New Energy Standards for Set-Top Boxes

Set-top boxes (STBs), many with embedded DVRs, have become fixtures in American households. These devices, required for many digital televisions (DTV) services, and are rented from cable, satellite, and telephone companies or purchased from companies like Apple (Apple TV) and Google (ChromeCast). The proliferation of electronic devices have been frustrating household energy-saving measures and STBs, even when not in direct use, are no exception. A December 2013 agreement should result in more energy-efficient STBs.

The New York Times observes, "Improvements in energy efficiency have been slow in coming. DVRs and other set-top boxes are rarely chosen for their energy use, giving suppliers little incentive to do better. And with set-top boxes, the buyer — generally a cable television provider like Comcast, a telecommunications company like Verizon or a satellite TV company — does not pay the electric bill and has little reason to care about the energy consumption."

That should now be changing with a new agreement between the electronics industry and the US Department of Energy. The agency has announced "...energy efficiency standards for pay-TV set-top boxes that will result in significant energy savings for more than 90 million U.S. homes. These new standards – developed through a non-regulatory agreement between the pay-TV industry, the consumer electronics industry and energy efficiency advocates – will improve set-top box efficiency by 10 to 45 percent (depending on box type) by 2017, and are expected to save more than $1 billion on consumer energy bills annually. The set-top box efficiency standards announced today will ultimately save enough electricity each year to power 700,000 homes. The standards will also avoid more than five million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year."

This is good news, but the announcement goes out on a limb when it continues, "As consumer demand for digital video recorders and high-definition set-top boxes grows, actual consumer savings are likely to be even greater. The introduction of whole-home devices will also further reduce the overall energy footprint." More devices rarely reduce energy/emissions footprints, no matter how efficient. More is more.

How is energy consumption reduced in STBs? The New York Times explains, "The energy-saving fixes, in certain cases, are simple. To cut energy use, companies can make inexpensive software changes to the sleep mode on a set-top box. Or they can remove the DVR from the cable box, potentially providing programming via the web on demand. Tweaking DVR hard drives so they do not spin when not recording can reduce the device’s “vampire” rating by five to seven watts."

Note the term "non-regulatory agreement". This means the this is compliance is voluntary. The standards do not have the force of law.

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Set-top Boxes and Green ICT
Digital television and Green ICT