Making Progress on Set-Top Box Energy Efficiency


In November of last year, the U.S. cable industry announced an initiative to improve the energy efficiency of cable set-top boxes. A major part of this initiative was the launch of a new facility within CableLabs – cable’s R&D consortium – that will focus on initiatives to improve energy efficiency, called CableLabs – Energy Lab.

We are already seeing positive results from cable’s commitment to energy conservation.  Monday, CableLabs announced that its testing of the “light sleep” mode for digital set-top boxes being deployed later this year projects an energy savings of 20 percent or more when the devices shift into “light sleep.”

Since set-top boxes are connected to a network, communication to the box is critical. The “light sleep” mode is a lower-power condition that allows essential activities within a set-top box to continue while energy consumption associated with other tasks (such as channel tuning and video display) is discontinued.  CableLabs estimates that cable operators will have more than 10 million set-top boxes with a “light sleep” option by the end of this year.

The testing was welcomed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an advocacy group which last summer criticized the energy consumption of set-top boxes.  Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist at NRDC said:

We applaud the cable industry’s initial efforts to reduce the energy consumed by its set-top boxes and look forward to even greater efficiency gains in the future. Due to this light sleep initiative, more than 10 million installed DVRs will now use 20 to 30 percent less energy when they are not being used. This one change alone will save consumers over $44 million per year in electricity costs.

Cable is looking well beyond the set-top box to provide consumers with energy savings.  As Mark Coblitz, Comcast’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning, outlined last week in a speech at SCTE’s Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI) meeting, cable needs to take a long-term strategic approach that supports anticipated growth in new services.

He outlined a need for “a long view of energy” that encompasses the cable telecommunications ecosystem of operators, programmers, broadcasters, vendors and associations such as SCTE, NCTA and CableLabs, as well as other network providers, power utilities and university and government labs.

Some of the cable industry’s other efforts to improve energy efficiency include:

  • ENERGY STAR compliance. The vast majority of the set-top boxes purchased by the largest cable operators comply with ENERGY STAR power consumption limits and continue to improve in energy efficiency. Cable operators providing service to approximately 85 percent of U.S. cable customers have committed to ensure that by the end of 2013 at least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes they purchase and deploy will be ENERGY STAR 3.0 devices.
  • The use of low-power adapters, such as digital transport adapters (DTAs) that use less than four watts.
  • The development of new technologies, such as: digital-only tuners; home networking and whole-home DVR; network- and cloud-based delivery that allows the processing and storage power of the network to be shared across many consumers; and video services delivered via Internet Protocol (IP) directly to tablets and gaming stations without the need for a set-top box.

As the cable industry continues to make more progress on these important energy issues, we’ll keep you informed.