Stupid Cable Box   Leave a comment

I have hated the cable box since the moment that it first entered our house. Maybe even earlier, actually. We were one of those hold-out families that didn’t  jump to digital until forced. It was a joke to me watching cable channels slowly move from the basic cable package to the digital package, and watching the price differential slowly decrease. We waited until the price differential reached $0, at the time of the digital switchover. Unfortunately, the cable box is large, and there wasn’t a good place for it in our entertainment cabinet, so it is balanced on top of the TV. The day we hooked it up was a grumpy day for me because I hated the thought of being forced to add an extra cumbersome piece of electrical equipment that would draw ever so much more electricity for no other purpose than entertainment. To add insult to injury, it is harder to watch TV using the cable box because there is now a lag between channel changes. Yes, I know I could have chosen to stop watching TV completely, but neither my husband nor myself really wants to do that.

In our old house the power strip for the entertainment cabinet was not easily accessible, so we only powered down completely when leaving for vacation. In the new house we were able to arrange the furniture so that the power strip was reachable and we could turn off the power every night. I don’t know if everyone understands phantom power. Many pieces of electrical equipment are always drawing power. Sometimes it’s obvious, like a microwave with a clock that is always lit. It may not be drawing a lot of current, but unless you unplug the microwave, it is always using electricity. Often it is not obvious, like a TV, which appears to be completely “off” when it is turned off. However, in order to be able to use a remote control to power up, the thingy that receives the signal from the remote has to be on at all times. Phantom power load can add up in a typical house: water heater, thermostat, refrigerator, freezer, microwave (with clock), stove (with clock), alarm clocks, cell phone chargers, computer power adaptors, TVs, VCRs, cordless phones, cable boxes, modems, CO monitors, doorbells, etc. To figure out your phantom power load, you can read your electric meter at night right before you go to bed when all of your lights, etc. are off. (and during a time of year that A/C and heating are not required), and then read it in the morning before turning anything on. Or do it while you are at work, or anytime that everything is “off” for several hours. In the summer of 2005 I did a personal energy audit and determined that my phantom power usage ranged from 0.15 to 0.3 kWh/hr (this did include some lights and occasionally a fan, which might explain the range). That comes to 1300 to 2600 kWh/yr. At my current electric rate that is $125 to $250 per year.

I wanted to start off on the right foot in this new house with lower energy usage, hence the reason we made sure that the power strip for the entertainment center was accessible. In the fall, after getting ourselves settled, we started turning off all of the power strips every night, including the one for the entertainment center. My husband complained a little bit about having to wait a minute or so for the cable box to reset itself the first time it was turned on each day, but considering how much heat it gives off when “off” it was obvious that it sucks a lot of electricity even when not in use. After a while, though, we started noticing that it took several minutes for some channels to come back on line; and then some of the channels didn’t come back at all. Unfortunately a couple of our usual channels got lost as either blank error screens or super-pixelated sound and picture. This week I finally got around to calling Comcast to schedule a technician. We had already tried power cycling, checking the wiring, etc. and determined that a technician needed to come out. So yesterday the technicians spent about an hour to determine that the box was broken. They replaced the box and we have all of our channels again. Unfortunately, when I asked if turning off the cable box was the culprit, he thought that it might have been. Apparently it is not uncommon for them to see this problem after a power outage.

So we now have TWO power strips for the entertainment center. One for the cable box and modem that will always be on (I’m sure the modem would be fine with shutting power off, but we use internet constantly, and often while the TV is off), and one for the TV, VCR, etc. that will be off when we are not at home. It’s not perfect, and now I really hate the cable box, but it’s what we’ve got to do for now. I just wish they could build a hard switch on appliances so that you could choose to shut off the phantom load. I’d be perfectly fine turning the TV on at the TV, and then settling down with the remote.

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Posted January 29, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, home

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