As part of the cable industry's efforts to avoid new energy-efficiency regulations, CableLabs is touting the results of testing that shows digital set-tops with the ability to shift into "light sleep" mode use at least 20% less power overall than older devices.
The R&D consortium's announcement comes just a few days after the National Cable & Telecommunications Association filed comments with the Department of Energy, arguing that any regulations governing set-top power consumption would not save as much energy as voluntary approaches the cable industry is already pursuing.
The "light sleep" feature refers to a lower-power condition that allows essential activities within a set-top box to continue while energy consumption associated with other tasks (such as channel tuning and video display) is discontinued.
Starting in September 2012, the six largest U.S. cable companies -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks -- have committed to deploying set-tops with the "light sleep" option.
CableLabs estimated that operators will have more than 10 million set-tops with light-sleep mode deployed by the end of this year. Applying EPA estimates for how long a typical set-top powers down and the average energy savings measured, that indicates annual energy savings of about 35 kilowatt hours per set-top, according to CableLabs chief technology officer Ralph Brown.
In addition, the six MSOs have promised that by the end of 2013 at least 90% of all new set-top boxes they purchase and deploy will be compliant with the EPA's Energy Star 3.0 specifications.
The Natural Resources Defense Council -- the advocacy group that criticized the energy inefficiency of cable and satellite TV set-top boxes in a report last year -- praised the cable industry's latest efforts in this area. The "light sleep" initiative will save consumers more than $44 million per year in electricity costs, the NRDC estimated.
"We applaud the cable industry's initial efforts to reduce the energy consumed by its set-top boxes and look forward to even greater efficiency gains in the future," NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz said in a statement.
According to CableLabs, some of deployments of "light sleep" set-tops are already under way. For existing digital set-tops, operators will also begin providing software upgrades this fall to enable light sleep in models capable of the functionality, the consortium said.
The operator-owned consortium established the CableLabs - Energy Lab facility at its Louisville, Colo., headquarters last fall. The Energy Lab is intended to promote development, testing and deployment of technologies to let MSOs and subscribers reduce and manage energy consumption in the home.
CableLabs cited other ways the cable industry is striving to improve energy efficiency. Today, the "vast majority" of set-top boxes purchased by the largest cable operators comply with Energy Star power consumption limits, the consortium said. A current model Energy Star 3.0-compliant HD DVR consumes less than half of the energy of older devices.
Cable operators including Comcast are also deploying low-power adapters digital transport adapters (DTAs), which use less than 4 watts.
"The CableLabs - Energy Lab and related initiatives reflect our member companies' determination to play a leading role within the telecommunications industry in energy conservation and stewardship," CableLabs president and CEO Paul Liao said. "Our findings around light sleep power consumption represent the product of a significant technology assessment effort by CableLabs, and reflect the ongoing innovations of the community of cable industry manufacturers, all of which will benefit cable companies and their customers alike."