Leave it to those wet blankets in the federal government to tell us that watching modern-day TV is about as energy inefficient as possible. For years, the cable companies have been switching all their customers to set-top boxes so they can offer all sorts of services (On Demand, a TV Guide, ads running alongside that TV Guide) they couldn't over a regular coaxial cable. Those cable boxes — and especially the high-def DVRs we piggyback on top of them — are nearly always on; even when we aren't watching TV, they're on standby for when we decide to start. And it's of course a joy to turn on the TV and have an image there seconds later. Less enjoyable: the consequences.
There are 160 million set-top boxes in the country, and they're costing Americans $3 billion per year, according to a study from the National Resources Defense Council. 66 percent of the power drains when nobody's actually watching TV, and a DVR/cable-box combo ends up draining more energy than an efficient refrigerator.
We could just unplug the boxes ourselves, except for the fact that some take hours to boot back up. Not that any of us are upset about this. As of now there's no incentive for the companies that make the boxes to change anything, since we're all so blissfully happy with the new technologies they provide.
The government is not pleased. Regulations are reportedly coming by 2013. By then, surely, there will be a new energy-sucking, pop-culture-delivering, technologically amazing gizmo that takes cable boxes' place.