A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the latest video game consoles are going to bleed more than $1 billion in annual utility bills because of their power inefficiency, even when the consoles are turned off.
The NRDC report (PDF) said the three current consoles — Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s PlayStation 4, and Nintendo’s Wii U — are so power inefficient that if every household were to replace their old consoles from the three vendors with the new models, they would consume nearly 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That amounts to $1 billion in collective power bills, or the equivalent of four major power plants.
The Xbox One and PS4 in particular consume two to three times more annual energy than their predecessors, the Xbox 360 and PS3. The Nintendo Wii-U is the best behaved, using just 34 watts in game mode and just 0.4 watts in connected standby mode. Unfortunately, the console has tanked in the market and is dead in the water.
The PS4 uses the most power for game mode, 137 vs. 112 watts for Xbox One. But in connected standby mode, the Xbox One is the worst offender, drawing 15.7 watts vs. 8.5 watts for the PS4.
"If left unchanged, this one feature will be responsible for $400 million in annual electricity bills and the equivalent annual electricity output of a large, 750-megawatt power plant," the report states.
The PS4 and Xbox One are also very inefficient when playing movies, something they were designed to do. They use 30 to 45 times more power to stream a movie than a dedicated Apple TV or Google Chromecast, both of which need just 2 watts to stream a movie. They also dinged the PS4 for powering its USB ports even when the machine was turned off.
The problem is the nature of connected standby mode. Connected standby (Xbox One calls it "Instanton") means it's ready to power on instantly at your voice command, so it has to be in constant listen mode. This, the report speculates, keeps it in power-drawing mode.
"Does Xbox One really need to listen for your voice command 24/7, even when you’re asleep in the middle of the night, out of the house during the day, or away on vacation?" the authors wrote. "Perhaps voice command could be made to power down automatically after a certain length of time, until the consumer wakes it up with the controller or power button, like Amazon’s Fire TV, which offers voice command in standby for less than 3 watts."
It is possible to change the settings of the Xbox One to go into a more energy-efficient mode, but the report says the interface to do this is not very good or intuitive.
The report calls on the makers of the consoles to work on their power draw, noting that tablets and smartphones also use SoCs and are far more power efficient because they actually focused on efficiency in the design.
Specifically, the report’s recommendations include that Sony reduce the PS4 USB draw, Microsoft work on the Connected Standby mode, and that both of them cut the power used in streaming video.
"We estimate these improvements could save another 25 percent beyond natural semiconductor efficiency trends," the report concluded. "This would save American consumers $250 million annually in electricity bills and conserve enough electricity to power all the households in San Jose, the 10th-largest city in the United States."