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Cable TV Boxes: The Sneaky Power Hog

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One of the most surprising things I've learned in the past few years is that cable boxes require a ton of electricity. (That statement came out sadder than I intended it to.) I was reminded of this recently by a great story in the LA Times.

The small boxes can use as much as $8 of electricity a month, according to the article... second to only air conditioners. While $8 might not blow you away, it does add up, especially if you a bunch of televisions in your house.

The tragedy of the situation is that it is completely unnecessary. At it's core, a DVR is simply a computer hard drive. The cable box itself is a very simple specialized computer that hasn't caught up with the advances of computers. I switched out my cable box for a computer running Windows Media Center and a CableCARD and haven't looked back. For me the electricity cost is dependent on the computer. Computers have gotten more and more power-friendly as people demand longer battery life.

The article covers that:

"Energy experts say the boxes could be just as efficient as smartphones, laptop computers or other electronic devices that use a fraction of the power thanks to microprocessors and other technology that conserves electricity. Ideally, they say, these boxes could be put into a deep sleep mode when turned off, cutting consumption to a few watts. At that rate, a box could cost less than $1 a month for power, depending on how much it is used."

Imagine taking the appliance that uses the most electricity in many homes and reducing it to 1/8th of its consumption. That would be tremendous, not just for consumer's wallets, but for the carbon footprint.

Alas, it might be years before it happens. My guess is that most people will be using the cloud to record their shows, which is a whole different ball of wax electricity-wise. Why can't we have more efficient cable boxes today?

According to the article, there's no incentive for cable companies. It is a broken system. Consumers have no choice which cable box they get (unless you count the workaround I used, but you have to be a bit of a tech-whiz). I can't start up a company selling or renting efficient Comcast boxes. It's a shame, because it would probably do well once people realize they could save $75 a bucks a year with my product.

The article quotes expert Steve Kelley who brought an analogy that really hit me:

"The nation's shopping malls annually use hundreds of millions of dollars of electricity, he said, but their owners are often indifferent about reducing power consumption because tenants pay the bills. [Kelly said] 'The mall owners often won't consider spending $50,000 on a system that would pay for itself, because they don't share in the savings.'"

The end result is that it is up to the government to create power requirement standards. The article ends on a bit of a depressing note. Energy advocates have gotten the cable industry to agree to voluntarily reduce power consumption by 10% to 45% by 2017, but this is just a small amount of what could be done today. By 2017, we will likely be talking about having laptops with a full 24 hours of battery. Even with improvements in that range, there will be so much more that could be done so easily.

Finally, there's no penalty for non-compliance. So if the cable companies don't do it, you'll probably just hear a vocal minority complain... if you hear it at all.

Last updated on July 9, 2014.

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One Response to “Cable TV Boxes: The Sneaky Power Hog”

  1. […] top it off, they are incredible power hogs adding as much as another $8 a month in energy bills. In total, we are looking at more than $275 a […]

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