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Vampire staked by gadget

As recently reported, I had a rabid vampire at my house: my set-top box and DVR combination. It is designed to be “on” all the time, so it consumes as much energy when I’m not using it as when I am. This lack of a true “sleep” mode is my main beef with the combo device, so I set out to fix it.

My quest led me to a trusted energy efficiency gadget, the outlet timer, a device that switches an outlet’s power on and off at pre-set times. I last purchased one of these about 15 years ago for holiday lights. Wow, have they changed since then!

The basic purpose of the device – to switch an outlet and hence everything plugged into it on and off at pre-set times – has not changed. Now, however, they are electronic and programmable. The one I chose allows for up to 28 different on/off events, each of which can be programmed by time and by weekday/weekend day, day of the week, and other parameters. It also includes an override button, a battery backup to keep the timer running in case of power failure, two device plugs, and a compact design that doesn’t cover up the second wall outlet.

Given my family’s TV patterns, I programmed the timer to switch on my DVR’s power on at 2pm and off at 11:45pm Monday through Friday. Saturday morning, it comes on at 10am and stays on through Sunday night at 11:45pm. (I decided to keep it on throughout Saturday night just in case there’s a magic programming update or software download that happens only in the wee hours.)

I’m happy to report it’s working great. I’ve cut my DVR’s energy use in half and haven’t had any mishaps whatsoever.

To be sure, this solution removes some of my DVR’s functionality. Specifically:

* I can’t make ad hoc recordings in the middle of the night or early on weekdays without performing a manual device override. Also, if the DVR “discovers” a show it’s supposed to record, it will only do so if the power is on at recording time.
* If the DVR’s power is off and we decide to watch a program, there is a five-minute delay while the box repowers itself, finds the satellite, and runs diagnostics. Our small kitchen TV, however, is available for such “emergencies.”
* Upon repowering, my DVR’s memory buffer is empty, so there is no opportunity to rewind if I power it up off-cycle.
* If I remotely program my DVR with a phone or computer while the DVR is off, the remote software will tell me my recording has been scheduled, but this is not the case. Remote programming only works when the DVR’s power is on.

I am completely happy with these compromises. Still, my provider could do a much better job including the capabilities I want than I’ve achieved here.

Most people acquire programmable DVRs as part of a service package, either from their TV signal provider (cable/satellite) or from an independent programming service (TiVo). Often as not, the devices which come with the service package are ordered sight (and specs) unseen. So it’s critically important that informed consumers let their providers know that vampires don’t belong in our living rooms and bedrooms. Let yours know. I hope they take notice.

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