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From Couch Potato to Energy Saving Crusader: How to Save Big with your Cable/Satellite Box

Entertainment.  It brings us together.  Lifts us up.  Teaches us new things.  We love it.  One source of that life-lifting entertainment is our TV, which along with the 200 million cable/satellite boxes in use nationwide, are delivering entertainment into our homes each and every day.  

But, after years of having to have one of those boxes connected to each of the TVs in our homes, an energy saving change is afoot.  The latest energy and space saving trend is a move toward use of remote cable/satellite boxes in secondary rooms.  Remote boxes are small and lower energy boxes that don’t talk directly to your pay-tv provider, but instead get content from your gateway or server box. Even better is the news that many cable/satellite boxes are coming down in their energy use, even as their processing power grows.  Over the past 10 years, energy consumption for digital video recording devices (DVRs) has dropped even as processing power has increased by 100 times, and storage capacity has increased by 20 times.  That improved processing power means today’s DVRs support multiple remote cable/satellite boxes, along with having innovative features like picture-in-picture, side-by-side channel viewing, and video streaming services, including streaming recorded shows to your laptop or tablet wherever you are in the world.

Just a few years ago, enjoying cable or satellite service on three TVs in a house consumed about 500kWh/year.  Today, a DVR in the family room and remote boxes in two additional rooms amounts to just 300kWh for cable boxes, and 200kWh for satellite boxes on average.  This story is getting even better as DIRECTV, along with set-top box and TV brands like Samsung and LG, are collaborating on a one -box option even for homes that have numerous boxes now.  Together they built a communication protocol called RVU (r-view) that will allow entertainment devices like satellite boxes to share content across the home network. That means no more boxes in secondary rooms needed--just a gateway box in the family room, and RVU-capable TVs in all other rooms.   

image of a set-top box

So, if you want that joy inspiring entertainment with the lowest energy consumption, what can you do?

  1. When selecting your pay-tv provider, select an ENERGY STAR partner like DIRECTV, AT&T, Dish Network, and EPB.  These providers have committed to providing customers with the best in set-top box efficiency, meaning savings for you. 
  2. If you want that pay-tv content in multiple rooms, secure a multi-room set up from your provider. 
  3. Plug your remote cable/satellite boxes and TVs into a power strip and turn off the power when you aren’t using them.  Unplugging your gateway or server box is not recommended, as doing so can require a call to your pay-tv provider to regain access. 
  4. Last, but certainly not least, select an ENERGY STAR Most Efficient TV when in the market for a new TV.  These TVs use about 60% less energy than a conventional TV.

Many Americans--about 2 million a year--are taking even bigger steps to save money by cutting the cord to pay-tv.  They are streaming content using devices like a Roku or Apple TV. These devices use as little as 5kWh/year per room, and have no monthly fee, though users do pay for services like Netflix and Hulu.  These boxes can also be unplugged when not in use to avoid standby power draw.

So, what’s next big win for set-top box efficiency? The ability to scale power so that set-tops use very little energy when not in active use.  Currently pay-tv boxes use nearly as much energy when sitting idle as they do when delivering content.  The national savings potential from this next innovation is enormous, some say more than $1 billion in reduced energy bills.  Here’s to set-top boxes delivering that great entertainment we crave, while continuing to innovate on energy efficiency. Now that’s an entertainment package that will keep us smiling.

Photo - Katharine Kaplan

About the Author: Katharine Kaplan manages the development of the requirements that products must meet across more than 70 product types to earn the ENERGY STAR.