Will Microsoft Announce Multimillion-Dollar Energy Savings Improvements to Xbox One at This Week's E3 Video Game Confab?

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About 45,000 representatives from the video gaming industry are convening in Los Angeles for their big E3 convention this week, less than a month after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released its study that showed the latest-generation consoles – the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U – are on track to consume more than a $1 billion and four power plants’ worth of electricity to operate annually.

Of greatest concern was the fact that much of the energy is consumed when the console is NOT being used and NRDC recommended some easy and inexpensive fixes. Sony has already released several PS4 energy efficiency improvements and informed NRDC it is planning to fix its USB port high power issue later this year.

But the question this week is: Will Microsoft step up to the plate at E3 and proudly introduce the energy efficiency upgrades they are incorporating into Xbox One? If they do, we could save several hundred million dollars in annual electricity costs once all existing consoles have been replaced by new generation models.

Below is a summary of the outstanding issues each company needs to work on. (As the figure above shows, the Nintendo Wii U uses a lot less energy, and we have chosen to focus on the PS4 and Xbox One.)

Microsoft’s Xbox One needs improvement

While Xbox One draws less power for game play and movie streaming than the PlayStation 4, it is the biggest energy consumer of all the new consoles on an annual basis. This is due to the fact that the console draws 15 watts, which translates to almost half of its overall annual energy use the 20 or so hours a day when the console is not in use and the user thinks they have turned it off.  This one feature is on track to cause $400 million in wasted electricity – equal to  a large 750 Megawatt power plant’s operation and its associated air pollution for a year.  And that’s just for the consoles in America.

All this wasted energy, cost to consumers, and pollution is occurring simply so the Xbox One is always on to listen for a voice command to do something even when you’re not at home or you’re fast asleep. The Xbox One’s other design flaw is its TV mode, when you use the Xbox One to access live TV shows, results in the equivalent of a 72-watt tax. 

NRDC’s recommended solutions to these problems are:

  • Voice Recognition/Standby Power – There are numerous potential software solutions that Microsoft’s top-notch engineers should be able to incorporate rapidly.  These include having the voice recognition feature automatically turn off when the user is not in the room for an extended period of time or when the device is in standby mode.  After a simple push of a button on the controller, the voice recognition would resume. 
  • Using Xbox to Watch Live TV – If configured in TV mode, the Xbox One needs to be on all the time that users want to watch TV. Microsoft could make a slight change to the console so users can watch TV whether the Xbox One is on or off. (For the techies, this feature is called “passive HDMI pass-through.”)

As for the PlayStation4…

–While Sony’s PS4 draws more power to play games and watch movies, it consumes less annual energy than the Xbox One because it does not have the TV mode or voice recognition features, and also draws lower power in connected standby mode. The good news is Sony is working hard to further improve its console and has issued a software update in April that:  a) reduces the time it takes for inactive consoles to automatically power down from two to one hours; and b) dims the TV screen, thus reducing TV power draw, when the console is not used for a certain period of time. Some of the remaining energy-saving opportunities for the PS4 are:

  • Adjust USB Power in Connected Standby – When you hit the console’s power button to off, it continues to draw 8 watts of power continuously, most of it to power the USB ports in the event you want to plug in a peripheral and charge it. This feature is responsible for almost one-third of the console’s annual energy use because it is on 24/7. This could be dramatically reduced by powering down the USB port automatically a couple of hours after the console has been switched off, when controllers and other accessories are fully charged.
  • Suspend to RAM – In order to quickly get back to your exact position in the game, Sony can introduce technology called Suspend to RAM, similar to that widely used in today’s computers. This will result in a superior user experience and help ensure the power saving auto-power-down feature is not disabled by users.
  • Media Playback – Further reduce media playback power level by improving power scaling on PS4.

Sony has indicated to NRDC that the first adjustment is planned for later this year, and it is working on the other two.

However, Microsoft has made no similar commitments. Besides handing out the obligatory convention tote bag at this week’s conference, let’s hope Microsoft produces the best gift of all -- planned updates that will reduce Xbox One’s energy waste and help prevent millions of tons of unnecessary climate change pollution caused by the power plants needed to make the electricity to operate these consoles.