Dragon’s Den surprise
In the last episode of the current series (Wed March 21 2007), I was fairly surprised to see all the Dragons in Dragon’s Den jump into bed with the candidates.
Ensinger and Baker brought The Standby Saver, a device that uses some extra circuitry and an in-line mains connector block and an infra-red receiver to isolate equipment such as TVs, videos, and and Set-top boxes from the mains when they are switched to standby. This is a fine idea, and it works – I simply stopped using standby mode on anything, and saw £50 chopped of my electricity bill, and all for the effort of using my finger to push a few buttons, instead of sitting my backside.
There are also products on the market that perform a similar function, and detect the flow of current plugged into them; when it falls below a preset level, indicating the main power consumer (usually a personal computer) has been turned off, they isolate themselves, so turning off anything plugged into them. Same concept, different method, and different patent too.
The problem with The Standby Saver is that I saw the same product for sale last year, from Germany, and available from a TV shopping channel. And we are talking the same design concept, using the standby signal from the remote to trigger the isolation. That’s where the patent comes in again, as the Dragon’s cash was dependent on the patent being secure. I’m surprised the technical Dragons hadn’t come across the German device, but find it unlikely that it won’t have a patent on the design, since it was already on open sale. This will be interesting to see in future, if they do a follow-up. That said, I’m sure there would be a way to fiddle the design and concept to provide a workaround, and patent some alternative method of achieving the same effect.
More interesting was the concept that their patent would be sufficient to stop a manufacturer using the same idea on production TVs. While most TVs do continue to gobble power when in standby, there are already sets out there (and have been for years) that do drop to near zero power consumption even when in standby (I bought one for just that reason), and they pre-date these chaps by years, so their designs are already established. Again, the Dragons seemed to be really keen on capturing the TV makers with the idea, so there could be problems there too.
On the same subject, I would like to echo the chap’s statement that some equipment is a joke in terms of its utilisation of a ‘Standby button. I’ve got a couple of Set-top boxes, and tested both of them after discovering both felt nice and warm in the morning, despite being on ‘Standby’ overnight. Sure enough, although not power-hungry, both were found to consume around 15 W when turned ‘On’ and dropped to truly appalling 10 to 12 W when turned to Standby. They might as well not have bothered!
Don’t forget the video or other recorder, they produce similarly hungry figures for ‘Standby’, and I found one that consumed the same amount of power when set to ‘Timer’ mode as it did when switched ‘On’. Pure laziness and bad/poor design on the part of the manufacturer (since some do drop to low levels when not ‘On’), but it costs them nothing, but you still pay for the power they waste, 24/7 if you turn the OFF when not in use. No great hardship now, as most use the embedded time code to set their own clocks, so you don’t need to do that when you turn them on again.
I wonder how many power stations have been kept open by the Digital TV Revolution over the past few years? Reckon that most analogue TVs have a Set-top box now, even if just pressed into service as an extra set, all you have to do is multiply that number by say 12 W per box, and that will give you a total. Guesstimate 600 MW for a power station as a starting point. You could double it, as there’s probably a fair few households running a DVD plus a VCR at present, while both system exist. You could probably double it again, for the number of Sky boxes glowing warmly under lots of TVs as well. Then there’s modern kitchen, with timers, electronics and clocks built into microwaves and ovens, also left on 24/7 to keep them accurate.
Ever think that taxing fuel as a polluter just might be ever so slightly in error?