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10 June 2021

SmarDTV cuts figure of lone sustainability ranger at Anga Com

Virtual Anga Com’s lack of ambition was evocative of an industry itching to get back to physical trade shows and evening soirees. This meant a bit of digging was required to find much of educational value, or even light entertainment, eventually leading Faultline to unearth a rare gem when tuning into a presentation from set top maker SmarDTV Global.

Tony Strutt, Sales Director of the EMEA region at SmarDTV Global, delivered some striking lessons in sustainability for a typically hardware-centric Anga Com audience. He encouraged a bit of sympathy for the poor old set top, which has received more than its fair share of bad press over the past decade, not only with people predicting the demise of the set top (us included), but also the un-environmentally friendly nature of these bulky and power-hungry devices.

Even if you wouldn’t call yourself anything close to an eco-activist, refusing to don even a subtle green cap in today’s political climate is nothing short of corporate suicide. While the set top is a prime physical example of where changes are happening, do not be mistaken, for sweeping eco-changes are coming industry-wide – as some of Faultline’s more recent pandemic-inspired coverage has hammered home.

The overriding regulation here is the 2015 Paris Agreement which sets out long-term targets of ensuring that the average global temperature increase does not exceed 2oC above pre-industrial levels. Member states are required to submit plans and report regularly on measures taken to achieve these ambitions.

A good place to start for the media hardware sector, according to Strutt, is by measuring impact on the environment through a life cycle analysis methodology – which monitors stages in the cycle from sourcing of materials, to manufacturing, to how the device is distributed, how it’s used in the consumer home (i.e. power consumption), and finally onto end of life (how easy the device is to disassemble and recycle).

A typical target SmarDTV is seeing among its customer base is at least a 30% reduction on environmental impact from each set top generation to the next, which we think sounds like a reasonable reduction.

To gauge this, SmarDTV uses a tool to monitor CO2 equivalent emissions of its devices during manufacturing and distribution stages, with Strutt giving the example of a single typical set top producing the equivalent of 9.25kg in CO2 throughout its lifecycle. From this emissions total, the set top itself is the main contributor at 5.75kg, while the remainder of emissions are primarily made up of accessories and packaging. Strutt added that SmarDTV is actively making moves to eradicate use of plastic bags from its products too.

So how does a pay TV operator with a sizable set top footprint shrink its carbon footprint? Strutt breaks it down into three key areas. Reducing the size of the set top is a good place to start. Here, SmarDTV would enter a consultation phase with a customer to look at how to optimize a number of components in the device, where it typically asks questions of an operator such as if we really need this number of front panel LEDs? Or if this many rear panel connectors are required? Usually, he claims, there is agreement that reductions and optimizations can be made.

Secondly, embracing a shift to alternative materials is imperative. SmarDTV is setting an example by using recycled plastics for various components in its devices, without pushing costs through the roof, while maintaining a modern finish. This ties nicely into the third point in Strutt’s list which is the packaging, where not only should be recyclable, but SmarDTV is trying to reduce the amount of ink and glossy finishes used in set top packaging, returning to a simple cardboard box.

We agree, there was nothing wrong with the simple cardboard box in the first place, while years ago the onus would be on making the box look as garish, expensive, and oversized as possible.

Interestingly, on the hardware side, Strutt admitted that his industry is enjoying a migration of technology components coming over from the mobile industry, where the primary driver of new innovations is to improve battery life. This rolls over to ARM CPU, GPU and peripheral controllers in the set top to be optimized for power consumption and efficiency.

But having good hardware alone is meaningless without having suitable middleware to support it, for which Strutt gave a big shout out to Google for building “very nice technology” into its Android OS – particularly for dynamically activating extra CPU cores and GPUs as required, while maintaining system integrity.