Set-top box and saving energy

-February 03, 2014

At the beginning of each year, my household makes an attempt to spend our money more wisely. It usually starts the same way: very aggressive, even border line austere. We eat out less often, manage our electricity use better, I carry my lunch to work – and eat it. My wife is the family CFO. So she can put together quite the list of savings. For better or worse, we shortly run out of fiscal stamina and revert back to our old habits.

 

This year, however, we did make a change. We had a telephone land line service that was installed about 13 years ago. We paid monthly for the service that never got any better and never any got cheaper. So we decided to try phone over IP. With the combination of dropping our original phone service and taking advantage of incentives from the cable provider, we saved about $100 per month. This savings could help fund our lavish life style of going out to eat a couple of times a month.

 

A service that comes with the cable phone is displaying the caller ID on televisions connected to the cable boxes. I forgot to mention that the cable boxes were also installed about 13 years ago. The caller ID would not display on the television and reported that we did not have that service. After about four hours on the phone and eight cable box resets, I was told that I needed to exchange my cable boxes for new ones. This did the trick and I could even use HDMI.

 

This brings me to today’s topic. A few days before Christmas last year, the U.S. Energy Department and group of energy efficiency advocate organizations, along with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), released non-regulatory energy efficiency standards for pay-TV set-top boxes.1 These include cable TV and satellite boxes. The goal is to improve the energy efficiency by 10 to 45 percent by 2017.


The announcement stated that this would help reduce energy in 90 million US households and could save as much as a billion dollars in energy cost each year. Using the approximation of 1W of continuous use for a year would cost about $1; the new targets would save a little over 11W of power per household.

 

In 2013 the NCTA released a report titled “Set-Top Box Energy Efficiency”.2

This report contains some interesting information. The first is that my old set-top boxes were quite the power hog. The box they reference was a 2006 version. My version was an even earlier version as the HDMI function did not work on either box. The 2006 version consumed about 400 kWH per year. In the scheme of things that is not a lot of power, and $40 per year is a small portion of my yearly electricity cost. However, new 2013 models with more memory and functions consume less than half of this power. So the industry is making progress.

 

 

Figure 1. Progress reported for power reduction by cable box functionality.   (Source: NTCA 2013)

 

Figure 1 from this same report shows the general power reduction progress for different cable box functionality. It is surprising that standard definition boxes are still being made in 2010. The DVR function seems to add about the same power in 2010 as it did in 2002, but the storage capacity increased by more than four times.

 

Another interesting point made in this report is that when the FCC required that leased cable boxes include a CableCARD slot, it resulted in using nearly 500 million kWh per year. This is a lot of energy just to enable a typically unused interface, and there should be a method to power down the slot when the card is not present. I understood that this ruling allows the consumer to own their own cable box and just add the hardware needed for the cable service.

 

It seems to me that we could use a similar power management strategy as we do on the ultra-books. They have many functions in common. I understand that the set-top boxes are continuing to find ways to lower power. Placing the boxes in new sleep modes keeps it alive on the network while powering down other functions. It would be an interesting challenge to detect when the television is off so the power management can take advantage of this opportunity to shut down. My boxes do have an AC power switch control that could be used to control the TV power, but I have one of those “old fashioned” CRT TVs that would suffer from warm-up time if completely powered down.

 

As SSD storage decreases in cost, this storage type could be used. For me that would be a plus as I find the noise coming from the DVR drive annoying.

 

There are plenty of opportunities to save power in set-top boxes. But if consumers are like me, they may only get a chance to place new technology in the home about once every decade. Maybe ultra high-definition (UHD) will drive the boxes to be changed out over the next five years. That also would require me to replace my displays. Which brings me back to our household CFO – she would want to see the return on the investment. I could always say that we would save $11 per year with a more efficient set-top box. I hate to think how long I would have to save at that pace to buy an UHD display.

 

What do you think? I would like to hear your opinion on how we can get more energy saving technology into our homes when we seldom have the opportunity to replace the existing appliances.

 

For more information about this and other power topics, visit TI’s Power House blog: www.ti.com/powerhouse-ca.

 

References

 
  1. U.S. Energy Department, Pay-Television Industry and Energy Efficiency Groups Announce Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement; Will Cut Energy Use for 90 Million U.S. Households, Save Consumers Billions
  2. National Cable & Telecommunications Association: http://www.ncta.com/positions/energy-saving-innovation

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