Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

Summary: There's been a big stink made about the power-hogging ways of HDTVs, but something else in the living room -- and something a whole lot smaller -- is probably costing more in electricity bills each month.The humble HD set-top box uses about the same amount of power per year as a desktop computer, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, but add DVR functionality to that device, and it suddenly sucks down more juice than a 21-cubic-foot refrigerator.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware
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There's been a big stink made about the power-hogging ways of HDTVs, but something else in the living room -- and something a whole lot smaller -- is probably costing more in electricity bills each month.

The humble HD set-top box uses about the same amount of power per year as a desktop computer, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, but add DVR functionality to that device, and it suddenly sucks down more juice than a 21-cubic-foot refrigerator. It may not look like it's doing much, but a set-top box is on 24 hours a day, sipping electricity even when you turn it "off".

In fact, that standby power consumption is 66 percent of a set-top box's total draw. Combine the standby power usage of all set-top boxes in the U.S., and it totals as much power as the state of Maryland consumes in a year.

Why have the vampiric tendencies of these boxes previously avoided the scrutiny of other electronics in the campaign to go green? For one thing, there's limited consumer involvement in procuring a set-top box -- you just get one (or more) from your local cable company, which has purchased them in bulk. You can't just run out and buy the "green" version. The cable companies also say that they need the boxes to remain powered on to make updates to their services during the middle of the night, when they're least likely to impact viewing.

Finally, there's the issue of rebooting the device if it were in deep sleep mode. According to a front page article in Sunday's New York Times, British company Pace sells a set-top box to pay TV providers with a deep sleep mode that slashes power usage to just 5 percent of what the unit consumers when active. The only problem: It takes up to two minutes to reboot once powered on again. Needless to say, U.S. cable companies don't enable that mode, but in Europe, where electricity costs significantly more, consumers don't complain about the lack of instant access like American viewers would.

Energy Star is attempting to create some more stringent guidelines for set-top boxes, though earning its seal of approval is voluntary, and since subscribers are at the whim of their provider's technology, it won't make the same impact as a buyer seeing an Energy Star logo on a TV or an appliance that can be purchased at a store.

Other set-top box manufacturers tell the New York Times that there's no pressure from consumers for more energy efficient boxes. So expect to continue paying an additional $10 or so per month for your cable service -- it will just show up on your electric bill.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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24 comments
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  • Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refr

    More than a refrigerator? Bullpizzle! A fridge consumes kilowatts of power!
    explodingwalrus
    • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

      @explodingwalrus they don't mean it that way lol. They mean overall.
      Jimster480
      • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

        @Jimster480
        Yes they do and they are right - calculate it!
        GalAnonimus
    • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

      @explodingwalrus - think again!
      My DirecTV DVR uses 45 W whether it is ON or OFF. This makes for 394 kWh per year. But Whirlpool 17.7 cu fridge uses 356 kWh. Think before you shoot your mouth again.
      GalAnonimus
  • Look around

    I have a DVR with separate 'real' power switch and a standby button. Companies who make these, shouldn't wait for people to tell them to make it power efficient, the people who run these companies should know that they have the obligation to do it.
    root12
    • What obligation? To whom?

      @root12

      DVR manufacturers do not have any obligations, other than to make a functional device. No one has asked for efficiency, and truthfully I find it hard to believe a DVR pulls as much power as a refrigerator--or that it costs $10/month to run.

      Notice there are no hard figures in this article. That alone makes me think it's click bait. (Congrats, author. You got me. :))
      wolf_z
      • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

        @wolf_z
        A DVR uses 446 kWh per year, versus 415 kWh for a typical 21 CF refrigerator. Source: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/settopboxes.pdf
        Aryabhatta
      • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

        @wolf_z - interesting so how did DirecTV obtain Energy Star rating from EPA. It is done by self certification. Of course they lied. My HD DVR uses 45 W when turned on and 45 W when turned off. The only things OFF are the LED diodes on front pannel. The only way is to yank the cable off the wall - after which one is penalized by having to spend 5 minutes waiting for the reboot and to "find satellites" - well I must have been wrong thinking they were stationary. Thus the HD DVR uses about 394 kWh yearly; Whirlpool 17.7 cu fridge uses 356 kWh yearly.
        GalAnonimus
    • Except....

      @root12 As long as the cable companies are forcing their customers to use the conpany's box, this will not change. The cable company wants to buy a zillion boxes at the lowest unit cost possible. It doesn't matter to them that it will cost you in power bills because they do not pay those bills...you do.

      What would fix the problem is if the boxes became standardized such that you could buy your own anywhere and use it with any cable provider. Then there would be incentive for the box makers to lower power usage because they could sell it based on total cost of ownership. i.e. "our box costs $50 more but it will save you $50 per year in electricity so over several years you come out way ahead". That argument would sell 0 to cable companies but might sell a lot of boxes to consumers who were buying their own.
      cornpie
      • And bring back the black, rotary-dial phone

        @cornpie
        I think you're right. There's been enough technological progress in television. We can freeze the design and standardize it now. Heck, we should have done it ten years ago.
        Robert Hahn
  • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

    Ya, but you have it all wrong! Now figure out how much the cable companies are making on you renting that box that you will never own!
    InsiteFX
  • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

    1. As long as I don't open and close my fridge more than 50 times an hour or leave it open for more than 4 hours, the compressor won't really need to cool anything and the power consumption for cooling is negligible.

    2. DVR makers *should* make a green sleep mode. If it were legally required it would be an even playing field as to having that feature in this or that model.

    I have to wonder if Americans wouldn't mind a small delay, once a day, to cut energy costs significantly. Maybe we could have an "instant On" button that immediately brings it up, at a higher power cost, but allows us the option for when we have to watch something immediately.

    We don't know how much energy these waste because as WolfZ says, the numbers aren't there. But there are hard drives in there as well as other components that use electricity, it probably does cost much more than we ever realized.

    I'd vote for all DVRs to have sleep modes enabled, with the option of instant on, update later.
    dinosorensen
    • Good Idea: Create another bureaucracy and save energy

      @dinosorensen@... <br>Making anything a legal requirement guarantees a net loss of energy, not to mention money.

      I will nonetheless be moving all the set-top boxes except the DVR to a smart strip port controlled by the master. My wife would shoot me if her novella doesn't get recorded.
      JimboNobody
  • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

    I just use a remote device to turn on all my boxes, Sat HD, Virgin Media, DVD, DVR, VHS, TV, etc.

    Either that or you just turn it off at the main socket.

    KJR
    kjrider9
    • Remote device?

      @kjrider@...
      What remote device? I think myself and others would be interested. I know the tv lifts sold by www.tvlift.com have an option for such a device.
      mschauber
      • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

        @MedicNYC

        Noma makes them. They're cheap, probably under $20, and they have an on and an off button to control the remote outlet. You just plug in all of the stuff you'd like to be completely off into the controlled outlet.
        HappyXWindowsUser
  • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

    MONSTER POWERSTIPS..JUST CLICK THE ROCKER SWITCH..AND ATT.DVR-FLAT SCREENTV-PRINTER-ROUTER-PC-ACER SCREEN....off.All day until needed. Just feel the top of these set top devices after a while..can keep baby chicks warm.
    bobd1950
    • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

      @bobd1950@... Why spend $100 on a power strip that doesn't do anything a $20 power strip would do? I could understand if you have dirty power and need a power conditioner, but screw the brand names.
      Champ_Kind
  • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

    They could make them with faster CPUs so they didn't take so long to boot up. And they could build them with more power saving materials. The companies just choose not to because its about making them in bulk as cheap as possible with no real thought to the end user.
    Jimster480
    • RE: Your TV set-top box might cost you more on your energy bills than your refrigerator

      @Jimster480 It's funny that you say that. I've gone through 4 generations of Motorola DVRs with Comcast, and each generation has managed to be faster than the previous generation. The current one is fast enough where it has to wait for a connection to the headend. If Comcast (and every other cable company for that matter) would get smart with their guide software and pre-load it on the boxes instead of force a download with every reboot, the load time for any cable box would be within seconds instead of minutes (or in some cases hours).
      Champ_Kind