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DVR Power Consumption
June 26, 2011 1:02 AM   Subscribe

Which device in the American home uses the most energy? No, it's not the refrigerator or the TV. It is actually the HD DVR cable box.
posted by beisny (99 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
My new justification for torrenting instead of TiVoing is that I just care about the environment too much. It's media freeganism!
posted by mayhap at 1:08 AM on June 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


Well, shit.
posted by mek at 1:12 AM on June 26, 2011


Hell, my answer was gonna be "Your mom's mouth!"
posted by tumid dahlia at 1:17 AM on June 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Um...holy crap. That's pretty darn distressing.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:25 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh. That is surprising.

The article makes a good point— the cable companies don't really care (they don't pay the bill); the end-users might care but don't have a choice of boxes anyway; as a result the people who are actually able to engineer more power-efficient boxes have no monetary incentive to do so. It'd probably take coöperation from the cable provider for timeslotting or something anyway.
posted by hattifattener at 1:27 AM on June 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


In the not-too-distant future, when the few survivors of the resource wars are huddled around their dung fires in the blasted ruins of the megacities of today's industrialised world, they're going to look back at things like the always-on HD digital video recorder with internal hard drive and just laugh in incredulous wonder.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:28 AM on June 26, 2011 [20 favorites]


Never trust a computer you can't turn off.
posted by loquacious at 1:28 AM on June 26, 2011 [39 favorites]


Good thing I killed my cable almost a year ago. Haven't missed it.
posted by strixus at 1:35 AM on June 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Hitting the "off" button will typically dim the clock or display, but will not actually turn the device off or even reduce a significant amount of power that it's using in "sleep mode.""

Indeed.
posted by troll at 1:42 AM on June 26, 2011


The figures don't add up to me -- 446 kilowatt-hours per year means about 51 watts of power if left on continously, so this is really no worse than leaving on a low-power incandescent light bulb. Are refrigerators really that efficient these days?

Their assumed power consumption for a PC is about 60 watts, which seems quite low.
posted by neckro23 at 1:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Erm... not quite properly framed post here... Clearly, my water heater and air conditioning are using WAY more power than 450 kWh/year. (Though, one's definition of "device" might vary a bit...) Hell, my bill jumps from 600-800 kWh a month to 1,100-1,400 during the Arizona summer. Still, it'd be nice if you could sleep your TiVo (eschewing the 30 minute live buffer) when it's not recording something scheduled... I think a switch to solid state hard drives would also help some with the power consumption bit.
posted by disillusioned at 2:00 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, they seem to be underestimating the power requirements of a 'fridge: EIA says “For refrigerators in 2001, the average [unit energy consumption] was 1,239 kWh, while U.S. households on average consumed 1,462 kWh for refrigeration.” (Slightly more than one fridge per household on average.)

My guess is that the DVR figure is assuming a modern, very efficient refrigerator, no A/C, and that anything that can be gas/oil (heat, hot water, clothes dryer) is.

OTOH, putting it into perspective: the stated 446 kWh/year is only about 12 gallons of gasoline per year, which is about what you'd burn if your commute (roundtrip) were one mile longer than it is, or if you took a single 280-mile road trip. Cars burn a lot of energy.
posted by hattifattener at 2:05 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


The figures don't add up to me -- 446 kilowatt-hours per year means about 51 watts of power if left on continously, so this is really no worse than leaving on a low-power incandescent light bulb. Are refrigerators really that efficient these days?

On a per device basis, probably not, but if you had three refrigerators running continuously.

The good news to me is that with some simple government regulation - mandated stand-by mode - there is a great deal of easy energy to save. You can't have more green energy policy than reducing demand.
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 AM on June 26, 2011


In terms of the refrigerator:

The cnet link has the same 415 kWh/year number as the nytimes but specifies New ENERGY STAR Refrigerator (21 Cubic Feet, Top Freezer).
posted by beisny at 2:26 AM on June 26, 2011


You could always unplug the DVR?
posted by deadwax at 2:32 AM on June 26, 2011


Does Steve Jobs need to fix everything?
posted by fairmettle at 2:48 AM on June 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


Yeah, there are solutions like unplugging the DVR, and sure, it uses less power than the HVAC system (or your fridge, if you don't have a new Energy Star one), but I think the important thing to take away from the article is the very fact that the DVR doesn't turn off when you think it does and it pulls a decent bit of energy, which is stuff most people probably aren't aware of and thus don't think to work around (by unplugging the thing or whatever) at all (I mean, you can't think about something you don't know, by definition). Awareness is the first step, right? Not that most people will actually care, since it's so easy to justify it away as being only 12 gallons of gas/leaving a lightbulb on/etc and therefore just a drip in the ocean and not worth doing anything about.
posted by titus n. owl at 2:52 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


You could always unplug the DVR?

In some countries, it's normal to have switches in the wall sockets, so turning things off "at the wall" is normal behaviour (for some).
posted by -harlequin- at 2:56 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unplugging the DVR means, essentially, not using the DVR except in rare circumstances. Your mileage may vary, but the Bun family uses a DirecTV DVR, and if it gets unplugged, it takes about 10-15 minutes for it to "re-sync" with the mothership, so to speak. Also, unplugging it pretty much defeats the purpose of recording shows while you're away / not watching, which accounts for roughly 100% of our viewing.

I do like the idea of a "deep sleep" model, though I suspect that long-term we'll be migrating toward solid state DVRs, by which time energy saving ought to be a lot easier.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:05 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you unplug the DVR, then it won't record. This defeats the purpose of a device which is designed to record things, especially when you are not home/awake.

What seems to be necessary is some level of government pressure here - maybe energy star for DVR boxes, or standby mode power consumption requirements. One thing that stands out here is the fact that there has been no pressure on or incentive for the dvr makers to pursue greater efficiency.
posted by beisny at 3:06 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


ShutterBun, I guess we posted seconds apart.
posted by beisny at 3:08 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hook up the DVR to a solar panel battery?
posted by bwg at 3:32 AM on June 26, 2011


Does Steve Jobs need to fix everything?

As a data point, a Mac mini uses about 9 watts at idle (80 kWh/year).
[power on, not sleeping, idle cpu, disk spun down]
posted by ryanrs at 3:45 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hook up the DVR to a solar panel battery?

Better yet, make the DVR more efficient and hook the rest of the house up to a solar panel with battery.
posted by molecicco at 4:07 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't figure out where the power goes.

A random 5400rpm HDD from Newegg - Spinpoint 1.5TB
Looking at the specs (PDF link) shows it uses 9.7Watts Read/Write and 8.7W idle (spinning I assume) with a 12 second spin up time. How the hell does the box use 50W or 200W? That's just lazy engineering. The computer running my TV stuff doesn't pull anywhere near 200w while decoding 1080p in software.
posted by defcom1 at 4:15 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


My Tivo uses around 40w, (which puts it in the ballpark of my 6yro fridge). The Tivo records a 30min buffer of live TV constantly, so it isn't just a spinning drive, it is doing mpeg encoding too.
posted by bystander at 4:28 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do those things take 5 minutes to start up. Loading the TV guide? For that matter why does the TV guide use like 3 rows at the bottom of the screen, and take 2 seconds to page forward/back.
posted by nervousfritz at 4:32 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Getting the logistics of DVR recording, guide updates, and deep sleep working together seems to me to be a non trivial software challenge.

From what I've seen of the quality of the software on the cable company supplied DVR set top boxes that I've used, forcing them to put deep sleep on it would likely prevent it from working properly ever again.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 4:41 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do those things take 5 minutes to start up. Loading the TV guide?

We don't have a DVR. We just have the ginormous Motorola STB that Comcrap insists you have on your tv. Whenever we lose power, it takes that stupid brick the better part of an entire day to recover the guide listings.

Any "advance" in technology that requires you to have more boxes in your home is actually a step backward.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:50 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is old news surely?
posted by fullerine at 4:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


50 Watts is the equivalent of a pretty beefy soldering iron, which kind of makes me question whether or not this is like that "a big dog uses more energy than a Humvee" thing that was making the round a few years ago.

Looking at the NRDC report, there were two units out of about 60 that consumed 50 watt so what we have here is a report that underestimates the energy consumption of a refrigerator, and then treats the worst case as the norm and runs with it all hands waving freakouty.

The more I think about this, the more it sounds like that "dogs use more energy than SUVs" paper that almost seemed like it was designed to convince you that it was OK to drive a Humvee since it's not like owning a poodle or something and which was so beautifully taken down here.

That's not to say that these things couldn't be more efficient, but crappy information leads to poor choices, like hanging around with the refrigerator door open because, "Hey, it's not like I'm watching TV or something."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:42 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


And can you find the half finished edit in the previous comment? I'll bet you can.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:43 AM on June 26, 2011


I am offsetting my lack of cable by owning two refrigerators.
posted by desjardins at 5:49 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing I know about the box in my house (Scientific Atlanta branded, provided by Comcast)--it generates heat. I try to make sure there's airflow around it.
posted by gimonca at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2011


That's just lazy engineering.

You clearly don't "own" one of these things-- we have a Motorola box via Comcast: I'd love for a lazy person to have been involved instead of complete incompetents. The things suffer from eye-gougingly obvious software bugs as well. And they've never let a UI designer into the building for fear of having to do something sensible with the interface.

As mentioned in the articles & the comments, the clearest piece of bad engineering is however the hell the thing gets updates for the program guide. Unplug the box for a few seconds and then plug it back in and you have to wait 15-60 minutes before it finishes re-downloading and updating the guide. What is it doing? Aren't we talking about downloading a formatted text file that can't be more than a few megs in size? I wrote a not-that-efficient XML consumer in Python that regularly consumed 10+ gigabyte XML files (God help me) and went through a dozen of those files in a minute or two.

We have to unplug the box every month or so when the remote becomes non-responsive. Are they writing every remote command to disk in case I want to undo something? If you actually file the hard drive to about 90-95% full (y'know, like say by using it as intended), good luck watching TV as everything slows to a crawl because it never occurred to them someone might do that and maybe we should leave ourselves a bit of extra space on the disk that can't be used for saved programs.
posted by yerfatma at 6:31 AM on June 26, 2011 [22 favorites]


An Apple TV uses "less power than a nightlight" on standby, and 6 watts when it's running.
posted by designbot at 6:32 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Also, it is possible to put a TiVo in standby mode, but bizarrely, it does not stop the constant 30-minute live buffering. Basically the only advantage is that it won't interrupt your recordings for severe weather alerts.)
posted by designbot at 6:39 AM on June 26, 2011


In Texas it's the air conditioner. Trust me.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:41 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is it doing? Aren't we talking about downloading a formatted text file that can't be more than a few megs in size?

As I understand it, the guide is sent to the boxes via a 'push' from the cable company -- boxes do very little requesting. Cable TV, even digital, is still a one-way street from their office to your house. That's why the cable company can enable or disable your cable service remotely, but can't tell whether or not your cable box is on. Your cable box has to wait around until the next 'current TV shows' guide packet gets sent, which could be quite a while if it's busy sending other data.

I, too, have had to unplug and re-plug our cable-carrier provided DVR on a regular basis; also, the box has all sort of AV inputs and outputs, and none of them do anything. But, as others have echoed, there's no benefit to CableOne to provide a efficient or functional product, since you just get whatever they give you.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:47 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


We just went through dealing with the cable box stuff with my mother. She recent replaced her old TVs with new digital cable-ready boxes. Her provider still requires her to have what we used to call the "set-top" box, with or without DVR, and pay a monthly rental fee for it, on top of her cable fee. I assume she ended up getting the no-DVR box, but I don't imagine what she got is any better in terms of energy efficiency and utility vs data delivered.

This is not why I gave up cable, but it sure makes me glad I did.
posted by immlass at 6:55 AM on June 26, 2011


defcom1 : I can't figure out where the power goes.

HD video encoding actually takes some decent horsepower. Not desktop PC level horsepower, but not a wimpy little 1.5W ARM processor like your phone has (decoding takes much less work). So segueing into...


neckro23 : 446 kilowatt-hours per year means about 51 watts of power if left on continously [...] Their assumed power consumption for a PC is about 60 watts, which seems quite low.

That actually sounds about right, as an average, IMO. Most PCs draw 2-3x that when not idle; Most reasonably new computers (which people far more likely have than a reasonably new refrigerator - 18 month vs 18+ year lifetime) will drop that back to the 50-60W range when idle (not in standby/hibernating, just sitting there doing nothing). And even if you leave it on 24/7, even during use, it spends most of its time in idle mode. Really only gaming and multimedia editing/encoding (and relate that back to the DVR) put enough of a load on it to need anything but its lowest power mode resources.

But comparatively...


disillusioned : Clearly, my water heater and air conditioning are using WAY more power than 450 kWh/year.

This. The sticker on my hot water heater says 4165KWH/year, and you can bet that it hasn't gotten better as it aged (nor have resistive-element heated units gotten all that much better, so unless you know you paid 2-3x as much for a heat pump or solar water heater, yours, even brand new, looks about the same). My fridge no longer has its sticker, but I'd estimate about half that (I turn the hot water heater off when I go on vacations, leaving the fridge as pretty much the only thing on in the house, and my electric use drops to around 250KWH/month).

So in an ideal world, with the absolute most efficient appliances you can get on the market today and keeping them properly serviced, yeah, your DVR may suck the most juice. Realistically, it probably falls into the top 10, but not the top 5.


As for unplugging or switching your box off - Already covered, but that only works in you don't actually want to record anything.

For me, I just ditched any TV service altogether. I can get seasons of any show I want to watch from NetFlix, and none of the crap. No commercials to skip over, no "premium content" the DVR won't allow you to record, no interruptions for the latest update about some random hippy's flight diverted to BIA, none of that. Just full seasons of what I actually want to see.
posted by pla at 6:57 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we all really surprised that the cable company developed the most effective tool for bringing about the destruction of the planet Earth and all people on it?
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Never trust a computer you can't turn off.

Lesson number one: never distrust a computer!
posted by Jpfed at 7:24 AM on June 26, 2011


Note the graphic only shows HD setup using more than a fridge when it's something like a TiVo paired with a set-top box. Which is why I am happy I have a cablecard in my TiVo; at least one energy-sucking device has been eliminated from the chain. Why cablecard wasn't more popular is beyond me... Every TV should have a slot for them, so you dont need the stupid set top box. Or the shitty cable company remote. But they don't, because then you couldn't order pay-per-view. So the cable companies have claimed nobody wants cablecards. Bastards.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:27 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know a PVR gives off lots of heat, because every time I have foster kittens, they find that the most awesome place to sleep is in the very small space between the top of the PVR and the top shelf. Pro tip: kitten fur and lack of heat escape is very, very bad for your PVR.
posted by jeather at 7:41 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suppose it's too late to point out that cable TV causes stupidity.

I mean, just look at any stupid person and you'll most likely find they watch cable TV.
posted by warbaby at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why cablecard wasn't more popular is beyond me

Because cable companies fought tooth-and-nail against them, were federally mandated to support them, but they were able to support them so poorly and make them such a hassle for the user that they were effectively useless. My parents have them in their tivo. It required a service call to get the cards (no you can't just pick them up), the first service call wasn't able to make it work, had to get new cards, then a few channels were missing, which required calling support ("You have what?"), having the cards "reactivated" repeatedly, then those channels going missing a few days later, etc.

Cablecards were a perfectly good idea that just happened to have every possible market force working to make them suck.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:45 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hate—no, not strong enough—I LOATHE my the software in my DVR.

The first revision of their software was fine. Perfectly adequate, nothing fancy… it just worked.

Then somebody in marketing must have taken over, because one day there was a long-ass software update (rendering the box completely unresponsive) and the next day there were icons and color gradients and all this extra shit. But the worst, most unforgivable part of the software update was that it made everything slower. Even changing the channels required a couple of beats of waiting. If you wanted to access the VR part of the DVR it was a good two second wait.

Now, this unfortunately really fucks things up when you're fast forwarding or rewinding. Because that little lag at fast-forward x 4 speed when you're trying to catch the end of a commercial break dumps you a minute or two ahead of when you clicked STOP!

That sucks.

I'm guessing a whole bunch of other people thought the same thing, because about a week later there was another software update, and the only change I could see was related particularly to this functionality.

Know what they did? This is hilarious… when you click STOP, the box automatically adds a few seconds to your position. They hard-coded an anticipatory correction for their fucked-up software! Don't bother actually fixing the problem, assholes, no! Just shave a couple seconds off the top. No problem!

Except! The problem is that you begin to anticipate the lag (because it's for every action, not just FFW/RW). But when you anticipate the lag for FFW, you have to unanticipate the lag otherwise you'll end up in the wrong spot because there's no way to undo the auto-correction.

And the bigger problem is rewind. If you're rewinding to a point in time, the software still adds time! The fucking idiots didn't realize you need to subtract time. To give you an idea of how infuriating this is, let's say you're watching a sporting event. Something amazing happens, but your friend was in the other room missed it. No problem! DVR to the rescue, right? You hit the rewind button, and it starts to rewind. You're watching the screen so you can hit PLAY at just the right moment. You see the moment, you hit PLAY! No response. A second passes (it's still rewinding). Finally it stops. It then automatically adds a few seconds to correct for the lag. Except that now it dumps you to a second right after the amazing thing you wanted to show your friend.

ARGH! No problem, you hit rewind again. OK… wait for it… there's the spot! PLAY! No response. PLAY PLAY PLAY! OK, it stops rewinding. Another couple of seconds are tacked on. And once again, you're dumped mere moments after the point you wanted to be.

What you have to do is, you have to rewind much further than you think you'll have to, to anticipate not only their crappy lag in their motherfucking software, but also anticipate the bug in their dumbass software developer's patch for said crap software that adds time instead of subtracting time when rewinding. So you have to rewind like 10 seconds before the point you think you'll want to watch if you want any chance of actually hitting the mark.

As someone who deals with code all day for a living, this shit is absolutely inexcusable. The developers that coded that monkey fix should be shot with acid bullets, and the QA department that let shit slide out the door should be fed to hungry, angry dogs.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:48 AM on June 26, 2011 [24 favorites]


Oh, and the marketing nimrods that likely forced those changes through the pipelines even though the developers probably warned them that the anemic CPU wouldn't be able to handle the extra load? Those guys should be force-fed boxes of candy, then strung up by their nuts while the developers that had to implement their bullshit requirements get to play piñata on them with baseball bats.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:53 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hrm, 446 kWh works out to about 1.6 GJ. That's roughly the energy content of 10 gallons of gasoline.

Your DVR is destorying the environment.
posted by 7segment at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2011


In defense of the poor motherfuckers who wrote that shitty code, working on DVRs has to be one of the worst jobs available to man. Video standards are some of the most hilariously poorly specified (and followed) standards in the universe. Then you've got cable, which makes SCADA look like an Apollo-Program-level architectural achievement. Then you're working in a cost-constrained environment on an ancient version of embedded Linux for compatibility reasons. And finally, every day, you have to wake up to go to your job working at a goddamn cable company, with all that implies about the quality and personalities of the people that are your peers and managers.

Nameless DVR hacker, thank you for taking the bullet.
posted by felix at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know about the specific energy draws for these things but we have a basic cable box and an airport express in a media cabinet with glass doors, and you can feel the warm air wafting out the back.
posted by carter at 8:23 AM on June 26, 2011


Oh, we could start a whole new MeCha thread on the stupidity/avarice of CableCo programming. For instance...Any mis-input from the crappy insensitive remote (keying 07 instead of 007, say) SHOULD result in nothing happening (or, at the very worst, going to channel 7). What such a mis-key should NOT do is send you to fucking OnDemand. Unless, of course, marketing insistes on pushing OnDemand purchases in any possible way.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:31 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad : What such a mis-key should NOT do is send you to fucking OnDemand. Unless, of course, marketing insistes on pushing OnDemand purchases in any possible way.

"Please press the Cancel or Off buttons to confirm your purchase!"

"Thank you!"
posted by pla at 8:37 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


What felix said above is correct in my experience. I worked briefly for a company that was acquired by one of the satellite TV providers, and I had to deal with the team working on the DVR stuff. Both the parent company culture, and the APIs around the DVR/set-top box were among the worst I've seen.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:41 AM on June 26, 2011


Well thank you all very much for the kick in the ass I needed to ditch my FIOS three play for the internet only and a PS3. As long as I can get the wife and kids to do without having endless recorded stuff handy on the DVR. With the HD/DVR rental, local and family package, and Sho/Starz package, our bill is running around $170 a month. At least it's not cable. Either we've been lucky or evil verizon is slightly less evil than evil cable, because, price aside, we've rarely had any unpleasant experiences with the customer service or technical aspects of pay t.v.
posted by Redhush at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2011


felix: "Then you're working in a cost-constrained environment on an ancient version of embedded Linux for compatibility reasons."

That's the thing about Capitalism, it's naturally self-adjusting. The market provides those ancient embedded Linux versions for a reason!

To all the folks upthread counting watts and trying to figure out your fridge's electricity consumption by looking at your bill, please go out and buy a plug-in electricity meter. Not only are they cheap, but they're fun AND educational!
posted by sneebler at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


What you have to do is, you have to rewind much further than you think you'll have to, to anticipate not only their crappy lag in their motherfucking software, but also anticipate the bug in their dumbass software developer's patch for said crap software that adds time instead of subtracting time when rewinding.

Field Support -Design Problem Report 7653-B: See above report from customer. Priority: LOW.

Design Followup Problem Report: Request for more information. Missing software release stream id and version, model no and SKU id unknown.

Field Support Report 7653-B followup: No further info available.

Design Followup Problem Report: Could not reporduce. Problem CLOSED.
posted by storybored at 8:55 AM on June 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


sneebler : Not only are they cheap, but they're fun AND educational!

Agreed! I have one, truly wonderful toy.

They don't, however, work for 240V or hardwired circuits (you can get those that just clamp over the wire, but they cost $150-$200, rather than $19.95). So no clothes dryers, ovens, some refrigerators, water heaters, well pumps or pressure boosters, etc.
posted by pla at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


We've had AT&T U-Verse TV on and off. Their DVR boxes are Energy Star, and have a quick, responsive, and attractive UI. So yay for them.
posted by zsazsa at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2011


For the record, the box is some ubiquitous Scientific Atlanta pile of dogshit that comes standard with Time Warner that you have zero say over and HEAVEN FUCKING HELP YOU if you want to bypass it and go CableCard (see above). And don't even think about using your own converter and piping it through a card on your computer. They will sic the ever-loving ever-fucking DMCA on your ass like a mother fucking bear trap doing its best impression of Hungry, Hungry Hippos if you even DARE to suggest that kind of Communist Socialist Godless Nazi Batshit-insanity.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love my MythTV!
posted by mikelieman at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2011


Thanks beisny, I just forwarded this post to Mrs. Fartknocker. I've been trying to convince her we should cancel cable for a while, but reasonable alternatives have only just started to become available. Netflix streaming has pretty much kept us entertained for the last month or two. Huluplus stutters and fails, sadly, also, commercials. But the cost of the cable box is simply too high.

Is it just my imagination, or do most business models inevitably lead to the customer getting screwed?
posted by fartknocker at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2011


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.
posted by ged at 10:11 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Home appliances are terribly mismanaged from an energy standpoint. Fridges work harder in the summer, throwing off heat against the home cooling system, when they could be working together instead. Outside cold can be used to refrigerate in the winter, while dryers used only in cold weather could recapture more heat. Passive solar for preheating water would probably save the most.
posted by Brian B. at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mmm, sweet delicious FiOS internet and HD Roku, yummy and low power!
posted by NortonDC at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2011


The developers that coded that monkey fix should be shot with acid bullets, and the QA department that let shit slide out the door should be fed to hungry, angry dogs.

Ten bucks says the company who has the devs on this was strong-armed into a sweetheart deal where little or no money will actually be made on it. So they wrote it exactly to the (probably vague) spec provided by the Cable company and left it at that.

QA is the developer running some code unit tests to make sure there's no showstopper bugs, and it ships.
posted by chimaera at 10:30 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla: HD video encoding actually takes some decent horsepower. Not desktop PC level horsepower, but not a wimpy little 1.5W ARM processor like your phone has

Er, yes. Yes it does. But set top boxes and DVRs would never do this, because all digital broadcasts, whether over-the-air ATSC or cable system QAM, already come as MPEG data.

The real answer is that their hardware is either crap or outdated or both and wastes power every which way. If you want a look at what kind of energy footprint is necessary to do this sort of task (minus a hard drive, which is easy enough to spin down when the appliance is not in use), look at the Apple TV.
posted by indubitable at 10:39 AM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's getting a little bit better, I think, but for desktop PC's for a long, long time the off-the-shelf power supplies would draw 300-600 watts but were only 60% efficient. So a bit shy of half of the power drawn was immediately converted to heat upon entering the box. (Which you then need fans to disperse...) Google pushed hard to get more efficient power supplies on the market (since they had to pay quite a lot for this inefficiency), so I think things have gotten a little better.

The good news is that, because people really care about battery life in their laptops, engineers regularly think about optimizing power consumption in computer devices. Thus, the parts are out there for building really energy efficient devices, it's just a matter of getting producers to use them.

My main desktop machine is a dual-core atom-based mini-itx board with a laptop hard drive that was built into a cookie tin. It draws about 20W, and is completely passively cooled; it doesn't need any fans, and is thus completely silent. It probably won't run Crysis, but it doesn't need to. (Mostly I play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, by choice!)
posted by kaibutsu at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I first got my DVR/cable box from Cablevision (hack, spit) I would notice that the hard drive spun up every 10 minutes or so. As I am often in my livingroom on my computer, late at night, it was quite annoying. When I called to ask them about it they said that it was "updating the software".

Every ten minutes? Bullshit.

And that first box died in less than a year. Pro-tip: constantly powering a hard drive up and down is gonna fuck it up fast.
posted by Splunge at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2011


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.

Well, despite the bitching above, the overwhelming reason is convenience. Just turn it on and it's there. Personally, when the more tech-inclined members of this and other forums start describing the details of their non-cable/dish solutions, I just glaze-over. Different boxes, computers, connections, software, different subscriptions, Netflix lists, torrents, etc. etc. It's just freaking tv. It's not worth the effort.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:19 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Quebec you have two choices: Bell or Videotron, and both use such crappy interface software it makes you wonder if they just hired summer students to program the UI. The Videotron one has not been updated, at least in look, since it was first rolled out in 2001.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:37 AM on June 26, 2011


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.

We're not all in the "just download free shitz from the internet!!!!!!11!!!!11eleven" camp.
posted by Justinian at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2011


We're not all in the "just download free shitz from the internet!!!!!!11!!!!11eleven" camp.

That's unfair. "Subscribe to cable" and "Pirate shit from the internet" are not your only options. Many of us who live cable-free lives are doing so entirely legally.
posted by av123 at 11:58 AM on June 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


the end-users might care but don't have a choice of boxes anyway;

Verizon gives me that choice and we chose no DVR. We also pull the plug when not in use.

The whole notion of recording television doesn't quite compute with me anyway. Granted, I'm not a TV person to begin with, but the ephemeral nature of programming back in the day was to me one of its better points.

Now that everything is available at any time, nothing becomes crucial to watch.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:07 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The 30 minute live buffer kills DVR power efficiency. Its always got to keep that HDD spinning, and in the case of analog cable channels, the MPEG encoder full of data from the coax. In dual tuner DVRs (which are most DVRs nowadays) the power cost is even bigger with two encoders going full steam.

TiVo is getting a little jump on this - their new Premiere Q DVR (which wont hit retail until the end of the year) has no analog tuners. 100% digital cable only. This simply takes the bits off the wire and puts them on the HDD, no encoding from analog to digital needed. In their recent FCC filing they noted that adding analog tuners would increase the power consumption of the device by 33%.

There really isn't any way to solve this, short of going with a remote DVR where there is no HDD in your box, its located at the cable company office. You cant put enough RAM into the device (30 minutes at 19.2Mb/s maximum channel bandwidth is 4.3GB, double that for a dual tuner device) and a solid state drive would be ill-suited for something that is going to get written constantly to like this (it would likely wear out within a year or two - 2 streams writing to a 16GB SSD would be 75TB/yr, far exceeding the lifetime write rating on most SSDs).
posted by SirOmega at 12:24 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't figure out where the power goes.

It's probably having to receive a couple of channels of digital TV continually. Even if it doesn't do any MPEG decoding (e.g., if it's just receiving the transport stream and putting it in a ring buffer) the demodulation and error correction and whatnot takes power. If it's a minidish system instead of a cable system, it actually has to do a nontrivial amount of computation just to stay synced to the signal.

It has to do this both because re-acquiring the signal takes a while (as the article says, users don't want to have to wait a couple of minutes for the thing to be usable after they turn it back on) but also because metadata like program guides and decryption keys are dribbled out over long periods of time in low-bandwidth subchannels of normal TV programming. This is why I referred to timeslotting in my earlier comment. The way other systems (cell phones, eg) deal with this kind of problem is by having the metadata sent only at predictable times. For example the receiver could go into a deep sleep for one or five minutes, then wake up for a brief period to receive a bunch of data and the time of the next data slot, then go to sleep again. This can reduce the receiver's average power consumption by a huge factor, if it can wake-and-sleep quickly enough.
posted by hattifattener at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2011


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.

I'll come out and admit a grievous sin: I watch sports.
posted by yerfatma at 12:29 PM on June 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's unfair. "Subscribe to cable" and "Pirate shit from the internet" are not your only options. Many of us who live cable-free lives are doing so entirely legally.

Oh, sure. But in the context of this thread I assume he was talking about people who do like to watch (cable) television shows. I mean it is trivially true that someone who doesn't want to watch shows for which you need cable shouldn't be subscribing to cable, right? And such a person probably already doesn't subscribe? Unless there are a lot of people who pay for cable and a DVR and never actually watch any TV.
posted by Justinian at 12:56 PM on June 26, 2011


I feel Civil_Disobedient's pain. You wouldn't believe how fucking frustrating it is to deal with the Scientific Atlantic Explorer 8240hdc given to us by Time Warner. Fuck the Scientific Atlantic Explorer 8240hdc.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:57 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


So: is this something you'd have to have cable television to understand?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 1:05 PM on June 26, 2011


Justinian : Oh, sure. But in the context of this thread I assume he was talking about people who do like to watch (cable) television shows.

Except, the same still applies to episodic content. NetFlix has entire seasons of just about everything ever made on DVD (and a lot of the more popular stuff available for streaming). And if you don't want to wait for it to come out on DVD, Hulu has the last six episodes of most currently-airing shows available, 24 hours after the original broadcast.

With sports as a notable exception*, you can still watch anything you do on cable, legally, either online or on DVD; And you can do so for a tiny fraction of what cable costs.


* And I have no problem with that, because historically, they caused these insane cable prices by getting all pissy over excluding their highest-price-in-the-lineup channels from "basic" tier of cable offerings. Oh, how I will laugh laugh laugh when the likes of ESPN go under because they no longer have 90% of their "subscribers" involuntarily subsidizing their crap! ;)
posted by pla at 1:32 PM on June 26, 2011


Oh, sure. But in the context of this thread I assume he was talking about people who do like to watch (cable) television shows.

Gotcha. Yeah, for someone who wants to see the latest episode of "Bridezillas" (or whatever) right when it comes out every week then yeah, cable/satellite or pirating are really their only two options right now.

Unless there are a lot of people who pay for cable and a DVR and never actually watch any TV.

Agreed, I don't think that very many people subscribe to cable and then don't watch it at all. But I do think that there are a lot of people who subscribe to cable because that's what everyone else does or because they ordered a package along with their internet or whatever, and they end up watching a lot of shows not so much because they really want to watch those shows specifically, but because they are just what happens to be available at the time. I used to have cable and that's what I used to do. And if those people were to get rid of cable some of them would probably find that they really don't miss it, especially given the plethora of legit online streaming options these days (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, espn3, etc). But certainly it's not for everyone and I don't think that cable-free is the One True Way or anything.
posted by av123 at 1:39 PM on June 26, 2011


you can still watch anything you do on cable, legally, either online or on DVD; And you can do so for a tiny fraction of what cable costs.

You can do that... 6 months or a year after you can watch it on cable. No-one who doesn't have HBO can legally watch Game of Thrones right now, for example.
posted by Justinian at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2011


for someone who wants to see the latest episode of "Bridezillas" (or whatever) right when it comes out every week then yeah, cable/satellite or pirating are really their only two options right now.

I'm like this about Doctor Who and I have an iTunes season pass (and I assume Amazon has a similar program). Every time an episode airs on cable, I get an email and download it the next morning. It would download automatically if I set it up to do that, but I have a laptop and it's not always on, so I download it when convenient. Legal, and a lot cheaper than cable for the one show I care about seeing on time. Obviously some shows aren't available that way (Game of Thrones) but a lot are, and if you only follow one or two shows closely, iTunes/Amazon is a good alternative.

Personally, when the more tech-inclined members of this and other forums start describing the details of their non-cable/dish solutions, I just glaze-over.

After having spent some time dealing with my mother's cable setup when she bought new TVs recently, I feel the same way about cable. Clearly it's worth it for some people, like the ones who enjoy sports, but there's a huge learning curve to pick out the channels and shows you enjoy that I don't think people who have cable and have already mastered it appreciate. My mother figured out that she was going to have to completely relearn her channel numbers to get the digital cable with the better picture quality, and it sounded like this giant complex mess to me. For me it's Netflix, library, or buy (DVD/iTunes). That seems a lot less complicated than dealing with cable.
posted by immlass at 2:12 PM on June 26, 2011


Since there's always at least a server and one other computer in the house running/idling, when these first came out I jumped on it like a cat on a laser dot. Yes, it was a little difficult to get the cable company (Comcast, ptui!) to give me just an activated card. But I was an early adopter and I understand that they've kinda figured it out since then.

The comments on that tuner card mirror pretty much what I went through, and appear to be what seems to be a pattern of behavior across the big cable companies. And it's really not as steep a price as you'd think, when figured across the rental of three or four set-top boxes. And the DVR capabilities of those units are positively astounding.

Reading about the power-consumption regarding the set-top boxes makes me feel extra green today, when in all honesty that wasn't a consideration when I bought mine.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:35 PM on June 26, 2011


"Home appliances are terribly mismanaged from an energy standpoint. Fridges work harder in the summer, throwing off heat against the home cooling system, when they could be working together instead. Outside cold can be used to refrigerate in the winter, while dryers used only in cold weather could recapture more heat. Passive solar for preheating water would probably save the most."

Brian B. for president! Or at least Secretary of Energy.
posted by sneebler at 10:03 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.

Well, first of all I don't. I subscribe to satellite TV through DirectTV. They at least have valid competitors in their markets and an incentive to make things work. I love my DVR except when it loses power and has to restart (only when the power goes out.) And they gave me a new one that works better for free without me even asking for it.

And the reason I still pay for TV is that the only way I can get high-speed internet is by satellite and I have a 250mb/day download limit. That applies to streaming video as well.
posted by threeturtles at 10:21 PM on June 26, 2011


You cant put enough RAM into the device (30 minutes at 19.2Mb/s maximum channel bandwidth is 4.3GB, double that for a dual tuner device) and a solid state drive would be ill-suited for something that is going to get written constantly to like this (it would likely wear out within a year or two - 2 streams writing to a 16GB SSD would be 75TB/yr, far exceeding the lifetime write rating on most SSDs).

4Gb of DDR3 is about $50. If it dropped power use by 25% it would pay for itself in the first year. I wish that manufacturers would offer low energy options on devices where it is comparatively straight forward like this. I would pay an extra $100 for a lower power device.
posted by bystander at 11:46 PM on June 26, 2011


I don't understand why anyone bothers to subscribe to Cable these days.

In my house, it's for live sports in HD. Unfortunately, hubby is a boxing fan, so that means digital cable with the sports tier + SHO and HBO. We also subscribed to the NHL Center Ice package last season. I'd love to get rid of the rest of cable, but can't.

We don't have a DVR, but Time Warner actually has a neat feature where you can start over any show and it'll download it to you. No need to constantly save to a buffer. It's just about the one thing I can think of that they do semi-right (although, they do screw it up a little: b/c of this feature, 5 minutes into every show a big "Start over" thing comes up on the screen, which is annoying).
posted by statolith at 8:24 AM on June 27, 2011


> 4Gb of DDR3 is about $50. If it dropped power use by 25% it would pay for itself in the first year. I wish that manufacturers would offer low energy options on devices where it is comparatively straight forward like this. I would pay an extra $100 for a lower power device.

A potential problem with this is that looking only at the end user power consumption ignores the energy requirements of manufacturing, and making a higher-tech, lower-power version could perhaps increase total lifecycle energy costs if the equipment is replaced before its lower power consumption can offset its higher embodied energy:
Today's personal computers have a RAM-memory of 0.5 to 2 gigabyte modules that typically consist of 18 to 36 two-gram-microchips. This equates to 1,296 to 2,595 megajoules of embodied energy for the computer memory alone, or 360 to 720 kWh.
posted by Bangaioh at 10:19 AM on June 27, 2011


That's not to say that these things couldn't be more efficient, but crappy information leads to poor choices, like hanging around with the refrigerator door open because, "Hey, it's not like I'm watching TV or something."

Oh, sure, Kid Charlemagne, and next you'll be saying we should all be using foot-pumped lathes and hand tools, instead of power tools as G-d intended!

(Need to call you with some questions about foot-powered lathes, BTW...)
posted by IAmBroom at 2:26 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll probably be calling Time Warner later, but today the box stopped fast forwarding during commercials in The Daily Show. I can rewind, I can pause, but when I try to fast forward through commercials I get a little "circle with a slash through it" signal.

Wha? Really? Not going to let me fast forward through commercials?

You really WANT me to pirate don't you?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:39 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Need to call you with some questions about foot-powered lathes, BTW...)
I was chatting to a guy working a foot pumped lathe last week (at the Sydney Working with Wood trade show).
He told me that traditionally the timber was only really workable at a certain time of the year when the sap was flowing right. Unfortunately, nobody has documented what actual time of year that is. It is late autumn here and he seemed to be doing all right, but he suggested wood turning was probably a seasonal sort of occupation - after the harvest etc. this is the time of year to turn table legs.
Pretty interesting, and he makes mistakes a lot slower than I would with a powered lathe.
posted by bystander at 1:40 AM on June 28, 2011


Civil_Disobedient: "I hate—no, not strong enough—I LOATHE my the software in my DVR."

The only time the wife and I dealt with Time Warner, we tried their shitty cable box. We then called them up and asked them to take it away and went back to using our TiVo. They complained - "but without the box you can't get X Y and Z from us!" to which we replied, effectively, "Fuck you and your shitty cable box. We bought a TiVo for a reason, and I'd rather eat a loaf of shit sandwiches than get anything on pay-per-view."

This was the same station that preempted a hockey game in favor of a 3-hour fundraiser telethon for some asshole TV preacher. Yeah. Your home-town team wins the Stanley Cup and you think it's more important to show some asshole shilling for Jesus than a hockey game. Eat shit and die, Time Warner. And I hope Scientific Atlanta goes to hell with you.

I know that TiVo has a hard time making sales these days given the ubiquity of free DVRs from cable companies - but every person I know who tried one (even the hard-core "Why would I ever pay for that?" crowd) has come out of it saying "Jesus, the TiVo really is nicer than the P.O.S. I was using before." The interface works. It takes seconds to reprogram the skip button to do 30 second jumps. And it does an AWESOME job of anticipating the point you are trying to stop fast-forwarding or rewinding - you see the show starting, you hit "Play" and it automatically jumps back (or forward! when rewinding) several seconds so that you are where you hoped to be. The engineers there actually took human reaction time into account, and I have been thanking them for that for years.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:12 AM on June 28, 2011


Is it possible to build your own HTPC and run MythTV on it with Time Warner? I have a PC that'll boot Ubuntu in storage. If that will work with Time Warner, maybe I'll fish it out and get something together before the Tour de France starts.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2011


spikeleemajortom: Sure, but you'll be limited to the channels that are available via clear QAM or analog. Put your ZIP into this form and select Time Warner from the dropdown on the next page to see what you can get via QAM. It probably won't be much and probably won't be in HD. If you want to make your own computer DVR for cable and get anything but the most basic of channels, you'll need to use a CableCard, and that limits you to Windows Media Center.

Another solution involves keeping your existing cable box and recording the output of it via analog. If you want HD, you could use a Hauppauge HD PVR alongside your existing cable box. Here's more info.
posted by zsazsa at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2011


So.......just popping back in here to update the TWC issues. It looks like they changed the firmware a couple of nights ago. The box now works like it did several months ago: we have 4 levels of fast forward rather than 3 (yay!), the "skip back" button now skips back 10 seconds instead of 30 (annoying), and they've eliminated that feature/bug that Civil_Disobedient was talking about (so when you stop fast forwarding and hit play, it plays from that point rather than skipping back 30-45 seconds).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:57 AM on July 7, 2011


you see the show starting, you hit "Play" and it automatically jumps back (or forward! when rewinding) several seconds so that you are where you hoped to be

The DVR we got when we signed up for Uverse also does this and it is unsettlingly magical.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2011


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