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Vampires always available

I discovered a vampire at my house. Not a sexy Edward/Eric/Bill type, alas; mine was downright ugly and acted more like an Alaskan mosquito or a leech. I’m talking about an electricity vampire, a device that sucks power from the wall when it’s turned off. My big bad ugly one: the digital video recorder.

The problem with smart-programmable DVRs like mine is that they run all the time. Whether you are watching TV, whether it is recording, whether you have it turned on, the device is “on” and pulling somewhere between 25 and 45 watts of electricity from the wall.

My model is by no means unique: TiVos, cable versions, and satellite versions all behave this way. Lawrence Berkeley Lab has a wealth of data on the on/off power usage of many household devices, and the “set top box with DVR” data illustrates the problem: the machines use the same amount of power off as on.

The more I investigated, the angrier I got. I tried to find explanations or solutions on my provider’s online customer service. Nothing. I went to the online user forums for both my provider and others. I couldn’t possibly be the only person concerned about the energy use, could I? Yet here’s a sampling of what I found:

> The TiVo is designed to run 24×7 and that is what it does. Both tuners are always recording all the time, either scheduled recordings, suggestions or just the 1/2-hour buffer….Quit worrying and just enjoy the TiVolution.

And:

> Both the fan and the hard drive run 24/7, regardless of whether the DVR is On or Off (standby). Unplugging it at night is not advisable, because among other things it can take 24 hours or more for the guide data to re-populate after power is reapplied.

I was so surprised! Where’s the rage? No angry threads lambasting the providers for this blatant and unnecessary design flaw? People simply accept this nonsense that a DVR can’t be programmed to turn itself on to record programs and receive programming updates, then turn itself back off again? That it takes 24 hours to repopulate the programming guide? That a device which must record unrequested programs 24/7 is a positive contribution to society? Hello?

I then sent a polite but very direct complaint to my service provider, asking what I could do to reduce the energy consumption of my DVR, expressing my dissatisfaction at its “always on” status. I received the following reply:

> While there is no way to reduce the amount of electricity used without potentially damaging the equipment, we do offer some receivers that have been Energy Star certified…If you would like to obtain any specific models, we will need to refer you to a local retailer.

OK, I hereby compliment DirecTV for having Energy Star compliant DVRs as they are one of the few satellite or cable providers who do. I also commend them for trying to upsell me. That took some guts. The problem is, my DVR differs from my provider’s Energy Star DVRs only in its release date, not in its energy use (mine was delivered before the Energy Star DVR Guidelines were published, so could not be certified as compliant). I have a lot of respect for the EPA folks who run Energy Star. Unfortunately the current Set-Top Box + DVR guidelines don’t address the fundamental issue of 24/7 power use. A follow-on version, set to be effective in 2011, promises to be more aggressive.

In the meantime, I’ve taken my DVR’s energy use into my own hands, and have implemented a great solution. I’ll show it off in the next post.

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