ConsumerWatch: Power Usage Of Set Top Boxes Surprisingly High

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A general view of the HDTV monitors at the Haier booth at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Jan. 7, 2010 in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Getty Images)

A general view of the HDTV monitors at the Haier booth at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Jan. 7, 2010 in Las Vegas. (David Becker/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Those little boxes that usher signals into your television set are “energy sucking vampires,” according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC estimates the boxes waste $2 billion worth of electricity each year nationwide.

“These boxes stay fully on, all the time, even if you hit the on-off button,” said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the NRDC. “In my ten years of working on energy efficiency, I’ve never seen a device where you turn it off, and it continues to consume full power.”

Calculating energy costs at about 12 cents a kilowatt hour, a typical two-box set top configuration uses about $52.92 worth of energy a year. By comparison, an Energy Star-rated refrigerator uses about $40-$51 worth of electricity each year, according to PG&E.

The current generation of boxes are designed so that service providers can send updates, signals and programming all hours of the day and night. Horowitz believes that the devices should be instead designed to operate as needed.

“What they should do is ‘wake’ the device up, download the stuff and then go back down to the low power level,” Horowitz said.

What is an energy conscious consumer to do? Brian Cooley of CNET said you could plug all your television devices on a power strip and turn it off when you leave the house or go on vacation.

But he warns “There are a lot of caveats. If you power everything off, your DVR can’t capture shows when you’re not around.” Cooley said it could also take a few minutes, or longer, to reconnect to your cable system or you may lose some settings.

Later this year, consumers should have another option. Horowitz said manufacturers are coming up with a new version called the “Energy Star Version 3 Set Top Box.” The boxes use 1/3 less electricity than standard boxes now in use. Horowitz said customers may have to ask for it, if they want one.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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