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DVRs, Cable Boxes Top List of Home Energy Hogs

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the devil-will-find-work-for-idle-volts dept.

Power 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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How about heating and airconditioning? (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582190)

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

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582212)

My cable box doubles as a space heater, so that helps in the winter.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (3, Interesting)

EvilRyry (1025309) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582232)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582258)

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

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582594)

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.

Coils (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582756)

Don't forget to clean the coils everyone. At least every 6 months.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (5, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582540)

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=

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582572)

Off topic, but did you ever work at Winnersh Triangle followed by TVP? If you don't know what I mean then ignore this.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (4, Informative)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (2)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 3 years ago | (#36583002)

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!

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582242)

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:How about heating and airconditioning? (1, Interesting)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582272)

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?

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (2)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582318)

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

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582358)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582454)

Power transmission apparatus losses.
Improvements are on the way but,, Power line losses are very high.
Somewhere around the area of 40 to 50 % input energy is used to keep the grid balanced via to ground power dump at power stations.

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2007/07/energy-efficiency-in-the-power-grid-49238

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582404)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

Shivani1141 (996696) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582966)

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 disconnects, suggesting an average load of ~25A. they're also three phase, which means a lower amperage for the wattage. and they run 24/7. unfortunately, I forget the math for converting amperages to wattage with three phase loads.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582424)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582494)

But there is a way to have electric heat that is more efficient than gas heat. Get a heat pump, these show 3 to 4 times heat gain over the electric input. (the warmer outside the more efficient the device and vice versa. On a modern heat pump, (Specifically a lennox xp14 36k btu unit even at 20 below F you get a slight heat gain over pure electric heat, at zero its about 2x and at 55 its about 4.5x.) If you assume a modern combined cycle gas turbine plant of 60% efficency you do better than an 80% gas furnace from around 5 above up. (on an air source unit, ground source by virtue of the higher input temp does much better).

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582516)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582922)

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).

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582910)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582980)

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.

Re:How about heating and airconditioning? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Not in use? (2)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 3 years ago | (#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? (3, Insightful)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#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? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582384)

"yeah but this linux embedded solution from 2001 we built this crap over has crappy support for that"

Re:Not in use? (0, Troll)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582816)

Great, now I'm going to miss half my television shows because some hippie wants me to shave a few watts off my electric bill. Isn't it enough that I have to flush my toilet twice as much now (and clean the shit stains left behind) because some hippie said that a 2-gallon toilet was just as good as a 4?

I'll tell you what, I'll get an Energy Star DVR just as soon as Al Gore moves out of his McMansion and stops driving a luxury SUV.

Re:Not in use? (1)

Jumpin' Jon (731892) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582312)

While it's true that the devices need to be on to do the recording, I imagine there's also a lot of time when they're idle.

My DVR (Sky+ HD) will go into Standby at 01:00 if it's not in use, and that seems like a sensible option.. most of what I record is broadcast during the regular evening slots, between 19:00 and midnight. Of course, that may not be the case for everyone.

Would I prefer it to go into a Deep Sleep rather than Standby? No, because it's startup times are really frustratingly long.

I guess part of the problem in that case is that age-old problem: I am too impatient to wait to use it. My desire for utter convenience outweighs my desire to save a few quid on my leccy bill.

Re:Not in use? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582460)

That's cool, we'll just run 5 600GW nuclear reactors because you are impatient. What an awesome solution. Fuck Americans.

Re:Not in use? (2)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582588)

I suspect GP is from the UK, not the USA (he mentions Sky+ and "leccy" is UK slang for electricity). On the other point, annoying as it may be, that's how most humans behave. Make it convenient and in their interests and they'll do it, make it hard and they won't bother. Manufacturers need to be working this stuff out because you just won't change human nature.

Re:Not in use? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582794)

That's cool, we'll just run 5 600GW nuclear reactors because you are impatient. What an awesome solution.

Yeah, we aren't going to give up the things we enjoy like the ability to watch programs when we have time (rather than when the TV schedule places them) to save a few bucks a year or for dubious environmental reasons (watching TV doesn't exactly have a huge footprint per hour compared to many other activities even when you count the cost of standby usage).

Afaict the big issue with sky+ boxes is that they keep a lot of the frontend on and keep both halves of the LNB powered even when in standby mode to support things like automatic firmware upgrades, remote record, anytime etc. You can pu them into a deeper off mode by holding the power button (and sometimes you have to because they crash) but they take annoyingly long to start up again from that mode and of course they can't wake up from that state to record stuff which kind of defeats the object of a sky+ box.

Fuck Americans.

The fact he talks about SKY+ means he is almost certainly not an american or at least not living in american right now.

Re:Not in use? (3, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not in use? (1)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582326)

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 being very hot even when I'm not using them. So I guess the problem applies to more than just DVRs and cable boxes.

Re:Not in use? (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582670)

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.

Re:Not in use? (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582360)

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 to power up only once an hour on playback.

mp3-players with spinning discs have been doing this for a decade, because the consumer actually -cares- about energy-consumption on battery-powered devices. (he cares about how long the battery holds), a old-generation ipod, for example, will read several songs into a ram-buffer, then power down the disc for something like 10-15 minutes before the buffer runs low. No reason PVR-boxes couldn't do the same.

Re:Not in use? (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582730)

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.

Re:Not in use? (1)

swb (14022) | more than 3 years ago | (#36583010)

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 the power savings would be, but you might even copy programs from flash to HDD in the background as the program is started and spin down the HDD once completed and pretty much never use the HDD.

Won't work (2)

tkrotchko (124118) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582786)

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.

Re:Not in use? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582416)

Is your cell phone running on full all the time? Hope not if you keep your cell phone in your front pants pocket and you plan to have kids.
I think we have reached a level that devices that turn themselves on and off or go into sleep mode are a reality... cell phones, PCs, TVs...
You just need a few pieces of circuitry running a counter and the instructions to wake the rest of the thing up.

Re:Not in use? (2)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582488)

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.

Probably because it makes it more complicated. (2)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (2)

edumacator (910819) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582336)

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 it for the energy savings of their costumers, then maybe one of the will make the shift, and get to put a big green sticker on the front saying their box is "green". That would bump their sales enough to offset the cost.

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (5, Insightful)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582418)

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.

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (2)

frostfreek (647009) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582952)

.. 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 wake up (yet I could do it manually!), so I had to revert to an older kernel.
After seeing this article, I am glad I went through the hassle!

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582450)

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 more expensive one to be cheaper overall? At the moment, one Watt-year costs me about £1, so I know that an always-on device that draws 10W less is roughly £10/year cheaper to operate. If it costs £50 more, and has an expected livespan of 3 years, then it's probably not worth it. If it costs £5 more, then I'll be better off after six months.

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582506)

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.

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582374)

Call my cynical...

I'd like to that - what's her number?

Re:Probably because it makes it more complicated. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36583006)

I want my MythTV box to do this, maybe it is better in the newer versions.

The same with EyeTV. They need to be able to turn on a powered down computer, boot into the correct OS, record, and then turn the computer off.

My Mythbuntu computer uses 85W in standby, my MacBook Pro uses 17-35W.

Turn the damn thing off (1)

coinreturn (617535) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582240)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582282)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (2)

edumacator (910819) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582366)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582790)

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 shows if they really care about missing stuff, so it can't be the "entertainment value" of TV that's causing them to stay home).

Re:Turn the damn thing off (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582370)

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 of unpredictable human behaivor. The STB, not so much.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (2)

Noose For A Neck (610324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582338)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (1)

GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582472)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (3, Informative)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582888)

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.

Re:Turn the damn thing off (2)

phlobus (103053) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582926)

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.

This is a hidden price (2)

satuon (1822492) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582244)

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.

Re:This is a hidden price (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582280)

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.)

Re:This is a hidden price - externalities! (2)

yoghurt (2090) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582310)

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.

Re:This is a hidden price (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582396)

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.

Re:This is a hidden price (2)

toonces33 (841696) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582690)

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 weeks, so it will be a while before I have good data..

Re:This is a hidden price (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582498)

Think again sparky! If you pay the electric bill you KNOW the cost. Wr knew the cost was going up when we got it because we added another device that was going to use electricity. We knew that the box when "off" is not completely off and using electricity. What was not known was that Service Providers were sitting on their asses in providing energy efficient boxes!

Stop blaming the consumer/homer owner! Makes you look like a total douche bag.

Meanwhile near the North Pole (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582248)

One of the nice side effects of living in Finland is that the use of home appliances is free 9 months of the year. My house is heated with electric radiators; it doesn't matter how the electricity is converted into heat. The officials ran some tests to see if it mattered how optimally light bulbs etc were placed for heating but it turned out it made virtually no difference.

Just keep the curtains closed to convert light into heat.

Re:Meanwhile near the North Pole (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582502)

Why would a cold location use electric radiators rather than heat pumps, which are usually about 4x more efficient?

Re:Meanwhile near the North Pole (1)

frostfreek (647009) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582982)

Perhaps it is hard to pump heat out of permafrost?

Re:Meanwhile near the North Pole (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582710)

I guess that's some consolation for having to remain inside 9 months of the year, going without sun for 3 months, and alcoholism so rampant that it's the number one cause of death for Finnish men.

The only efficiency the US understands (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582268)

is the efficient transfer of tax payer dollars to private corporations.

Consumer Choice (5, Insightful)

dasdrewid (653176) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Consumer Choice (1)

toonces33 (841696) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582714)

The only thing they will listen to is if people were to turn in their boxes and tell the companies why when they send the box back..

If I get a spare moment, I might put in a service call to DirecTV for fun - just to complain that the box draws too much electricity and is throwing off heat. I could act dumb and claim that I was worried about a fire or some such.

...and I think they're right (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582278)

I have one such set-top box. I needed one because I still have a CRT (Which I turn OFF when not in use, with the big button in front) and my cable is all-digital. It's a Technisat DigitCorder K2 and it's a frigging piece of crap. They should fire all programmers that worked on it especially the UI team. Regardless, I am scared to turn it off, so I don't. Why? Because sometimes it simply doesn't want to boot up again.

The other reason is that I have to set my TV to "EXT1" to use it, which means the you shouldn't use the remote of the TV except for volume control (The digicorder only knows "silent" and "not very loud"). Now, I know this, and you probably don't have a problem with this, but expaining these technicalities to my wife doesn't work. So, I say "use this remote", which is the one of the TechniSat and use that.

So, it's on "full-power", 24/7 because I really don't want TV-support calls while I'm at work.

Re:...and I think they're right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582428)

You may want to look at what the CRT uses in standby. My new LCD-LED tv uses less than my old CRT in standby when it is on.

I was surprised at what many of the newer TV's use for power which is why I spent a little more and got the LCD-LED. It trimmed a nice chunk off my bill.

It was about 500 more than non LED but the power usage was nearly half. Then there is plasma, many of those use more than my old tv in standby. It is also fairly easy to find out. But it takes a bit of work. You get a list of TV's with the features you want. Then download all of the manuals. The power consumption is in the back. Some websites have it but are not always accurate.

The TV I had was from 1998. Not exactly 'old'. It used 75w standby about 240 on. The new one uses less than a watt standby and about 75 on, less if I use the dimming feature.

Re:...and I think they're right (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582534)

My CRT in standby uses less than my LCDs when "off" (which is roughly the same as standby). And with both on, the CRT and LCD use about the same, though the LCD is larger in screen size. But then, my LCD isn't LED.

Re:...and I think they're right (1)

delinear (991444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582478)

Boot up time is the issue for me with my cable DVR, too. Even just switching out of standby can take 20-30 seconds. If I physically power it off at the wall (the only way to turn it off) it takes about 3 minutes to reboot. This is a huge flaw - it just seems like so many of these devices are just designed to never be turned off (well, not without inconvenience to the user) and this is where we should begin. It's all well and good asking the end user to turn things off, but if the company that sells the device is making this painful, it's not going to happen - you can't force users to turn devices off but surely you can work with manufacturers to make this more feasible.

DVR boxes are evil (3, Insightful)

gemtech (645045) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:DVR boxes are evil (1)

grodzix (1235802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582368)

Those are words of great wisdom. Those TV enchacement boxes are usually slow and I hate UI of most of them (badly arranged, highly embossed graphics with lots of gradients, impossible to find what you want).

Trolling causes energy use. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582302)

Imagine the power consumption of trolls keeping their computers on all day looking for websites to post goatse links to

Lack of consumer pressure makes sense. (2)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Name brand set top boxes? Anyone? (5, Insightful)

kuhnto (1904624) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

No real power button. (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582406)

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 TV or STB in order to ensure they are not drawing power (or generating noise). Most consumers simply don't care.

The only way anything will change is if there's some sort of nanny state approach taken where the consumer doesn't have to take any responsibility at all.

Re:No real power button. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582648)

The power button on my BellTV PVR box does exactly this: turns off the green LED. It's a bastard hog.

Many devices draw lots of power. Duh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582412)

If I were to have a thousand devices that draw 1W, that would become the single largest permanent power drain in my home.

Is this actually a story? Who cares about a constant 25-50W power drain? Sure, it would be nice if the STBs powered some stuff down, but it's not going to change the world now is it?

Another terrible piece of sensationalist writing.

45 cents per kwh (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582430)

Wow, electricity prices in the US must be insane. Electric cars will never work for you.

275 / 365 / 24 = 31 Watts for the DVR in their chart. Which makes sense.

$10 / 30 / 24 = 1.39 cents per hour

(1000 / 31) * 1.39 = 44.8 cents per kw/h. Holy shit, that's insane (had to repeat it twice). I'm in Ontario and pay 6.8 cents (7.9 cents as a heavy user) per kwh.

I had heard that in some states it has gone as high as 15 cents per kwh. 45 cents, though? WOWOWOWOW!!!!!!111!!

Re:45 cents per kwh (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582620)

the claims are exaggerated. that is the high end of a bill based on peak pricing. most of the US pays about 8 - 12 c/kWh. Just remember there are 160,000 TIVOS running. More or less we have 6 baseload nuclear reactors in the US to power these devices, when they are idle.... Nine 600MW reactors for the devices including when they are 'on,' about ~0.5 - 1% of all US electricity consumption. At a generous COP of 5, we get to add about 20% extra energy costs for the AC to push that waste heat out of our homes. If they are ~25% of the 'phantom load' in the house, that could be up to 1/3 of baseload nuclear power generated each year in the US. LOL. Yeah we better build more nuclear plants.

AWesome system. Yeah, the free market is awesome. It figures everything out.

Re:45 cents per kwh (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582642)

I you read the article again you will notice that $10 is for people who have many devices, and a combination of set-top box and DVR at 446 kWh/year.
So that gives a max. cost of about
$ 120 / (4*446 kWh) ~= 6.72 cents/kWh

Use a power strip (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582458)

Put the cable box and the TV (and game systems) on the power strip. When you aren't there using them, turn it off.

Re:Use a power strip (1)

ThinkWeak (958195) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582904)

This doesn't really work with a standard digital cable box. If you cut the power, you are going to have to wait for it to boot-up and download the channel listings again before you can watch TV. Unless you decide you are going to watch cable in 15-20 minutes, then you can go over and turn-on your power strip. Otherwise, you'll be twiddling your fingers while you wait for the thing to warm up.

multi-room DVR (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582480)

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.

Piracy: The Green Thing to Do (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582604)

Piracy: Cheaper, more convenient, and more environmentally conscious. No packaging, no delivery to the store, no marketing materials to be printed, and saves electricity.

This is a pet peeve of mine. (1)

toonces33 (841696) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582652)

We have a satellite system, and some of the boxes use ~40W 24x7. Doesn't matter if you turn it on or off - the only thing that changes is the little light on the front goes off. My first clue that this was an energy hog was to see how much heat the thing was throwing off.

I asked/complained about this and got a number of explanations/excuses. The number one was that the box needs to keep the guide uptodate, but there has to be a way to handle this function without the whole thing running at full tilt. Many such boxes are now connected to the internet anyways, and thus could simply download the guide on-demand when powered up and not need to wait for

Some people put these things on power strips so they can power them off. Back when I had digital cable, I did this, but that box only took a minute or so to boot up. But the satellite boxes take over 5 minutes to boot up for reasons that are far from clear.

My view is fundamentally this. The cable/satellite companies aren't the ones paying the power bills, and thus they have no incentive to reduce the power consumption. The end users pay the power bill, but they get very little choices in terms of the boxes, and no ability to configure the thing to go into "deep sleep" mode. Even if a lot of people were to complain I imagine that they wouldn't do much about it - my only hope is in 2013 when the new EnergyStar standards go into effect.

Hidden? (1)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582682)

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?

Central Recorder + 3 playback only devices (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582692)

Instead of having 2 or 3 DVRs, setup a central DVR that does all the recording for you. Then use specific, diskless, playback devices in the rooms with TVs. These are $40-$80 ea. Turning them off when you don't need them is trivial. Even when powered on, they use 5W of power. That central system probably needs to be on 24/7, but since it runs a full OS (Windows or Linux), you can spin down disks and use a $9, low power, video card. If standby actually works for your OS of choice, you can save even more power and be under 1W in that mode.

Avoid the cable box and cable DVR. Build your own.

I have 4 physical desktops acting as servers here in a 2900 sq ft home in the south. Electricity costs are about $850/yr or $75/month. That includes running HDTVs and multiple central A/Cs. I honestly do not see the big deal. Perhaps if I lived in California or other states where government and activists have screwed with power generation, I'd be paying $5000/yr. I don't know.

Most months, the bill is around $50, but for the 4 summer months, it is significantly higher due to A/C costs. That's with 4 physical PC systems running 10 VMs each, HDTV, TiVo, laptop, A/C, fridge, microwave ovens, routers, switches, UPSes, 4 ceiling fans running 24/7 and a few diskless HDTV playback devices (WD TV Live HD+). There are external disk arrays, external USB/eSATA drives too. Lots of battery chargers constantly working on Lithium-ion batteries and clocks with laser pointers displaying time on walls in 3 bdr. Ah, and dual 24" computer monitors that are never turned off. But nobody uses a hair dryer here. ;)

I'm not completely power-use agnostic. All my computers have 80% efficient PSUs, but that is more about being cooler and having less noise than power efficiency. Also, none of my current video cards require external power. Only bus-power is used, but I don't game. A GeForce GT 430 is the most powerful GPU here.

you need the box for VOD and SDV system need add o (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582840)

you need the box for VOD and SDV cable system need a add on tuner as well.

any ways even tru2way tv uses like 40W when off vs 1w-5w when not in tru2way mode.

Tivo, this means you (0)

flibbidyfloo (451053) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582698)

I always thought it was silly that our Tivos were difficult to turn off and instead designed to run constantly, recording two shows I'm not interested in watching, 24 hours a day.

Our new DirecTV DVRs have an "off" button on the remote that puts them in standby at least, so they only wake up to record shows I've asked it to.

Low power usage is easy (1)

Synn (6288) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582742)

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.

Re:Low power usage is easy (3, Interesting)

GlobalEcho (26240) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Belgian cable providers are upgrading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36582862)

FYI

Last month the Belgian cable provider Telenet announced new setup boxes. One of the (many) new features is less power consumption when idle. Only new customers or customers that switch to the new "Fiber" subscriptions (same monthly fee ) get the upgraded machines.

If an upgrade is possible in a small country like Belgium why shouldn't it be possible in/with bigger countries/cable providers?

HDs won't sleep in Linux (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36582866)

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'.

Until such issues can be diagnosed easily and dealt with, it's going to be hard to create energy efficient appliances.

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