With any technology, power is always a hidden cost. It’s not one we typically think about. Lucky for us, we have the National Resources Defense Council to do it on our behalf.
The NRDC is a nonprofit environmental advocacy group that runs a number of programs that monitor and study things like power consumption of consumer devices. With Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles selling so much more quickly than the previous generation, the impact is likely to be bigger and expand more rapidly.
The study, titled “The Latest-Generation Video Game Consoles: How Much Energy Do They Waste When You’re Not Playing?,” is meant to highlight the always-on nature of the new generation of consoles.
According to the NRDC, the PlayStation 4 pulls 3 watts in standby mode, or 8.5 if you enable USB charging in the options – that’s regardless of whether you actually have a USB device plugged in or not. The Xbox One runs at nearly twice that, with 15.7 watts in standby. As you might guess, this is a result of the Kinect peripheral always waiting for someone to say “Xbox On” to it. Nintendo’s latest console, on the other hand, sips its drink with a pull of .4 watts.
As the graph above indicates, and as one would expect, having your console on and using it for anything, including simply idling at the menu, consumes significantly more power than standby. However, even the most committed gamers’ consoles spend more time off than they do on and gaming. Despite the power consumption being lower minute for minute, it builds up over time and ends up accounting for nearly half of power consumption.
Once you turn the systems on, things change. The Xbox One runs at 112 watts in a game and 74 in apps like Netflix and Hulu, while the PlayStation 4 runs at 137 and 89 watts, respectively.
To put this in perspective, the NRDC frames some of these numbers in a bigger picture. The report projects that the consoles, combined, will use about 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, once all the previous generation consoles have been replaced with their successors. The energy consumed by these consoles would be enough to power all of Houston, TX for the same amount of time.
That translates to about $1 billion in annual electricity bills, 40 percent of which occurs when the consoles are in standby and during off-hours. Shrinking it down to direct, personal impact: Your Xbox One and PlayStation 4 could each cost you about $150 over their individual lifetimes, or something like $20 to $30 per year just to have the system on.
Despite being far more powerful than the previous generation of consoles, though, this first version of the new consoles consumes significantly less electricity than the first release of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. As Sony and Microsoft continue to slim down and tighten up the systems, we can expect to see that consumption drop.
Additionally, the highly flexible nature of the consoles demonstrated by the frequent patches means that not only is there room for improvement, it’s a likelihood.
The NRDC makes some suggestions in the study that Sony and Microsoft can follow to improve the power profile of their systems. Sony, for example, can reduce the power consumption of the USB ports during standby when they’re not in use. Microsoft could allow a passive HDMI mode that would allow users to watch TV with the Xbox One in standby. Microsoft’s higher standby power could be reduced, and ‘Instant On’ mode could have an opt-out option during initial console setup.
Microsoft is already cutting consumption down just by leaving the Kinect out of the newest release of the system, but both consoles still consume a fair amount of power in standby and have a lot of room to improve.