The six biggest MSOs have committed to adding a new energy-saving “light sleep” mode to their set-top boxes, but how much energy might these upgraded products actually save? As much as 20 percent, and perhaps more, compared with models without light sleep mode.

Light sleep is defined as 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.

The evaluation of how much power could be saved was performed by CableLabs – Energy Lab. The organization said it measured results from three commonly used brands of digital set-top boxes from prominent cable industry suppliers, each running electronic program guide (EPG) software that represents the majority of U.S. cable EPG deployments. CableLabs will continue with its tests with additional variations of digital set-top boxes and software offerings later this year.

Some of the six MSOs – Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks, which together serve approximately 85 percent of U.S. cable households – are already deploying boxes with a light sleep option, well in advance of the target date of September 2012, according to CableLabs. The industry expects that as many as 10 million new boxes with the energy saving option could be installed by the end of this year.

In addition to new installations, some extant set-tops can be upgraded with a software update to include the light sleep option.

The lists of set-tops capable of sleep mode, and of those capable of being upgraded to include the option, were not available at press time.

“Our CableLabs – Energy Lab test measured further reductions of 20 percent or more by implementing light sleep,” said Ralph Brown, CableLabs’ chief technology officer. “Applying EPA estimates for how long a typical set-top powers down and the average energy savings we measured, this indicates annual energy savings of about 35 kilowatt hours per set-top. We anticipate that operators will have more than 10 million set-top boxes in light sleep operation by the end of this year.”

Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “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 more than $44 million per year in electricity costs.”

The increased energy-efficiency for new model set-top boxes will build on the strides in recent years by cable operators to utilize devices with dramatically lower energy consumption than previous generations of equipment.

Some of the cable industry’s 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. For example, a current model Energy Star 3.0-compliant high-definition DVR now in use consumes less than half of the energy but provides more processing power and home networking capabilities than the 40+ watt HD DVRs introduced 10 years ago.
  • Low-power adapters – In cable markets that have converted to all-digital systems, operators are providing customers with small digital transport adapters (DTAs) that use less than 4 watts.
  • New technologies – Cable operators continue to create new services that decrease the home’s overall energy profile, 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 IP directly to tablets and gaming stations without the need for a set-top box.

The participating MSOs 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.