Cable TV Boxes Are Huge Energy Hogs

Sunday, 26 Jun 2011 09:12 AM

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OK, so maybe the television antennas littering the housetops across urban and suburban landscapes were downright ugly — and perilous to install on steep roofs — not to mention that windstorms could leave them twisting in the wind like pretzels.

rabbit ears, tv, digital cable boxesAnd sure, the rabbit ears atop the TV were maddeningly stubborn about pulling in your favorite show without Dad’s having to fiddle around to adjust the metal spines repeatedly until they were just so. Some people even added aluminum foil to boost the signal-capturing ability.

But at least those contraptions weren’t the energy hogs that cable and satellite TV boxes are these days.

Those ubiquitous boxes of the digital age drain as much as a full-sized, but energy efficient, refrigerator and even some air-conditioning systems, according to a report in The New York Times.

That staggering fact brings to mind the exclamations that exploded on TV sets during “Batman” in the old black-and-white TV era: POW! BAM! And ZAP to your energy bill!

cable tv box, digitalThe 160 million boxes in the United States that funnel cable signals and digital recording ability into televisions are the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, the Times reports. Many homes have one or more basic cable boxes, as well as add-on digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, the Times quotes a recent study from the Natural Resources Defense Council as saying.

The boxes consume $3 billion in electricity a year in the United States — and 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded, the study found.

“People in the energy efficiency community worry a lot about these boxes, since they will make it more difficult to lower home energy use,” said John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation.

“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,” Wilson told the Times.

Alternatives to the perpetually “powered-on” state are available, but they are not being required or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Similar devices in some European countries go automatically into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half, the Times reports. They also have an optional “deep sleep” option that can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent.

Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, offered this of the industry in the United States to the Times: “I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy,’ but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has established Energy Star standards for set-top boxes and has plans to tighten them significantly by 2013, Ann Bailey, director of Energy Star product labeling, said in an email to the Times.

Back in the day, the biggest energy demand was climbing up on the roof to monkey around adjusting the antenna.

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