Your DVR Guzzles Electricity — Whether You Record the Daily Show or Not!

Turns out that one of the most inconspicuous home fixtures is one of the biggest energy hogs — even when they aren’t recording or replaying programs!

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) allow users to record television programs to a storage device (hard drive, memory card, etc.).  They also use more electricity than a refrigerator! (albeit, an energy efficient one.)

The startling state of DVR efficiency was brought to light by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report finds:

In 2010, set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants. The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and costs households more than $3 billion each year.

Remarkably, “U.S. set-top boxes continue to use almost as much power when not in use as they do when in use. However, leading European service providers have begun to solve this problem in their newest boxes”:

According to NRDC, there is much that can be done to improve DVR efficiency including:

Meeting ENERGY STAR requirements
Manufacturers are strongly encouraged to design products that meet or surpass ENERGY STAR Version 4.0 requirements as soon as possible.

Employing Automatic Low-Power States
Future products should automatically enter a low power state when the user is neither watching nor recording or downloading a show, and should wake up in a sufficiently short period of time to prevent customer dissatisfaction.

Replacing Outdated and Inefficient Set-Top Boxes
Service providers should accelerate deployment of new energy-efficient set-top boxes and make any needed changes in their “upstream” equipment to ensure the energy saving features are successfully utilized. Service providers are encouraged to shift to multi-room solutions that require only one main box and employ much lower power boxes (thin clients) to view content on other televisions in the home.

Spurring Technological Innovation
Service providers should work with their supply chain and industry groups to accelerate adoption of standards that enable:

  • Multi-room clients to achieve deep sleep with short wake time
  • Connected consumer electronics devices such as the television, set-top box, and DVD player to share power state information in support of more effective power management
  • Data connections should operate at lower power levels when not in use
  • Service providers to wake set-top boxes from deep sleep

With a little commonsense and ingenuity, your favorite television program can be enjoyed anytime of the day — without burning up your money and the planet.

— Tyce Herrman


Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:

Karen Rutherford Gardner


June 15 at 5:32pm


Just for reference, the current consumer TiVo (Premiere) uses 26 watts of power when powered on and recording (less than 2 CFL’s) and had Energy Star compliance when it was released last year – it also does not require a set top box since it uses a cable card for cable TV access. The previous TiVo (the HD) used 36 watts of power when powered on and recording.

June 15 at 5:42pm

Neal J. King

Seems strange, in this day and age, that such inefficiency would be supported in the market. Reducing power consumption for something that big should be a win/win/win.

June 15 at 8:18pm

Jeffery Haas

Pffft, the industry runs on the same thing all of them do, narrow unenlightened selfish self interest with no regard for the needs of the consumer.

June 16 at 10:49am


Exactly – with no actual choice from cable service providers, the market “reveals my preference” to have an energy guzzling DVR sitting under the highly efficient LED backlit TV I deliberately chose over plasma. Go figure.

June 16 at 5:13pm

Jonathan Koomey

The real issue is market failure. The cable company buys the box but you pay the electric bill. Therefore there is no incentive for the cable company to design an efficient product, and they don’t. Of course, like for most products, there are many options for improving their efficiency in a cost effective way for society, we just need to convince/cajole/force the cable companies to do it.

June 17 at 5:00pm


My TV, antenna booster and DVD player are plugged into a power strip, which I switch on only when I want to watch a program. That gets rid of the standby drain.

June 16 at 12:20am


Efficiency is important, but please don’t let it obscure what’s really needed, which is total energy use reduction. A very different mindset.

When I was a teenager in the 70s, nobody had a DVR, efficient, inefficient or otherwise as they didn’t exist. 0 watts consumed for DVRs then across the world. Not so in 2011.

I grew up in a hotel in the 70s, it had about 40 rooms and between all the guests in the hotel, and the two bars we had how many televisions would you think? The answer is ONE and it was in the “Television room” near the hotel lounge. We left there in 1980 but I would expect that the hotel is now likely to have FORTY televisions, one for each room. I don’t care how efficient they are, they will be using more than the one TV did in 1970.

“According to NRDC, there is much that can be done to improve DVR efficiency including:…… Replacing Outdated and Inefficient Set-Top Boxes”.

This is because basically what efficiency means is… go out and buy more consumer products. Guess what? That is what you have been doing all your adult life. It is that approach that has got us from 1 TV in a hotel to 40 TVs in a hotel with the huge increase in energy consumption and CO2 emissions as a result. The same with satellite boxes, computers, games consoles, fridge/freezers, coffee machines, power showers, electric pond fountains, electric sandwich makers, ice cream makers, broadband routers, electric shavers, juicers, kitchen extractor fans, air conditioning units, computer printers, digital camera, electric toothbrushes and on and on and on. The models in this list may well be more efficient than last year’s model, but they use a HUGE amount more than in 1970 because then we lived without almost every single one of these so the consumption and CO2 emsissions from such devices was almost… ZERO.

We love efficiency and so do the manufacturers. We can to continue with our extravagant high consumption lifestyles using cutting edge consumer products and the manufacturers get us to continually replace our old inefficient DVRs (say) with bright, shiny, new, efficient DVRs. It’s a win-win all round! Except for the planet of course where the CO generated from the plants supplying all this increased demand is filling our atmosphere. And of course, having seen all the delights of these new toys, China and India will be wanting them too. Of course they will be state of the art efficient DVRs for all those Chinese and Indian homes, and maybe only sales of 100 million units (total guess) so they will need to be efficient!

Of course, total global demand reduction is not popular. It means we need to stop buying an endless number of exciting electric things and manufacturers will have to stop making them. You can see why it’s not a popular approach!

June 16 at 5:22am

Mike twotwo

This is basically the same issue as the “how green is your IPAD II” Humans are driven to connect with each other. TV simulates that, email does it, etc. The tech we have right now is basically still the first wave–it is primitive, polluting , and ill designed–but the trend is unstoppable. People are addicted to electronics.

June 16 at 8:13am

Mike twotwo

What would you say to a consumer/manufacturer model where, all the energy use in manufacturing, transport and use is clean/cheap/renewable, products are thin on resources and designed as +99% recyclable into new product (not post consumer bricks), manufacturing facilities are zero discharge and good places to work.

June 16 at 8:20am

Mike twotwo

and an energy use model similar to the 2000 watt society’s program, and a land use model based on permaculture principals?
(sorry for the multiple comments, but this Facebook Comment Plugin box I am typing in is a joke–won’t allow more than three lines)

June 16 at 8:27am

Tyler Silva

also in the 70’s they didnt have microscopic surgery, just because you got along fine in the 70’s without it doesnt mean its not a good idea.

June 19 at 2:49pm


Tyler: With all due respect, we’re talking about energy consumption here, no microsurgery! The point I’m making is not that it was better or worse that we didn’t have those things in the 70s and that we do now, but that having them now means an incredible increase in energy consumption with corresponding CO2 emissions resulting in the situation which Joe posts about daily.

Mike: People are addicted to a lot of things these days (there’s a study there!) but I personally don’t believe that just because the world can’t seem to get enough electronic gee-gaws that therefore that demand MUST be satisfied no matter what the consequences. You say that “the tech we have now is the first wave”. Why the first? Didn’t morse code count? Telegraph? Short wave radio? Why is this the first? If, for the sake of argument, we assume that you are right, I would posit that if we continue in this fashion it will be the last wave as well! The planet cannot continue to provide us with BOTH a liveable climate and an endless torrent of consumer stuff.

I think the idea of manufacturing where all energy is renewable and 99% recyclable is a chimera to keep us all on our current consumption addiction. “In the old days” things were made to last, not to be recycled, although of course all goods should be designed with maximum recyclability in mind at the end of their useful life. The problem is with the whole IDEA of a buy it, use it, bin it attitude that we have towards everything at the moment. The idea of a totally renewable energy society which can provide air, train, motor and boat travel, global food and clothing production, endless consumer products and suitable lifestyles for every one of the Earth’s 7 billion (and rising) people at our level of resource use is a total fantasy. We need to get off this line of thinking and behaviour as quickly as possible.

And as a friend of mine said, “The best things in life aren’t things”.

June 21 at 5:29am

Tyler Silva

The only reason your hotel did not have a TV in every room is because TVs were so expensive. It is not the fact that we have too many TVs it is the fact that efficiency does not usually equal profits for a company so where is the incentive for companies to make green products. Now you have decades of bad regulation and bad manufacturing policies that lead to our energy consumption.

June 21 at 11:19am


Tyler: I would agree that the expense of a TV in the 70s would have made 40 TVs prohibitive, but … why didn’t we have, say, 5 in our most swanky rooms? I suggest that it was because people were not obsessed with the availability of TVs everywhere. Now we expect TVs in banks, ships, department stores, waiting rooms, petrol stations and more. And that’s in the UK!

You think we don’t have too many TVs!! I would disagree strongly. If in 1970, one TV was enough to keep our guests happy (my Mum and Dad never told me of guests complaining about not having a TV in their room and they were managing the hotel) then why does it require 40 TVs now? Neither my brother nor I, and none of my friends, ever felt aggrieved at not having a TV in our bedroom – we watched the one in the lounge. Unless your parents were very wealthy children didn’t have TVs in their rooms. Nowadays, I imagine that there would riots in most homes if even the 5 year olds didn’t have their own TV in their bedroom, probably connected up to an electricity powered game console too – which we never had back in the 70s either … so we’d better add that into the grid demand too.

It stands to reason surely, that this huge increase in electricity consuming devices over the last 40 years has not caused a decrease or even a stable demand for electricity and hence CO2. There is always a price to pay for our consumption and it’s not just what you pay in the shop. Yet.

June 28 at 5:04am

Jeffery Haas

The typical set top HD-DVR is a lot like the old automobile that had no seat belts, no dual system brakes, no smart fuel management system, no catalytic converter and no air bags.
The industry claimed that it would be impossible to add these features because the cost of doing so would destroy the car business.
Expect the same protests from the satellite and cable industry and expect the cost to be passed to the consumer.

June 16 at 10:48am


According to the report an HD-DVR set-top box combo consumes 446 kWh of electricity a year. I pay 17 cents a kWh. That works out to $75.82 a year – just for the electricity!

June 16 at 11:08am

Diana Cook

we had a new dvr and it sucked-so went back to the old type-at least it works. They will not have these old ones for long tho-so when this one goes out-we are stuck-

June 16 at 11:13am

Jodi Lewis Becker


June 16 at 11:54am

Mark David Oliver

Yup – I unplug mine whenever it isn’t in use.

June 16 at 12:14pm

Eli Herman

Holy crap that’s a lot of energy wasted.

June 16 at 12:29pm

Dave Dombrosky

Looks like the cable companies should take some hints from Netflix and move to a streaming-on-demand model. Or alternatively, figure out how to make the DVR power on and off automatically when it needs to record shows. Only issue with this is the bootup time of the DVR, but this could be improved greatly with the technology that exists today.

June 16 at 1:01pm

Ed McQuade

The newer Motorola 7232 that FiOS uses consumes a lot less electricity that previous DVRs. The decreased power consumption was one of the main features that Verizon requested from Motorola for the unit.

June 16 at 1:08pm

Justin Dodson

I leave mine on 24-7…..oh boy…..

June 16 at 2:57pm

Paul Kozak

Wait… TP??

June 18 at 3:33am

Richard Oliva


June 16 at 1:02pm

David Metzger

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June 16 at 2:39pm

Barbara Schwanke

Wow, I did not know this. Good thing I turn everything off before I leave.

June 16 at 3:02pm

Jennifer Stark Simons

hmmmmm…who knew?

June 16 at 5:32pm

Donnie Kepley

Maybe I missed it, but what if you just turn it off during the times you’re not watching TV? We keep ours off during the day and turn it off again before retiring for the evening.

June 17 at 7:16am

Pamela Thinesen

Oh, geez, another thing to feel guilty about…

June 16 at 7:30pm

Daphne Hatch

Well at least our DVR is an Energy Star model and only 1 year old, but I didn’t realize what energy hogs they could be.

June 16 at 10:17pm

Ken McCormick

I think it’s indolence on the part of manufacturers and on our part – The buying public, for accepting it.

I measured the current going to a friend’s TV, DVD player and VCR. With everything off, the power strip was still drawing 13 watts.

Products can be high performance, consume less power and still be cheap, (e.g. portables, phones, travel alarms etc…). Too many appliances that run on line current still consume too much, while in their quiescent/off state, to justify keeping them plugged in. That’s where the engineers are cheaping out, at a cost to us all and to the environment.

June 16 at 10:21pm

Diego Matter

To find ALL your standby losses you absolutely need a whole house power meter.
A simple power meter will not find fixed connected electrical users but is a good start.

As an example:
In our house the total standby usage if everything is off but connected would be:
540 Watt continuous, that is 12.6kWh/day or 4594kWh/year or $1,162 AUS/year only for standby – or 4.7 tonnes of CO2/year.

Because we turn everything off when not in use our standby use is only:
17.2 Watt continuous,, 0.52kWh/day or 192kWh/year or $48.43 AUS/year – or 0.2 tonnes of CO2/year.

That’s a savings factor of 24:1!

The biggest standby users are.
Air Condition I 1774 kWh/year!
Air Condition II 158 kWh/year.
Two Fans with remote 307 kWh/year!
Stereo 788 kWh/year!
Television and receiver (no DVR) 289 kWh/year.

As you can see it is worth paying attention to standby losses!

Start making a change and buy a whole house power meter or start with a more simple power meter when you can’t afford the latter.

Be meticulous and measure everything with a system in mind:
Make a list.
Turn all electrical users off – everything!
Turn every breaker on the breaker panel off. The reading on the power meter should show zero.
Then test with the first breaker on, make a note, then turn it off again. If you have a high reading then you have big standby users on this circuit -> what is connected?
Continue with circuit two and so on.

It takes sometimes quite a bit of ingenuity to find out what happens and which on is the culprit, but it is absolutely worth it!

Our electricity use is now 1907 kWh/year for two persons with all the amenities modern life has to offer.

The next steps will be replacing the halogen spots with LED spots and installing a 1.5kWp solar system. A 3kWp system would even provide the ‘fuel’ for an electric car. That’s what I call the power of sun! No wonder established circles fear this transition to a new future. No more oil companies, no more utilities with big earnings, only simple freedom.

Good luck for your journey!

June 17 at 9:25am

Marianne McHann

not even aware of energy (and money) we are wasting.

June 17 at 11:45am

David Henderson

This is amazing! Glad we got rid of ours! And I am enjoying more than $100 per month saved in going to basic cable!

June 17 at 7:59pm

Nitish Kannan

well based on Moore’s law its possible today to build and there are DVR devices, with SSD drives and ARM base processors which would consume 1/1000 power of a DVR and cheaper than existing ones, product cycles are key people get one DVR and never a new one so all DVR’s today rely on 5 year old technology, I run and am in the field so I completely understand why its inefficient. your Iphone is 1000 times more computation than a DVR and uses less power and has almost the same Hard Disk Capacity.

June 17 at 8:09pm

Ronald Turck

We are in for all of the solutions. For us a matter of economy; we cannot afford to waste money like that.

June 19 at 7:41am

BethandJack Wallace


June 19 at 12:17pm

Yoram Getzler

If you got one, reconsider…

June 20 at 11:19am


Comments are closed.