Even if you’re not an avid gamer yourself, you’ve probably noticed: Americans, younger Americans in particular, love video games. And as the market for video games has expanded – the industry has been grossing more revenue than the U.S. movie industry since 2007 – so has the video-graphic and data processing power of video game consoles, which original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now see as their ticket to the heart of the rapidly emerging digital home.
Digitally rendering the hyper-realism and supporting all the real-time activity of today’s video games requires lots of electricity, but video game consoles are using lots of electricity even when they aren’t being used. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released May 16, the latest-generation video game consoles are on a pace to cost American consumers $1 billion in electricity bills this year. Moreover, 40 percent of that, $400 million, will be sucked up when the games are in stand-by mode and not being used.
That amount of electricity, according to NRDC, is “enough to power all the homes in the nation’s fourth-largest city of Houston.”
Video game consoles: Sucking up the juice
Which video game consoles are the biggest energy hogs? Following up on its 2008 study of video game consoles and energy usage, NRDC researchers tested the latest generation of the most popular video game consoles, including the Nintendo Wii U, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, to find out.
Generally speaking, NRDC researchers found that in addition to offering greater performance, the latest generation of the most popular video game consoles are equipped with many new energy-efficiency features.
That said, there are big differences between consoles when it comes to electricity usage. The Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One, for instance, “consume two to three times more annual energy than the most recent models of their predecessors,” according to NRDC’s new report.
Overall, Microsoft’s Xbox One is the biggest energy hog among the three most popular video game consoles, “largely due to its voice command feature in standby mode.” Sony’s PlayStation 4 ranked second, the result, in the main, of “inefficient controller charging.”
Video game consoles: Electricity vampires
Collectively, NRDC projects that even taking into account the energy-efficiency improvements likely to come in semiconductor design, the three most popular video game consoles will use some 10 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually in the U.S. alone “once all previous-generation consoles in use have been replaced by new ones.”
According to NRDC, that’s enough electricity to meet the needs of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., and will come at a cost to consumers of over $1 billion.
Making that a tougher pill to swallow: “Most of that energy will be consumed in the middle of the night, when the console is in stand-by mode but still listening for voice commands, like the Xbox One, or using higher power than necessary to keep USB ports active, like the PS4.”
Among other key findings in NRDC’s latest report on video game consoles and energy usage:
- The new consoles consume more energy each year playing video or in standby mode than playing games.
- The Xbox One and PS4 consume two to three times more annual energy than the latest models of their predecessors, the Xbox 360 and PS3.
- While the new versions are more powerful, the two- to three-fold increase in energy use is due to higher power demand in stand-by and on modes and, in the case of the Xbox One, more time switched on due to its TV viewing mode. In this mode, the console is used in addition to the current set-top box to access cable or satellite TV, adding 72 watts to TV viewing.
- The Xbox One draws less power than the PS4 in on mode. However, the Xbox One consumes a lot more energy when not in use (connected stand-by mode).
- Nearly half of the Xbox One’s annual energy is consumed in connected standby, when the console continuously draws more than 15 watts while waiting for the user to say “Xbox on,” even in the middle of the night or during the workday when no one is home. If left unchanged, this one feature will be responsible for $400 million in annual electricity bills and the equivalent annual output of a large, 750-megawatt power plant.
- Consoles have incorporated some good design practices, including better power scaling and well-implemented automatic power down to a low-power state after an extended period of user inactivity.
- The PS4 and Xbox One are very inefficient when playing movies, using 30 to 45 times more power to stream a movie than a dedicated Apple TV or Google Chromecast.
Improving video game console energy efficiency
NRDC believes video game console OEMs can and should do better.
“Gamers shouldn’t be locked into higher electric bills for the lifetime of their consoles just because manufacturers haven’t optimized the performance of their products,” Pierre Delforge, NRDC director of high-tech energy efficiency, whose team performed the testing, was quoted as saying. “This wastes energy and money, and causes unnecessary pollution from power plants.
The NRDC project team came up with a list of recommendations and priorities for video game console energy savings that it estimates could add another 25 percent electricity savings “beyond natural semiconductor efficiency trends.”
That would save enough electricity to power all the households in San Jose, Calif., the tenth-largest city in the U.S., and save consumers some $250 million a year in electricity bills, according to NRDC. These include:
- Reducing Xbox One power draw when in connected standby with voice command enabled.
- Reducing PS4 power draw in standby with USB ports live (when no device is charging).
- Reducing Xbox One TV-mode power, and giving users the option to watch TV when the console is off or in a very low-power state.
- On both the Xbox One and PS4, reducing video-streaming power to levels closer to that of a dedicated video player.
- Allowing users to opt out of “Instant On” and voice-command features in Xbox One’s out-of-the-box setup menu, so they use this high-energy-consumptive mode only if they choose to.
Image credits: 1) i.imgur.com/reddit; 2) Statista/Nielsen; 3) Nielsen