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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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  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 [] 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2011 @09:05AM (#36582584)

    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 they're not the ones paying the power bill.

    Just another reason for me to cancel the cable.

  • 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!

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter