Hidden Cost of DVRs

Reader Mike writes in with a tip we just don’t repeat enough. A lot of newer appliances draw as much, or slightly less, power when “off” than when “on.” In order to really, truly save electricity you need to plug your DVR/TV/Computer/Whatever in to a power strip and shut the power strip off.

How much does this really matter? Check out Mike’s calculations:

    50W for 24 hours means 1.2 kWh per day, or 438 kWh per year.

    Cost to me (at 6.8 cents per kWh):
    $29.78 per year, or
    $2.48 per month

    Cost to the environment* (per year):
    356 pounds of coal burned, releasing:
    2.5 pounds of sulfur dioxide,
    2.55 pounds of nitrogen oxides,
    926 pounds of carbon dioxide

Multiply that by however many thousands of users there are, and it’s quite a bit of energy wasted.

Mike is wondering if other units draw similar amounts, and he’s asking for your help. If you have a Kill-a-watt meter, or are an electrician (Hi, Dad!) with a professional meter, please let us know how much power your DVR/Cable Box is sucking while “off.” The results might surprise you. After you’re done being shocked by that number, test out your cell phone charger…while the phone isn’t plugged in. —MEGHANN MARCO


Edit Your Comment

  1. kerry says:

    Turning my DVR off would pretty much defeat the purpose of having it in the first place. It’s always on, even when I’m not around, recording stuff for me to watch later. If I kept it off when not actively watching it I’d never record any programs, and would thus never, you know, watch anything.

  2. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Yeah, what kerry said… Why on earth would you have a DVR if you weren’t going to leave it plugged in to record your shows? Shame on Tivo for not having a better sleep mode, but $30 a year isn’t good enough reason for me to have to remember to plug it in before a scheduled recording.

  3. Meg Marco says:

    Just so you know that it takes almost as much power “on” as “off.” Some people don’t record many shows. Like me!

  4. Ben Popken says:

    The point isn’t about DVR, it’s about devices in general…

  5. scoobydoo says:

    Hippies suck.

  6. facted says:

    I’m with kerry and segfault. It’s interesting to note that a lot of devices (like your TV, DVD player, computer, etc…) still use up electricity when “off” and perhaps you could turn those off. There are obviously some devices that this applies to than others.

  7. acambras says:

    I’m by ur teevee… taping ur showz…

  8. krakbuste says:

    Reader Mike is completely WRONG. First, before spreading ill-conceived knowledge, please find out the power rating on your DVR (hard drive). Your drive on the DVR takes the power, initially they suck about 35- 45 watts (for about 3-5 seconds to get the drive spinning) then they go down to about 4-7 watts (maintain either 5400 or 7200 rpms). The Tivo standalone units only have a 50 watt power supply so by Mike’s (if that is your real name, hmm) numbers, odds are your power supply would be blowing if you ever restarted, or rather the first time you started you Tivo.

    As far as that carbon crap calculation, stick it in your pipe and smoke it. I hate when people spread false knowledge on such a widely read blog, (wink wink) Check your facts first Mikey.


  9. I just have to agree with scooby only because I like picking on hippies. Aside from that, has anyone else noticed multiple photos with cats in them lately? Like 3 or 4 in the last week? Whats with all the cats? Is there some sort of subliminal advertising going on here Ben and Megan??

  10. Chairman-Meow says:

    Looks like i’m not the only one who has a cat-powered DVR.

  11. DeeJayQueue says:

    IMN yr Powerstripp…
    Lowering yr electric bill.

  12. Musician78 says:

    I don’t understand how a device which is turned off can still consume any sort of energy. My mind simply cannot comprehend that. It is like that hourglass icon that Microsoft uses for their OS. Just sitting there trying to process the information. Just sitting there…….

    Does this mean that ANY device which is plugged into the wall uses energy when not in use?? Am I going to be expected by the extreme left wingers to unplug every single device I own in order to save energy??

    ERROR 404….

  13. Mike_ says:

    krakbuste, the device in question is a Motorola DCT-6412/2005, standard issue for many digital cable providers. Comcast advised me (and presumably others) to leave this unit powered on when not in use, in order to avoid known bugs for this model. Originally, I was wondering how much those bugs were costing me in added energy usage. When I checked, I found the difference is negligible, because the unit seems to draw roughly the same amount of power when “off” as when “on”.

    I measured the “power off” rate by turning off the unit, letting it sit for 20 minutes, and then checking the meter. It reads “48W”. I will admit I jumped to a conclusion here. I assumed that if it didn’t enter “power save” mode within 20 minutes, it probably won’t ever do so. (I also checked the manual before I submitted my tip, and could not find any mention of such a feature.)

    Since last reset 161 hours ago, my Kill-a-Watt has recorded 8.02 kWh of power usage, or approximately 1.2 kWh per day (i.e. 50W continuous). And yes, the DVR is the only device plugged in to the meter.

    In my tip, I tried to avoid painting with a broad brush. I assumed other devices are more friendly to the electric bill, and to the environment. I also asked for other readers to confirm my results, because there may be a problem with my set top box which does not normally affect this model.

    Coal usage calculation and estimated pollution values came from here (pops). These numbers seemed consistent with others I’d seen on the subject. If you have a better source, please share.

    Incidentally, my non-DVR set top cable box (Motorola DCT 2224/1661) also appears to lack a “power save” mode. My meter says it draws 15W on, and 14W off. Why don’t these things conserve energy when idle? Surely, we have the technology.

  14. adamondi says:

    Wow. It’s a good thing all of the electricity in my region of the country comes from hydroelectric power. So the only thing that I should feel guilty about, according to Mike, is that extra $29.78 per year. And that doesn’t bother me much at all for all the extra joy that my beloved TiVo brings me each night.

  15. orielbean says:

    Here is the deal folks – All electronic devices that have a standby, a clock, a programming feature, etc – they ALL are drawing power constantly if plugged in.

    Also, any “wall warts” like the sort that you charge your cell phone / laptop are also drawing power constantly.

    Most devices have a power-save mode or standby, however they still draw a current and make you pay for them. The wall warts also switch over to a lower consumption or standby when a device is not plugged into them.

    For your DVR, if you have it programmed to record at specific times, it is like a little computer is constantly running at all times in your cable box – this is a serious draw even while in “standby”.

    My home theatre projector’s standby is enough draw to make the unit warm at all times, even though it does nothing but keep the lamp capacitors charged constantly.

    I am not a hippie. I am not a leftie. These devices use the current to keep ready at a moment’s notice. If you unplug your DVR or digital cablebox, it takes longer to reacquire the signal and establish it’s program. You pay for convenience.

    I have seen a useful solution out there, called the smart power strip. If you google it, you can see what it does. It uses a single device, like a computer or a-v receiver, as the “switch”.

    You plug your related items into the switched outlets on the strip, like a monitor, tv, cablebox, etc, that are part of the ensemble. When you hit the power button on the “switch” device, it sends a turn-on signal to the other switched items. So, you feed one device and keep the others ready, but not drawing current.

    Example – plug the computer into the “switch”. Plug your printer, usb hub, monitor into the “switched” outlets. Hit the power button on your cpu – the other units all turn on and draw current. This reduces the constant-on devices from 4 to one. The strip also has constant-on plugs for lamps and simple devices.

    I just bought 2 of the strips, one for the computer and one for the tv, and they both work great. My tv setup uses a lot of juice – dvr cablebox, projector, 700 watt stereo av receiver, dvd player, game console, and I used my little kill-o-watt to see the difference. It was significant! I will report back once I get a full few weeks of data for cost differences in the bill. I think Mike’s incidental data is accurate as well.

    For your TIVO junkies, try adding a timed outlet into the equation, if you have only a few shows that you record. That way, you feed the beast while it’s working, then starve it while Judge Judy is ruling her courtroom and you have nothing to record.

  16. Mike_ says:

    If the STB is not decoding video for display or recording, or otherwise occupied with tasks such as updating the on-screen guide, it should be allowed to sleep! Obviously, it would need to continue to draw enough power to wake for scheduled recordings, respond to commands from the service provider, and promptly turn on when the user hits the power button (even if only to display “waking up – please wait” on the screen while it spins up the hard drive and opens the video stream). Is a little energy awareness too much to ask for?

    If my DVR is displaying or recording video 8 hours per day, and sitting idle for the other 16 hours, I am wasting 2 kWh for every 1 kWh that is put to good use. How many incandescent bulbs do I have to replace with compact fluorescents in order to offset the amount of energy this thing sucks down when it’s doing nothing in particular most of the day?

  17. orielbean says:

    Exactly – your laptop is smart enough to dumb itself down with lowered processor speed, power consumption, delayed keyboard response, less brightness, etc, to save battery power. Your other expensive items should be equally considerate. The smart strip, kill-o-watt, and timed outlets are a useful counter to this, as they control the inflow of the sweet sweet power juice.

  18. Bryan Price says:

    Totally useless and barely on topic comment, but:

    My (all black) kitten goes around shutting my powerstrips off for me.


  19. madderhatter says:

    @ acambras: Baaahahahahaha ! Funniest post of the day !