UPDATE: The Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has just issued a "proposed determination" that set-top boxes and network equipment qualify as a "covered product." If so, the DOE will consider test procedures and energy conservation standards for set-top boxes and network equipment.
A a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that DVRs, cable set-top boxes, and other pay-TV boxes are electricity hogs. These devices, said the NRDC, "cost American consumers $3 billion a year—$1 billion to operate when in active use and an additional $2 billion while inactive but still running at near full power."
An average cable high-definition digital video recorder (HD-DVR) actually eats up more electricity annually than a flat panel TV and about 40 percent more than a basic set-top box, according to the study. HD-DVRs run nearly at full power when you aren't watching TV or even recording, and hitting the Off button doesn't significantly reduce the amount of power used.
"The biggest finding from our field work was that the only way to really turn these boxes off is to unplug them—not an attractive option,” said Noah Horowitz, NRDC's energy efficiency expert.
The NRDC notes that in Europe, set-top boxes that go into a low-power mode when not in use are beginning to appear, but we're not not yet seeing them in the U.S. The Council suggests that consumers request set-top boxes that meet Energy Star Version 4.0 standards from their cable TV or satellite providers.