one of 2 things:
    - respond immediately to a button press (blink a light, actually do what I want, something else)
    - or only act on the first button press if it is too busy doing something else, not all of the presses because it was tied up doing god knows what
    And that's all I have to say about that.
    • This was my main issue with the Motorola DVRs... FIVE YEARS AGO IN 2006!

      How is this not fixed yet? Been torrenting tv shows ever since.

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:40AM (#36582354)

    "...cable providers and box manufacturers like Cisco Systems, Samsung and Motorola currently do not feel consumer pressure to improve box efficiency."

    Well, beyond the suspicions of some form of weird collusion between cable and electric companies, the lack of consumer pressure makes sense for obvious reasons. Those who can afford set-top boxes have usually paid for some kind of bundle package (cable/phone/Internet), and probably also have an HDTV in their home (HD package), as well as the most power-consuming set-top boxes are also DVRs, which is yet another upgrade.

    Point is if consumers can afford $100+ every month for "entertainment", they're probably not too worried about a $10 increase in the electric bill.

    Energy efficiency designs should not be deemed appropriate or justified based on consumer pressure anyway. Vendors should be doing it because it simply makes sense.

  • by kuhnto (1904624) on Monday June 27, 2011 @08:41AM (#36582356)
    I view this as just one more example of the price everyone has to pay due to the closed, non-competitive, proprietary cable box. Scientific Atlanta? Wow, they are such huge powerhouses in cutting edge technical solutions. Imagine a world where the big electronics players all competed in the marketplace with set top boxes. Wow, I might no longer have to wait 15 minutes for my cable box to reboot, or deal with pathetic menu designs. Power reduction would fall into these designs as just another marketing tool.
  • One problem with modern electronics in general is that there's no real power button anymore. An STB can get into a knackered state and stop responding. What passes for a power button then could be completely worthless. I have one of my STBs on an external power switch for just this reason.

    Many devices still draw power even when "off" because they aren't really off. They are in 'standby' because consumers like devices that start up quickly. It would not occur to most people to completely cut the power to a T

  • I upgraded to a multi-room DVR last year and not only did I eliminate 1 DVR, but the new box runs much cooler. I haven't done any tests, but it seems to be saving some electricity. The second box is a regular single tuner set top and it stays cold until it is turned on.

  • Is it a hidden cost if my power company supplies me with a free air conditioner but I still have to pay $400 per month to run it?
  • 26 inch LED LCD tv: 44 watts when in use.
    Popcorn Hour: 8 watts
    WRT54G Wireless router: 3-5 watts
    My uplink 800Mhz Wifi link: 8 watts

    So my entire entertainment with internet linkup only pulls 64 watts, 20 or less when the TV is off. The popcorn hour also spins down when not in use. So I'm using less power for my entertainment than a single incandescent light bulb.

    • by GlobalEcho (26240) on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:51AM (#36583008)

      While true, 20W running all day every day still comes to 1226 kWH per year, which is 2.75 times as much as the set-top box discussed in the article. Your Wifi link alone, at 8 watts, draws more power per year (490 kWH).
      Those numbers surprise me, and make think there must be a lot of lower-hanging fruit around the average household.

  • I guess I should post this in the previous story about Linux power issues [slashdot.org] as well. I have a 24/7 server running at home, central to a lot of family activity. The main system disk is an SSD and the data disk is a large modern HD. A couple years ago that same server was on Windows and the HD would sleep for hours on end. On Linux it never sleeps. I tried researching the issue, but after running 'hdparm -Y' the drive will wake up within 5 seconds with no other process using it. Apparently it's a 'feature'.

    Un

It's time to boot, do your boot ROMs know where your disk controllers are?

Working...