Cable Box Electricity Consumption and Cost

Today I got around to measuring the electricity consumption of the cable TV box that is in my home - a Comcast Motorola DCT-3412. It's an HDTV Cable TV box with DVR.

Is this "powered off" cable box costing American taxpayers hundreds of millions?

I measured the box's consumption by plugging it into my awesome Kill -A-Watt power meter and measuring the wattage.

Surprisingly, I found that my cable box consumes just about as much power when "off" than when "on"!

Here's what I measured with my Kill-O-Watt meter:
  • "Power Off": 30 watts
  • Watching TV: 31 watts
  • Recording TV: 31 watts
  • Playing back a recorded program: 31 watts
Why provide a power button when it makes so little difference in power consumption? Who knows!

Electricity Cost

So I did some math to figure out how much 30 watts of consistent power use costs, using recent prices for electricity around here:

(17¢ per kwh x 30 watts x 8760 hours per year ) / 1000 = $44.67 per year

Amazing - think about it - according to my analysis, perhaps 5 million people pay $44 per year for the electricity for a cable TV box that's mostly powered off! That's approaching a quarter of a BILLION dollars in electricity every year, thrown away!

This isn't "green" - it's "stupid".


Anonymous said...

The reason digital cable and sat boxes consume around the same power whether on or off is because the box is listening to the signal even if you're not. That is, it retrieves guide info, new auth keys, and even firmware updates while you have it off; firmware updates in particular must be made while not watching a show (turned "off").

To my knowledge, no one has ever claimed these boxes are "green". If you really want to save power, use a power strip to switch off power to EVERYTHING since even the TV and other electronics like an amp will draw some phantom power; the down side is your cable box will have to re-download the guide info every time you switch it on, which can take quite a while.


Anonymous said...

I have been researching this issue with Cisco/Scientific Atlanta and Time-Warner Cable. So far both have been useless.

I urged a friend to put his box on a power strip, and he did. But after a few weeks of this, when he turned the box back on he got a message from the cable company about some sort of "error".

All efforts to find out about this have failed so far, except to have been told that you can't leave the box "off" for more than 7 or 8 hours at a time, but with no explanation of why.

My current hypothesis is that it's some sort of security measure to prevent cable service theft.

I told my friend to put his box on a timer so it was only off for six hours at a time, with "on" intervals of a couple hours, but he said it was too much of a hassle and has removed the power strip.

If I learn anything more I'll let you know. If anyone else knows more about this I'd be grateful to hear about it.


Anonymous said...

Comcast is so efficient at things like finding out how to make more money and how to use machines as customer service employees that they forgot how to be efficient at helping to produce a cleaner environment. :*(

Anonymous said...

Comcast is so efficient at things like finding out how to make more money and how to use machines as customer service employees that they forgot how to be efficient at helping to produce a cleaner environment. :*(

Mike Castle said...

The key point about this post is ``DVR.''

My cable box uses less than 5W,

My older TiVo, on the other hand, uses 35W.

A friend of mine recently switch from Comcast to AT&T, and their new combo cable/dvr box uses around 20W. The older one around 40W.

Nancy Alzo said...

We started powering off our cable box with a power strip some time ago but frequently get the TW error message and need to have a technician reset it. The explanation I have received is that updates are sent overnight and I am "missing" them when the box is powered off. The last time, the technician also told me that I am "breaking" my box by doing this and it will eventually stop working. That is when I will stop subscribing to cable TV.

Anonymous said...

I just called Time Warner and they have new boxes but both pull in the same wattage and will cost a New York City resident (CON_ED) about $22.00 a month to run 2 boxes.
It is amazing to me that no one is doing anything to help them become a better service.
Jesse East village New York

qed said...

I just put my cable box (HD but w/o DVR) on an appliance timer. It's set to only turn the box on during the prime TV watching hours - maybe 5 out of 24.

Anonymous said...

I tested my DISH DRV box, basic on (watching one TV, no recording, no second TV watching anything) with my Kill A Watt meter at 41 Watts, I measured OFF at also 41 WATTS DISH has Comcast beat! on power Vampires. So I built a Kill-A-Power-Vampire box (it has one AC receptacle and a power switch) which turns power to the box off.

Yes, it is a bit of a bother to remember when to turn it back on in time to record something but what choice do we have? I also measured my HDTV and the Blu-Ray box, when off both of these measured less than 1Watt since the Kill A Watt meter said it was 0Watts they are only keeping the remote sensor active I guess.


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