New Pace Digital Box Rates an 'Energy Star'

Pace Micro Technology Americas' new 500 series digital cable set-top boxes — the first to comply with the federal government's Energy Star power conservation program — may soon be in demand.

That's because Energy Star — a program jointly administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy — is preparing to turn up the heat on the cable industry.

"We've been trying to figure out which franchises are coming up, and we're trying to get the cities to require Energy Star compliance in set-top boxes as part of the renewals," said Craig Hershberg, Energy Star's product manager for office equipment and consumer electronics. "We'd like to see this happen across the country."

Cable operators don't have many Energy Star-compliant vendors to choose from at the moment. Pace and Matsushita Consumer Electronics are the only vendors officially listed as Energy Star partners for set-top boxes, and Hershberg said Pace is the only one currently building compliant cable set-tops.

Motorola recently became an Energy-Star partner, but only to build a satellite set-top box, he said.

Hershberg had hoped that retail deployment of cable set-tops would spur more cable companies to take part in the Energy Star program. Retail deployment has lagged as the cable industry, consumer-electronics firms and retailers argue about specifics.

"Set-tops are really inefficient," said Hershberg, who noted that many boxes consume almost as much power when turned off as they do when they're on.

"The off button is almost a psychological pun for the consumer," he said.

Congress, meanwhile, is considering energy bills that could set mandatory standby power limits for vendors that don't meet Energy Star guidelines, with some exemptions. Standby mode refers to power consumption when the device isn't fully operational.

Current Energy Star guidelines require that high-end "multifunction" boxes consume no more than 20 watts of power when in standby mode and that mid-tier boxes consume no more than 15 watts. Box vendors — concerned about sacrificing functionality for lower power consumption — have found it difficult to build boxes that fall under those limits. But Pace managed lower power consumption using a single-chip architecture that doesn't consume much power.

"That gives us a lot of energy efficiency right off the bat," Pace marketing director David Novak said. "We don't think it's a very difficult spec."

Hershberg agreed: "I don't want boxes to have any fewer features, but this can be done more efficiently," he added. "We still think there's a lot of potential here. We're pleased to be working with Pace."

Time Warner Cable announced earlier this month that it would deploy at least 750,000 Pace 500 series boxes over the next three years.