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Power Television Entertainment Hardware

Cable Boxes Are the 2nd Biggest Energy Users In Many Homes 394

Posted by timothy
from the time-to-unplug-the-stereo dept.
SpzToid (869795) writes 224 million U.S. cable TV set-top boxes combined consume as much electricity as produced by four giant nuclear reactors, running around the clock. They have become the biggest single energy user in many homes, apart from air conditioning. Cheryl Williamsen, a Los Alamitos architect, has three of the boxes leased from her cable provider in her home, but she had no idea how much power they consumed until recently, when she saw a rating on the back for as much as 500 watts — about the same as a washing machine. A typical set-top cable box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer. And the devices use nearly as much power turned off as they do when they are turned on. The article outlines a voluntary industry agreement that should make a dent in this power consumption (it "calls for a power reduction in the range of 10% to 45% by 2017"), but makes the point that much larger gains are possible: "Energy experts say the boxes could be just as efficient as smartphones, laptop computers or other electronic devices that use a fraction of the power thanks to microprocessors and other technology that conserves electricity. Ideally, they say, these boxes could be put into a deep sleep mode when turned off, cutting consumption to a few watts. At that rate, a box could cost less than $1 a month for power, depending on how much it is used."
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Cable Boxes Are the 2nd Biggest Energy Users In Many Homes

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  • by RobSwider (669148) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:30AM (#47253451)
    If you've got a better way to toast a cheese sandwich while watching tv, I'd like to hear it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi (895663)
      If you've got a better way to toast a cheese sandwich while watching tv, I'd like to hear it.

      If it doesn't involve lasers, flamethrowers or nuclear reactors, it's not a good was to toast a cheese sandwich.

      • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:17AM (#47253909)

        If you've got a better way to toast a cheese sandwich while watching tv, I'd like to hear it.

        If it doesn't involve lasers, flamethrowers or nuclear reactors, it's not a good was to toast a cheese sandwich.

        Didn't you read the stub? Four nuclear reactors!

        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          If you've got a better way to toast a cheese sandwich while watching tv, I'd like to hear it.

          If it doesn't involve lasers, flamethrowers or nuclear reactors, it's not a good was to toast a cheese sandwich.

          Didn't you read the stub? Four nuclear reactors!

          Speaking of which, I think that means cable boxes are carbon neutral, since they are apparently powered by four giant nuclear reactors. So, I can finally stop buying carbon credits for my cable box carbon footprint! Hooray.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:31AM (#47253459)

    I have basic cable so I can plug right into my TV. However with digital TV being common why arn't more TV's handling it so you don't need the cable box.

    • by alen (225700)

      the signal is encrypted even for the broadcast channels so you need a cable box or cable card with adapter.

      • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:38AM (#47253557)

        And of course, the cable industry HATES CableCard because they want you to rent a box, which is (apparently) why they made it hard for TV manufacturers to support it.

        • by alen (225700) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:10AM (#47253839)

          time warner cable in NYC will rent the cable card and adapter for $2.50 a month compared to $10 or more for the cable box

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Where I live, Comcast sent the broadcast channels unencrypted in high-def over cable for several years after the digital conversion. They had sent some converter boxes, but since everything was working fine I thought they were only needed for analog TVs to watch the new digital signal. Then, poof, one day my PVR wouldn't work any more, and the next time I tried watching TV in real-time, it didn't work (even after a channel scan). So I hooked my PVR to an antenna now I have cable TV service, with no TV s
    • I have basic cable so I can plug right into my TV. However with digital TV being common why arn't more TV's handling it so you don't need the cable box.

      My TV includes a digital tuner so I can plug my basic digital cable service directly into the TV using the coax cable coming out of the wall, no cable box necessary. These unencrypted channels include all the basic standard definition channels offered by my cable company not just the handful of local terrestrial broadcast channels.

      I actually split the coax and have one output go directly into the TV and one into the cable box. The cable company's DVR only has two receivers, on rare occasions I have two s

  • Here's an idea... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZeroPly (881915) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:31AM (#47253465)
    Maybe if you have three cable boxes and a monthly cable bill, you can save a lot MORE money by just canceling cable.

    Got rid of Charter two years ago - now I have a ChannelMaster for OTA, and a couple of Roku boxes. Feels nice not spending that $90 a month.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      What idea? You didn't address the problem of power consumption. You simply offered a solution to not watch cable TV. Of course if you still have internet access, you still have cable right...not too mention: Is your antenna using a preamp? Do you have a dvr for your antenna tv viewing? Do you a device to turn your antenna in order to make channel reception better. Lastly, roku boxes use power too. So how much electricity did you save by removing the cable box???? Think before you post.
      • Re:Here's an idea... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ZeroPly (881915) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:17AM (#47253901)
        Uhh... if you don't have cable boxes, they don't use power? Sorry I didn't explain the logic at a 5th grade level. My antenna sits in the window and connects to the DVR, which is unplugged except for the rare occasion there's something on broadcast TV I want to record. The whole mess is on a power strip that I turn off when I'm not watching TV. I use a $35 Killawatt to see how much each device uses, so there are no surprises.

        Yes, I have a device to turn my antenna for better reception. It's called "my hand".

        Americans are always looking for the technological fix. Does anyone really need TV's in every room including the guest bathroom? Just reduce your consumption and try living a little simpler.
        • by schlachter (862210) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @11:00AM (#47254365)

          I have a TV in every room, it's called my iPad. I watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBOGO, and Xfinity on it.

          I have a 40 inch LCD TV in my den, but usually prefer the iPad.

        • by sadboyzz (1190877)
          You sound as if the cable boxes and DVRs have to be such power drains. The point is they can be made to use only negligible power on standby, had the people who made them been just a bit more competent.
    • by flanders123 (871781) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:45AM (#47254201)
      Is this [theonion.com] you?

      Sorry....Any reason to use that link. :-) ... Full disclosure I also just cut cable.
  • they get hot too (Score:5, Informative)

    by alen (225700) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:32AM (#47253475)

    even when they are off. at least the older Scientific Atlanta ones did. time warner cable in NYC has new Cisco and Motorola ones that are a lot more efficient and don't get nearly as hot

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:33AM (#47253477)
    ... wth?

    If it consumes more than one Watt, it's nowhere near "deep sleep".

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      sure it is, doesn't matter if one or fifteen watts, won't matter at all compared to all else american household is using, it's a rounding error

      and as I've stated elsewhere, the boxes don't pull 500 watts running, not even a third of that

  • huh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:33AM (#47253481)
    I'm very, very surprised that refrigerators aren't #2. Or possibly electric water heaters, in houses that have them.
    • by rubycodez (864176)

      don't worry, the article is false and architect is an idiot who knows nothing about electronics

      • don't worry, the article is false and nearly every architect is an idiot

        That sums it up better

    • I'm very, very surprised that refrigerators aren't #2. Or possibly electric water heaters, in houses that have them.

      They may well be. TFA doesn't say otherwise. You need to learn to look for weasel words: TFA only says that cable boxes are #2 in "many" homes. That could mean anything. 100 homes could count as "many" even though there are a million times that many homes in America.

  • I've got a couple of Comcast DVRs instead of cable boxes... with a Cable box, you should be able to power off when not in use, but with a DVR, this could be a bit trickier... I suppose it could do some smart scheduling where it turns itself off unless actively recording shows - keep a sub-section with scheduling info running so it knows to spin up a few minutes before recording a show...

    Still, I should think that DVR boxes on a per-box basis would be a bigger issue than regular cable boxes.

    As for most elect

    • Those are DVRs. Read the article. The fact that you can't turn them off is a problem to begin with.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:33AM (#47253489)

    Seems you can't buy any form of digibox these days without some serious firmware bugs whether its just picture freezing , "buffering" remote control key presses until it can be bothered to process them, missed recordings for no apparent reason or just complete crashes requiring a hard reboot. Or if like me you were dumb enough to buy a Sagemcom box - then all of the above.

  • rating on back is not power draw, you might get close to that during startup. normal draw is less than 140 watts, put it in standby and get 15 watts

    I once worked in engineering group that also had couple of architects, we called them "farcitechs" and now you all know why

    • "normal draw is less than 140 watts, put it in standby and get 15 watts"

      That's less than 500, but still an order of magnitude more than a set top box should need! IIRC power supply ratings on Apple TV and Roku box are both under 10 watts, real usage is probably 3-5. Add a WD green or similar hard drive (6-8W) and a couple of tuners and encoding ASICS and it still shouldn't break 20 watts at full load.

  • Just bring the line in and go with a standard hardware. Stop charging me a monthly fee for every single TV in the house, whether it is on or not.
    • If you think non-standardization is not useful, you're just on the wrong side of the line where money changes hands.

      The entire industry is designed to keep out people who aren't paying, and to extract as much as possible (what the companies call a "fair share") from those who do.

      You could look at it another way: Why should a single person with one TV pay as much as a family of 4 with as many TVs? A boarding house with 8 room mates, each with their own room and TV? Just be lucky they haven't decided to charg

  • Meanwhile, in the EU (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wootery (1087023) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:35AM (#47253517)

    Apparently [wikipedia.org] EU policy requires that devices which are off or in standby use no more than 0.5 watts.

    Whether it's actually enforced, I have no idea.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      its actually enforced else you wont get the CE sticker on your product and your not allowed to sell it in europe.

      a example my TV when in standby uses 0.2 and the digital converter is build in so no set top boxes needed.

      but there is still the wording trick to get around it call it "deep sleep" etc. instead of standby

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      'tis true. And they do have to be energy efficient like that, or you get big old fines and told to do it right.

      They made this mandatory a few years back when a similar article was kicking around complaining about the total power draw of all those tiny power chargers people leave plugged in, the old ones would just draw power all the time (you can tell - they get hot) and when you think how many everyone has, it adds up.

      So the EU made legislation to fix it (and other standby power draws), as there was no rea

  • Not true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gavron (1300111) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:36AM (#47253533)

    Number one consumer of electric power: Air conditioning unit. THOUSANDS OF WATTS
    Number two consumer of electric power: Refrigerator. HUNDREDS OF WATTS

    Cable boxes don't come in number two and they don't consume 35 watts.

    So if you're keeping track not only is not "number 2" (a dubious distinction) but its use of electric power is ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE below what's chewing up power. In fact, here in Arizona our A/C runs about 20 hours a day. That uses more power per day than the cable box uses in a year. I could ditch cable altogether (I have Comcast so it's a constant thought) and my power bill won't change by 1%.

    How do I know? I use a http://www.amazon.com/P3-Inter... [amazon.com] kill-a-watt. The cable box draws less than 1 amp (12W) and that's while it's on and it's the big Motorola unit just like the picture in the original article.

    Do you like facts and statistics and data upon which to base conclusions? You should get one of these kill-a-watts. They're awesome and they're quickto end stupid discussions that say you should unplug your cable box.

    Off to unplug my wifi router. I hear it draws 0.5A.

    E

    • Re:Not true (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:41AM (#47253581)
      Number one consumer of electric power: Air conditioning unit. THOUSANDS OF WATTS

      But not running continuosly.

      Number two consumer of electric power: Refrigerator. HUNDREDS OF WATTS

      But not running continuously, either.

      Cable boxes don't come in number two and they don't consume 35 watts.

      Actually, lousy designs will happily guzzle 35W of power while "off", and year-round, that's slightly over 300 kWh. That's a bit more than my refrigerator uses.

      How do I know?

      Your sample size is one. That doesn't give you any kind of statistical significance.

      • by gavron (1300111)

        > not running continuously.

        No, I mentioned the AC only runs 20 hours out of the day. That's how it is in Arizona.
        Daytime high of 110F. Nighttime low of 78F. We like the bedroom around 72F, so
        yes, it runs except when nobody's home but then it has a bit of catchup to do.

        The fridge does not run continously, but it faces the same battle. All the heat it puts
        out causes the AC to run more. So there's no magic way for the fridge not to run.

        My sample size is indeed one and is of no statistical significance.

        • by Copid (137416)
          The AC is a serious issue in your area. Not many good options to get around that. But you're off on the refrigerator. A modern one should average well below 100 watts over time. The vampire/suspend/idle draw of all of the electronic crap in my house exceeds the average draw of my refrigerator by a pretty notcieable margin.

          I'm fortunate enough to live in an area where the air is reasonably dry and the temperature drops off pretty quickly at sunset, so even if it's 100+ degrees during the day, I can ki
  • by clonehappy (655530) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:39AM (#47253569)

    Which is it? 500 watts or 35 watts? This summary and title are completely ridiculous, I can think of plenty of other things that are using more power in my home than a cable box. Refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer, hair blow dryer, desktop computer, television, central heating/air conditioning, range (if it's electric), power tools/garage, home theatre system, the list goes on and on.
     
    The reason the "500 Watts!!!" is disingenuous, is because many cable boxes have a switched outlet that allow you to plug in a television set to the back of it. Back in the good ol' days, you could click on the cable box and the TV would turn on as well, if it was plugged into the back. That CRT might draw as much as 500 watts, so that's what it's rated for. With the advent of universal remotes, electronic controls in sets that forget the last power setting and the need for constant power to keep settings and "quick-on" for many sets, this is now an antiquated port that's just a hold over from the olden days of cable TV.
     
    The STB might be the 2nd biggest energy user in many homes, but I wouldn't bet on *most* homes.

    • RTFA: "Cheryl Williamsen, a Los Alamitos architect, has three of the boxes leased from her cable provider in her home, but she had no idea how much power they consumed until recently, when she saw a rating on the back for as much as 500 watts — about the same as a washing machine."

      "A set-top cable box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer. The devices use nearly as much power turned off as they do when t
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The 500W rating might have been for power passthrough (master/slave system) maybe?

    My stereo can pass through power to e.g. a subwoofer, so only when I actually turn on the stereo the subwoofer is powered. The cable box could similarly have a power passhtrough for either the TV or the audio system, which is rated at 500 Watts.

    • ???? What pass through for what device? A DVR is not an a/v receiver. They do not drive speakers nor do they drive TVs. Jesus Christ people read the freaking article and check out your owners manual.
  • by drake2k (3458443) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:46AM (#47253605)

    Just measured my old Scientific Atlanta box (that actually looks just like the ones in the article's pictures).

    I get 8 Watts while running, 0.9 Watts in standby. It slightly peaks when I switch channels.

    • by cdrudge (68377)

      Is your Scientific Atlanta box a DVR? I have a feeling the real energy hogs are the DVR STB and not the basic boxes.

    • For how long? A month? A week? A day? An hour? Duration is very important. The point of the article, which people can't seem to grasp, cable boxes are not energy efficient like other electronic devices and are on 24/7, which would mean making them energy efficient would save people money .
      • by gnu-sucks (561404)

        The point of the article was that these boxes consume almost as much energy as a washing machine. That is definitely wrong. The article did not measure power consumption of either device. 500 watts is not how much current a DVR of any type consumes. I have a computer here at home that has 14 Xeon cores and a high-end graphics card. It doesn't even consume 500 watts, and yes, I measured it.

        The article is a typical alarmist article with a misleading title.

        Big energy consumers in homes: Electric dryers (1-2kw

  • by fisted (2295862) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @09:46AM (#47253607)
    "four giant nuclear plants?" Dammit, that's extremely useless a unit of measurement.
    Literally everyone should know by now that the standard SI unit for power consumption is medium-sized town.
    So, how many medium sized town do those cable boxes consume in total?
  • "Cheryl Williamsen, a Los Alamitos architect, has three of the boxes leased from her cable provider in her home, but she had no idea how much power they consumed until recently, when she saw a rating on the back for as much as 500 watts" Rating doesn't equal consumption. I can put a 1000W power supply in my computer but just watching youtube videos doesn't mean it's consuming all 1000W. It consumes far less than the 1000W unless the system demands it. Only way to know how much a device like this consumes
    • Then the article goes on to say: "A set-top cable box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer. The devices use nearly as much power turned off as they do when they are turned on."

      So what you are saying is you stopped reading the article after the 3rd paragraph. Wow. Way to stay informed.
  • The world is rapidly moving away from the cable model... and the cable box itself is no exception. Therefore, the solution to this issue is pretty clear: transition away from big box cable endpoints to Roku or AppleTV endpoints. This moves customers into the future by shifting away from a DVR model to a streaming model, and it shifts away from insanely power-hungry boxes to devices which typically use about 1 to 3 watts at peak use.

    (It's actually a simple solution to multiple problems. Unfortunately, the

    • by Cheeze (12756)

      This causes so many more problems though. The nature of cable/air broadcast is the broadcast part. The signal is sent one to many. More people watching does not create any extra load on the system.

      With a network-based solution though, the more people the more load, and I highly doubt most internet providers would be able to keep up. They are already complaining about Netflix, and that still has a small share of the home media viewing market.

  • I recently moved from a Comcast only area to a U-verse only area (monopolies yay!!!)
    I figured the new, smaller u-verse box would be better on power, but the damn thing is quite warm to the touch, even when its "powered off" from the front panel when no one is watching TV.
    I don't have the exact figure, but that heat is not getting created for free (especially in the summer when it has to be pumped outside by the AC).

    I have taken to switching the power off at the power strip when I'm not watching. The only
  • Currently, DirecTV has 6 models of STBs (set top boxes): three HD DVR, one HD non-DVR, one SD DVR, one SD non-DVR. Sending firmware upgrades to all of 6 device types adding a user-set deep-sleep mode would be amazing, the immediate effects of which would be massive nationwide! Generally, I don't have anything recording in the middle of the night--or it's a one-off repeat that I don't care about. Offer 4 simple options: 1) deep sleep & not record during user-specified times (e.g. 1am-7am and 11am-4pm)
    • by Strider- (39683)

      Oh, and one last thing... How the fuck do some of your boxes have the "Energy Star" logo??? Is it because the boxes themselves are efficient & you choose not to implement those efficiencies?

      Remember, the EnergyStar logo is pretty much meaningless. Heck, a few years ago a (fake) gasoline powered alarm clock [engadget.com] received the EnergyStar logo as part of an audit.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Remember, the EnergyStar logo is pretty much meaningless.

        Oh no, it's not meaningless, it's just useless. It does have meaning, but it's meaning no one should care about.

  • by trailerparkcassanova (469342) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:04AM (#47253757)
    She's reading the outlet capacity. No cable box draws 500W.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:15AM (#47253897) Homepage

    Plop a "kill-a-watt" on your cable box and turn it on, note the power used. now hit the "off" button the remote. See how the power use did not drop. That is because "OFF" is simply blanking the screen and turning off the front led's and display.

    It's why most pro AV installs will put the cable box if it's not a DVR type, on a power sequencer that the control processor will turn on and off with the system. The drawback is some of the newer cable boxes take forever to boot after power is restored.

  • by AnotherBlackHat (265897) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:29AM (#47254005) Homepage

    A typical set-top cable box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer.

    A "typical Southern California consumer" pays less than 20 cents per kWh.

    35 Watts * 24 hours/day * 30 days/month = 25,200 Watt hours or 25 Kilowatt hours.
    25 Kilowatts * $0.20/Kilowatt hour = $5.00

  • I have my LG 42" LCD, my ONKYO Receiver, and my Sony Blu-Ray all plugged into a power strip.
    Connected to the them are a digital antennae for OTA, an ethernet connection for NetFlix, and a Linux pc for everything else.

    Cable?
    Satellite?

    Are you kidding me?
    Do people still pay for that crap?
    Who are these people that stay beholden to the most despicable industry in America?

    My linux pc goes to "sleep" when I'm not using it...
    When I'm done with the rest of them, I power off the rest, then turn off
  • I recall back when the XBox 360 and PS3 were all the rage on the market someone pointed out how absurdly power hungry they were (particularly in comparison to the Wii, which used less power while running than the PS3 used while sleeping). With the newest consoles from Sony and Microsoft out, and their respective camps declaring those to be the greatest thing since air itself, it would be interesting to know how they compare for wattage against a cable box. Being as many dedicated gamers don't want to ever turn their boxes off, I would expect they are wasting more power than most cable boxes.
  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @10:56AM (#47254311)
    Hahahaha
  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @11:44AM (#47254791)
    Verizon FIOS DVR stays fully awake when turned off, so that it can keep "recording" live TV just in case you want to turn it back on again. At least that's a function, worthwhile or not. It also keeps the display hardware hot to show a screensaver on the TV saying "Your FIOS box is off." Since this text keeps drifting around the screen, rather than allowing the display line to simply go dark, a TV left on by mistake (which would have shut itself off on lost input) also stays awake to keep the DVR company. I fully realize the DVR's never going to be completely dead, because it has to wake up when a timer needs processing; but that should be a very low power mode for any time not actively watching or recording.
  • How ridiculous (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @11:57AM (#47254895)

    Did anybody actually *think* before writing this article?

    A cable box drawing "500 watts" would be cherry-red hot.

    The rating of "500 watts" on the back is for cable boxes that have an accessory AC outlet, and the rating means that you can plug in a TV or whatnot rated at up to 500 watts. The cable box itself draws a whole lot less, like 15 watts, even less for the newer ones.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Tuesday June 17, 2014 @12:38PM (#47255211)

    Any kind of sleeping router would need to respond to incoming calls.

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