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Personal: Residential

ENERGY STAR® Qualified Set Top Boxes

What is a set top box?

A set top box is the box that you rent or purchase and connect to your television in order to receive signals from your television service provider – whether it’s a cable, satellite, or IP (Internet Protocol) television service provider.

Among the energy hogs around your home, set top boxes are on the rise. There is now an average of 2 boxes per home, and this number is steadily increasing. In addition, new functionalities such as High Definition and Personal Video Recording are often available for a small extra charge, and people tend to buy a model that has better functionalities. However there is a second price tag, as these functionalities come at a high energy cost, which translates into bigger energy bills, and a higher cost for the environment.

What is the second price tag, and how much can you save with ENERGY STAR?

Scales

One set top box can consume as much energy as your refrigerator, or your television. This can translate into $10 to $65 a year in electricity bills, depending on your box, its functionalities, and your local electricity rate. Ask your service provider for details. If you have 2 or 3 boxes at home, double or triple that amount, and the numbers can quickly become substantial.

Energy Star logo

An ENERGY STAR qualified box, under the current specifications, would cost you at most $30 to operate per year for the high-end boxes, and as low as $8 a year for models with fewer functionalities. Future revisions to the ENERGY STAR specifications might bring this number to as low as $5 to $15 a year.

Note: these figures are based on a set top box being turned on 24/7 and a utility rate of 10 ¢ per kWh. Check your hydro bill for your local utility rate.

Television

Did you know?

What is often unknown to consumers is that switching off your set top box to a standby mode merely reduces the consumed energy by one watt or so. Pressing the off button on the remote or on the box itself will rarely save you more than one watt! This is because the box is constantly downloading program information, updates, and is ready to record pre-defined programs in the case of boxes with this functionality. Pressing the off button isn’t the solution. Get an ENERGY STAR qualified box instead.

Service providers and manufacturers are working hand in hand to overcome these difficulties, and adopt the ENERGY STAR specification. With ENERGY STAR qualified set top boxes, the energy consumption of your box can be cut considerably.

For more information, or definitions see the full specification for manufacturers and for service providers.

An equation to remember: more functionalities = increased energy consumption

Blackboard

This holds true for most consumer electronics. Increased functionalities need more electricity to perform their work.

The ENERGY STAR program acknowledges that the consumer is looking for these functionalities and is generally not willing to trade off energy savings for functionalities. In other words, within the ENERGY STAR program, the more functionalities a set top box has, the more energy it will consume, but it would still consume less than a comparable non-ENERGY STAR qualified box.

So, what can I do?

Idea

With other electronics, you can easily unplug your devices or plug them into a switchable power bar. For set top boxes, the general rule to be on the safe side is to leave them on (or in standby mode). In fact, on some models of set top boxes, problems could result if they are turned off. Software updates are sent to the box by the service provider at times unknown to the user. Your set top box might not work when rebooted until you have called your service provider to reactivate your set top box.

The next time you need to call your service provider, take the opportunity to ask if your model can be unplugged without risking this inconvenience. If the answer is yes, the next step is to note how long it takes to reboot the day after, and you can decide if you are comfortable with the delay, or if you can organize your routine to make it more comfortable. For example, you could turn on the set top box as soon as you arrive home. Within a few minutes, the set top box would have rebooted. Another option, if safe to do so, is to plug the set top box into a timer that will turn on and off at pre-defined times. You can find this type of timer in the electrical section of your home hardware store.

Finally, keep an eye on changes from your service provider. If you rent your box, you might want to ask for an ENERGY STAR qualified box. If you own it, don’t forget to shop for an ENERGY STAR qualified set top box when the time comes to replace it.

Who is on board?

Although there are ENERGY STAR qualified set top boxes on the market, your service provider must also become an ENERGY STAR Participant in order for you to receive the full benefits from your ENERGY STAR qualified box. This is because the service provider can impact the energy consumption, positively or negatively, due to the type of operating system, software etc. that is put in the box. That way, you will be able to enjoy the full energy savings from your ENERGY STAR qualified set top box.

Contact your service provider now, and ask them to provide you with an ENERGY STAR qualified set top box!

For a list of ENERGY STAR Participants, check the section “Who’s on Board”.