Cable TV set-tops have come a long way from the days of simply changing channels on a TV. But the features that millions of people have come to depend on to satiate their viewing habits takes a lot of energy. Experts expect cable boxes to grow 29 percent by 2040 in the U.S. alone, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
There are 224 million cable set-tops deployed in the U.S., according to Bloomberg, and together, they consume as much electricity as four giant nuclear reactors running 24/7. Indeed, a set-top with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The cable industry recently agreed to reduce the power consumption of its new set-tops, which could save consumers $1 billion annually but some experts say that is a drop in the bucket and could take years. The Department of Energy has plans to regulate the devices, according to Bloomberg News.
Part of the problem is that even when people think they've turned the boxes off, they often are just in a dormant mode and continue to burn energy as if they are in use, Indeed, two-thirds of the total energy they burn is consumed when they are not in use, the NRDC found.
A typical household setup--one high-definition TV set-top box plus one high-definition DVR--uses 7 percent more electricity than a new, 21-cubic-foot Energy Star refrigerator. That costs consumers about $4 a month on average.
More efficient systems exist. In Europe, Sky Broadcasting provides boxes featuring light- and deep-sleep states and takes only 90 seconds to wake from full slumber.
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