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Set Top Box Research Team

Background

Twenty seven billion kilowatt-hours of electricity were consumed by set-top boxes in the United States in 2010, according to the Natural resources defense council (NRDC). This is equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants and costs more than 3 billion dollars per year. The little cable, satellite, or IP box you use to watch paid tv, could be consuming as much as your refrigerator. Set-top boxes (STBs) consume much more energy than is necessary for the functions that they perform, and it is the goal of the STB team to identify technological and economical improvements to the efficiency and manufacturability of STBs, to educate STB users about efficiency, to unify the industry’s nomenclature and testing, and to present solutions and implement them with our industry partners, STB users, and government agencies, in order to remedy the STB inefficiencies.

Mission

CalPlug is improving energy efficiency in STBs by pursuing five distinct goals, as outlined in our “Call For Champions” report. The STB team is currently working on three projects, which related to the first three goals.

Projects

1)Standard terminologies, labeling and testing recommendations for STB power mode:

The STB team’s first project is to address the absence of standard terminologies for different power modes used in STBs. Manufacturers use various names for their products’ power states, such as on, off, active, idle, sleep, hibernating, ready, and waiting. The states “idle”, “standby”, “light sleep” and “hibernation”, though different in terminology, have the same functionality. The STB will propose a defined set of names for the different modes of STB’ to bring unity among the industry and to facilitate technical communications between organizations, standards agencies, and STB users. Our categorization will be based on the power consumed in each state, and the processes that the STB is using. To achieve this goal we are researching for the terminologies used by different companies in the United States and also Europe, China, Australia etc. We have gathered data from CEA, NRDC, Energy Star, Sky broadcasting and China energy standards etc.

A sample suggested terminologies would be:

Mode Recommended mode name Definition Alternate names Power consumption
ON active This State is the known”ON” mode by users. When the STB is plugged in, playing, recording and does required tasks from the user. Active  
ready STB is plugged in and is consuming nearly the same amount of energy as ON mode, however it is not playing  anything Light sleep, Standby, idle  
Sleep Sleep The user can change this state to on by just pressing a button. Deep sleep, hibernation
OFF OFF The STB is unplugged and will require time to load and startup when turned on. Disconnected ZERO

2)STB power testing and analysis:

The STB team’s second project is to take careful measurements of the power consumed by the STB models currently available, in order to gain insight as to where the inefficiencies lay. Comparisons are made between the boxes to find common inefficiencies. We hope to use this information to recommend our own components and designs that will save energy. We are also looking into testing procedures for set top boxes and new technologies such as infrared cameras and magnetometer probes to measure their power consumption.

3)Sleep function with fast recovery and conditional access:

The third project is called “Intelligent Sleep.” It seeks to address the lack of efficient power management in today’s STBs. According to the NRDC, approximately two thirds of energy that STBs use, is consumed when the STB is not being used. Most boxes do not have a significant power savings mode, consuming almost as much energy when they are idling as when they are on and being used. However, the team also seeks to create balance between energy savings and ease of use. STBs can take minutes to hours of time to reestablish a connection with the content provider after a cold start. Simply unplugging the device, while efficient, will not provide an acceptable method for saving energy. In the first stage of development, the team working on Intelligent Sleep has created a proof of concept device that controls the sleep functions of the STB, and uses some novel methods to reduce the time it takes to boot the machine. It even predicts when you will want to use the box, so that it is powered and ready to go before you use it. The team is currently looking into how this kind of device could be integrated into STBs, and how subtler methods of energy savings, such as real-time dynamic power controls.