The new voluntary agreement appears to delay the cable industry’s previous plan to reduce the amount of energy used by set-top boxes. Last year the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said that “by the end of 2013″ at least 90% of the set-top boxes that its members buy and deploy will comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star 3.0 standards — making them 45% more efficient than most current models. But the NCTA and Consumer Electronics Association now say that they have a broader agreement that will meet the goal with boxes purchased and deployed “after 2013.” Whenever it happens, the groups predict that consumers will save about $1.5B a year with the phase-out inefficient boxes that the National Resources Defense Council refers to as “energy vampires.” The new agreement takes effect on January 1 and includes satellite companies and video services from AT&T and Verizon along with cable. Participants collectively serve more than 90M households. In addition to the terms affecting new boxes, cable companies say they’ll download “light sleep” capabilities to more than 10M existing DVRs. In 2013 telco companies also will offer “light sleep” while satellite providers offer “automatic power down” in 90% of the boxes purchased and deployed.

The agreement may soon be moot: Pay TV companies are eager to distribute programming directly to smart devices — including Web-enabled TV sets — that don’t require a box to unscramble signals for subscribers. “When you watch television on an iPad, that iPad is a set-top box and a TV, essentially functioning as one,” Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge said this week.