Cable boxes and DVRs use more power than refrigerators

It’s no surprise that the use of DVRs is increasing as more and more people become used to time-shifting instead of watching television on the networks’ schedule. DVRs are compared to competitors so that customers can find the best fit for their lives. Now the New York Times is reporting something that may surprise many people: Your set-top boxes consume more energy in a year than your refrigerator.

Initially you might assume that the main culprit is the hard drive spinning in the device, but according to the article, it only accounts for an additional 104 kilowatt-hours a year; a normal HD set-top box generates 171 kilowatt-hours a year compared to 275 kilowatt-hours a year for an HD DVR. The problem is that the electronics run 24x7, even when not being used by the customer. Some of this is related to the fact that providers push software updates in the middle of the night, while another issue is that customers expect their television to be “instant-on.” One of the biggest complaints about HD DVD and Blu-Ray way the fact that it took minutes for the machines to boot up, so having to wait for your set-top box to boot up each time would not be acceptable to most people.

Another issue with a DVR is that it needs to be running so that it knows when to start recording your television shows. Some DVRs, such as TiVo, will even record shows that it thinks you might like based on your previous viewing habits. Although a DVR could be made to spin down the drive and underclock the processor when not in use, a big chunk of power will still be consumed.

Although the article is a little misleading in that it shows two electronic devices taking up more power than a single appliance, with families having multiple set top boxes and DVRs in their house, it is a real concern.

Image Courtesy of New York Times

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The unit tested must be steam powered. ;-) By actual measurement, my U-Verse HDDVR draws 19.2 watts when recording/watching, and 12.3 watts when "off". Assuming I record or watch 8 hours of TV a day (high, for me), this works out to 148 KWH/year, or about 1/3 what is quoted above. And who, these days, has a separate HD Set-Top Box and HD DVR?? While older TiVo units required a separate cable box, they were not HD. The new HD units (the one I had, anyhow) used CableCards, eliminating the separate box. And HDDVRs from the cable company are all-in-one units.

BTW, TiVo units DO spin the hard drive 100% of the time, as they are always recording two channels. Easily proven by just turning the box on, and reviewing the last 30 minutes recorded. The U-Verse model does NOT, although that's both good and bad (always thought it nice to run on the TV, and be able to go back 30 minutes to the start of the show that just happened to be on, but it does take more power, of course).

As other have said many of these boxes draw the same power when shut-off using the power switch. If you don't believe me, use a watt meter. My cable boxes draw exactly the same amount of power when switch off or on. All the on-off switch does is shutoff the video output. Many others have already stated this, but I guess people can't read.

And many have said that their PVR actually stop the HD when they push the power button. But i guess people can't read ...

Don't assume that because your PVR does nothing when you press the power button that all PVR do the same thing.

Mine turn off the HD after a couple of minutes after i press the power button. It will turn it one again at midnight for 15-30 minutes to update the system.

I would not own a PVR letting the HD spin 100% of the time. It makes way too much noise for nothing.

I turn mine off during the night, and I switch it back on when I get home. Same goes for my Desktop Computer, which rarely I leave it overnight, only when it's doing something.

MidnightDevil said,
I turn mine off during the night, and I switch it back on when I get home. Same goes for my Desktop Computer, which rarely I leave it overnight, only when it's doing something.

exactly. why waste (almost typed 'waist' ) the energy?

MidnightDevil said,
I turn mine off during the night, and I switch it back on when I get home. Same goes for my Desktop Computer, which rarely I leave it overnight, only when it's doing something.

As other have said many of these boxes draw the same power when shut-off using the power switch. If you don't believe me, use a watt meter. My cable boxes draw exactly the same amount of power when switch off or on. All the on-off switch does is shutoff the video output. Many others have already stated this, but I guess people can't read.

460 KWh * 1000 = 460000Watts a year i guess

now Which? estimate it costs 28 £ a year to run the fridge and then they estimate it costs 15 £ a year to run the TV ... so i m going to guess say maybe around 10 £ a year to run the sat box so LOL TV+SAT be 25 £ a year and the fridge still 28 £ ...

ME thinks i mfine THX YOU !!! .... i ve been replacing all my electricals with LED and A/A+ rated eg my pc having LED monitor and SSDs and a 5850

But i know where ther coming from my older LCD Sony was 165 Watts and older ThomsonHD Sky+HD box was 65 Watts

Cable and satellite boxes are strange, when I had direct tv my electric bill went up only slightly, when I switched to time warner my electric bill went up around 20 bucks, all because of the cable box.

Order_66 said,
Cable and satellite boxes are strange, when I had direct tv my electric bill went up only slightly, when I switched to time warner my electric bill went up around 20 bucks, all because of the cable box.

oh really... and not a single other factor changed? thats kinda hard to beleive

CJ33 said,

oh really... and not a single other factor changed? thats kinda hard to beleive

why is it hard for people to realize that cable boxes take up a lot of power? All these facts seem to mean nothing.

CJ33 said,

oh really... and not a single other factor changed? thats kinda hard to beleive

Yes really, and no, not a single factor has changed.

Order_66 said,
Cable and satellite boxes are strange, when I had direct tv my electric bill went up only slightly, when I switched to time warner my electric bill went up around 20 bucks, all because of the cable box.

my electric bill *IS* $20. (irrelevant info)

KingCrimson said,
Put things in perspective. The Mac Mini draws only 10W during sleep mode.

Really?? My custom built tower PC, with 4 hard drives, a fast processor and video card, and 750 watt power supply, draws 5.9 watts in sleep mode! (And 5.3 watts when "off".) Now, when running, it's a different animal entirely, but I wouldn't have thought a Mac MINI would draw 10 watts in sleep mode.

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,

unless they unplug them, they arnt turning them off....

even when it's in standby mode the linux part of it, just as when a PC is in sleep mode, the RAM module IS using power, dont know how much exactly, this way the DVR is ready to be powered on "instantly", - if you'd unplug it, it would do the boot procedure, which is not convenient.

I can't see how cable boxes use that much power. My LG bluray player uses 20W, i'd be pretty certain that a similar cpu would be used by a cable box, hdd uses 2-5w when in use. Virgin don't give their power usage info out, someone would need to get a plug with power usage on it to test. Also i put my cable box in standby when not in use, i wonder how much is used. Anyone in the uk able to test the samsung v+ cable box from virgin? New 42" lcd tv's with led backlight use around 90-120W btw.

You know they sell something that lets you test how much power things drain. If you dont buy into it, or want to test it for yourself, Homedepot and Amazon sell them.

I think its call Kill-A-Watt, but i could be wrong

Have had too many hard drives die prematurely from all the uptime = no reason. Now that i shut them down when not in front of them, they last twice as long. Yes i use cheap tigerdirect drives. Oh well.

nub said,
Why can't they go into some kind of sleep mode until 10 minutes before the show?
Yea I don't understand that either. I use Windows Media Center (Win7) to record my shows... the computer is dedicated to it, and it sleeps until about 2 minutes before a show starts, and goes back to sleep ~2 minutes after. So why can't a device specialized in recording TV do the same?
Now I will say that part of why a DVR sucks so much energy and isn't mentioned in the article is the "Live TV buffer" so you can rewind live tv. That requires constant recording of whatever is being watched. Oddly though, at least on my Dish DVR, if you turn off the tuner (both in my case), the hard drive still spins along as if its recording.

Caleo said,
I'm not sure I buy this.

You have to realize that that a cable box is basically on 24/7/365, and is drawing the same constant amount of power. A fridge on the other hand is still on in some sort of standby mode, but only uses any real power when it tries to cool the inside. So if you have a good one it may not come on very often unless you keep opening it. So all the time you are away from it like at work or when you are sleeping its not really doing too much to stay cold once its at its target temp and nobody is opening it.

reidtheweed01 said,

You have to realize that that a cable box is basically on 24/7/365, and is drawing the same constant amount of power. A fridge on the other hand is still on in some sort of standby mode, but only uses any real power when it tries to cool the inside. So if you have a good one it may not come on very often unless you keep opening it. So all the time you are away from it like at work or when you are sleeping its not really doing too much to stay cold once its at its target temp and nobody is opening it.

No, it's not. Most cable boxes have basic power management like spinning down hard disks and moving the unit into standby when not being used for extended periods of time. It would be nice if they supported full hibernation (which some may), but I have yet to see this personally.

reidtheweed01 said,

You have to realize that that a cable box is basically on 24/7/365, and is drawing the same constant amount of power. A fridge on the other hand is still on in some sort of standby mode, but only uses any real power when it tries to cool the inside. So if you have a good one it may not come on very often unless you keep opening it. So all the time you are away from it like at work or when you are sleeping its not really doing too much to stay cold once its at its target temp and nobody is opening it.

I don't know what kind of cable box you have, but when I turn mine off it's off. Only the clock on the front remains on. Of course it's not one of these fancy DVR things, no hard drive or anything like that, it's just a plain cable box.

azure.sapphire said,

No, it's not. Most cable boxes have basic power management like spinning down hard disks and moving the unit into standby when not being used for extended periods of time. It would be nice if they supported full hibernation (which some may), but I have yet to see this personally.

no they don't, you know cable boxes record 24x7 right? how could they spin down then? any box that has live tv time shifting has to constantly record 24x7..... motorola, cisco, tivo, moxi, and pace boxes (that accounts for 95% of the cable box industry) without a DVR feature dont turn off, they just turn the video off, ones with DVR they do continuious recording, which means its ALWAYS recording what channel its on even when your tv is off.... Cisco's current boxes use about 55 watts! tivo HD uses about 45 watts, moxi uses about 32 watts, this is 24 hours a day.... it adds up fast, they do not use power management to the slightest, mainly because cable companies dont care, you have to rent their box or buy a tivo or moxi box (tivo and moxi are on a power hitch lately though) moxi reduced their wattage from the previous model of 95 watts to 32 watts in the current hardware... tivo went from 45 watts down to 30 watts constantly

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,

no they don't, you know cable boxes record 24x7 right? how could they spin down then? any box that has live tv time shifting has to constantly record 24x7..... motorola, cisco, tivo, moxi, and pace boxes (that accounts for 95% of the cable box industry) without a DVR feature dont turn off, they just turn the video off, ones with DVR they do continuious recording, which means its ALWAYS recording what channel its on even when your tv is off.... Cisco's current boxes use about 55 watts! tivo HD uses about 45 watts, moxi uses about 32 watts, this is 24 hours a day.... it adds up fast, they do not use power management to the slightest, mainly because cable companies dont care, you have to rent their box or buy a tivo or moxi box (tivo and moxi are on a power hitch lately though) moxi reduced their wattage from the previous model of 95 watts to 32 watts in the current hardware... tivo went from 45 watts down to 30 watts constantly

I haven't really noticed anything in the electric bill. I have five cable boxes. One is a server and four are clients. They are all provided by the digital television provider. The clients use very little juice because all the main tasks are handled on the big server.

If you power them completely off, the time to boot and sync with the main until is under two minutes. It usually is less than a minute.

The main box buffers TV only when it is on. The hard disks do power down (you can hear them), it has a standby light on the front. Sure, it's not as good as hibernate... where a Windows MCE can boot the computer just before a program is scheduled to record, but at least it reduces some power.

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,

no they don't, you know cable boxes record 24x7 right? how could they spin down then? any box that has live tv time shifting has to constantly record 24x7.....

Mine is not. When i shut it down the HD stop spinning after 15 minutes. It's a HD PVR.