Your DVR's Dirty Little Secret


"The boxes cost U.S. households more than $3B each year to operate."

GigaOm, Ryan Lawler

Here's yet another reason to kill the set-top box as we know it: The boxes consumers use to control their cable TV subscriptions and record shows to their DVRs are incredibly wasteful, costing U.S. residents more than $3 billion annually in energy bills, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. More importantly, about two-thirds of those energy costs come at times when no one is even watching TV or using the devices.

Here are some key stats from the study:
  • There are 160 million set-top boxes in U.S. homes, or one for every two residents.
  • In 2010, those set-top boxes consumed about 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is the equivalent of the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants.
  • The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland.
  • Set-top boxes cost U.S. households more than $3 billion each year to operate, with about $2 billion of that being spent on operations when no one is at home or watching TV.
  • Unless the industry deploys more energy-efficient designs, the cost of powering these devices will increase by $3.5 billion per year by 2020.

Due to the rapid adoption of DVR usage in the home, the amount of energy consumed by these devices has grown rapidly. DVRs use about 40% more energy than typical HD TV set-top boxes, and they've become a lot more popular in recent years, with more than 40% of U.S. households having at least one of them.

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