Eleven of the biggest service providers and four of their largest vendors have signed a formal agreement to continue to improve the energy-efficiency of set-top boxes through the next five years, and to begin installing energy-saving models starting at the turn of the year.

The companies involved are Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, Charter, AT&T, Cablevision, Bright House Networks and CenturyLink, as well as manufacturers Cisco, Motorola, EchoStar Technologies and Arris.

New STBs will conform to Energy Star 3.0 specs starting next year, the signatories agreed. Energy Star 3.0 was finalized last summer, with requirements for devices such as Blu-ray players kicking in next March. STBs, specifically, might not have been included in Energy Star until 2018.

“We’ve already agreed to Energy Star 3.0,” noted Arris senior vice president Stan Brovont. “We can implement that years ahead of that taking effect.”

The Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement was published by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

The agreement “is intended to be a complete and adequate substitute for all federal and state legislative and regulatory solutions,” the document reads.

So in exchange for an accelerated schedule, the industry is hoping to avoid being legally compelled to conform to Energy Star 3.0, and it holds out the potential for ultimately exceeding those requirements.

As Brovont noted, cable has been intending to conform to Energy Star 3.0 specs, with deployments starting in 2013, since at least the end of 2011, when CableLabs established an Energy Lab.

The new agreement brings in the satellite and telco operators (which have had their own energy-efficiency programs). Through the voluntary agreement, which goes into effect Jan. 1, these companies commit to the following:

  • At least 90 percent of all new set-top boxes purchased and deployed after 2013 will meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels.
  • For immediate residential electricity savings, “light sleep” capabilities will be downloaded by cable operators to more than 10 million digital video recorders (DVRs) that are already in homes. In 2013, telco providers will offer light sleep capabilities, and satellite providers will include an “automatic power down” feature in 90 percent of set-top boxes purchased and deployed.
  • Energy-efficient whole-home DVR solutions will be available as an alternative to multiple in-home DVRs for subscribers of satellite and some telco providers beginning in 2013.
  • “Deep sleep” functionality in next-generation cable set-top boxes will be field tested and deployed if successful.

According to the EPA, which administers the Energy Star program, set-top boxes that are Energy Star-qualified are, on average, 45 percent more efficient than conventional models.

“Our industry today commits to a comprehensive initiative that will lead the way to energy savings for consumers in this popular and rapidly evolving product category,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CEA. “The Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement will protect innovation and consumer choice while reducing energy use and saving money.”

Companies involved in the new Set-Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement will meet regularly to review and update energy-efficiency measures, and to host ongoing discussions with the DOE, the EPA and other interested government agencies and stakeholders on new technologies and equipment. To create accountability and support transparency, the agreement’s terms include detailed processes for verification of set-top box performance in the field, annual public reporting on energy-efficiency improvements and posting of product power consumption information by each company for its customers.