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Power United States Hardware Entertainment Technology

DVRs, Cable Boxes Top List of Home Energy Hogs 324

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."
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DVRs, Cable Boxes Top List of Home Energy Hogs

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  • 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.
  • 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 bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @12:02PM (#36584910)

    So no, opening the refrigerator does not make any significant impact in energy consumption.

    I misspoke, all of the calculations above were based off the 14cu.ft. side of a standard 22cu.ft. refrigerator/freezer combo.

    Well I wasn't so much trying to make a point that it was, only that the GP's rationale that somehow a STB could use more power than a refrigerator didn't hold water.

    It's a function of duty cycle. Modern refrigerators do consume several hundred watts when running, but copious amounts of insulation means they rarely run. There are several full size models rated for a yearly consumption under 500kWh, and the article reports 415. In comparison, cable and satellite STBs never turn off. There is maybe 5W difference between full load and what they consider 'off'. The article reports a yearly total consumption of 171kWh and 446kWh for STBs and DVRs, respectively. That equates to 19.5W and 51W average, which is not at all unreasonable.

    The point the article is trying to make is that there is absolutely no purpose for these devices to run all the time like this. For over a decade, laptops have consumed under a watt in standby, and reach full capability within seconds of being brought out of it. A timer could be added to bring the device out of standby automatically for scheduled updates. Their current design is simply one made out of complacency.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.