How Power Hungry Is Home Entertainment?

July 4, 2008
By Patrick Costello Plasma televisions, video game consoles, and cable set-top boxes find their way into more and more American homes thanks to lower prices and aggressive marketing. While this trend makes for better home entertainment, it strikes a blow to energy conservation efforts. For example, even when just in standby mode, a plasma television […]

By Patrick Costello

Plasma televisions, video game consoles, and cable set-top boxes find their way into more and more American homes thanks to lower prices and aggressive marketing. While this trend makes for better home entertainment, it strikes a blow to energy conservation efforts.

For example, even when just in standby mode, a plasma television consumes nearly $160 of energy/year and a game console over $25/year, says an article in Good magazine. A study by Australian consumer group Choice found that plasma televisions use four times more energy than older cathode ray tube televisions. An Xbox 360 game console could cost $200/year to operate, and its competitor Playstation 3 as much as $250/year. (Meanwhile, Nintendo Wii fans can take heart that their box costs only $25/year.)

The two studies make various assumptions about usage, some more credible than others. No one, for example, would leave a game console on 24/7/365. And energy costs were on the high side in the Choice study at 15 cents/kWh. Still the studies make it very clear that both plasma televisions and game consoles are power hungry.

The energy consumption of another common home entertainment device, the cable set-top box also often goes unnoticed. A 2007 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study found that even the most basic box consumes more energy annually than a washing machine. And more and more households are likely to install such cable boxes very soon. Analog broadcasting will be cut off in 2009, rendering obsolete any television without a built-in digital tuner. Thus, millions of Americans will soon need to buy or rent digital-to-analog converter boxes. This is expected to spur the purchase of nearly 22 million cable set-top boxes. Many households are likely to upgrade to models offering integrated digital video recorders and high definition capabilities. The study found that advanced models offering both options consume more than 25% more energy than desktop computers and cost more than $30/year to operate. Interestingly, the study also said that the set-top boxes consume pretty much the same amount of energy whether they are on or off.

It is important to acknowledge the energy consumption of these home entertainment electronics and identify how they will affect household efforts to become more efficient. The set-top box is the least energy intensive of the three types of electronics addressed here, and the EPA estimates that these devices alone will consume more than 3 billion kWh/year and add $270 million/year to American electric bills.

While entertainment systems may not be as energy intensive as heating and cooling, we cannot ignore their impact as more and more of these devices make their way into our homes.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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