Did you know Microsoft is avoiding a simple setup change that could save America's Xbox One users up to $250 million annually on their energy bills? Even when it looks like your Xbox One is off, it's still drawing significant amounts of power continuously waiting for you to say "Xbox on" around-the-clock--including when you're sound asleep or your video game-loving child is at school.
Unfortunately, this poorly designed feature is not an April Fools' prank and Microsoft refuses to fix this easy-to-solve problem despite repeated requests by our organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In the meantime, imagine the energy dollars likely being wasted right now in the more than 7 million Xbox One consoles sold in North America thus far.
Last year an NRDC study looked at the energy use of the PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo's Wii U (the energy sipper of the three) and found these three gaming systems alone might come to consume as much 10 billion to 11 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) annually in the United States, alone--enough electricity to power all the homes in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, for a year. That's also the equivalent output of four large power plants, and their associated pollution.
Some progress, but not enough
While Sony has plugged a major energy leak in its latest console, the PS4, by switching off its USB ports after the controllers are fully charged, Microsoft has yet to fix the biggest source of energy waste in the latest models of its Xbox One.
Although Microsoft reduced the power drain from its "Instant On" mode from 18 watts to 12.5 watts, the mode is still the default when it comes out of the box and the user is not even given the option to disable it during the initial setup. Users must go deep into the menus to do that, which few are likely to do. But Xbox Ones purchased in Europe arrive with the power-wasting "Instant On" deactivated by default, and present gamers with the choice of turning on this optional feature during initial setup if they really want to. That is a much more rational and environmentally responsible approach, and one that Microsoft should adopt worldwide.
Again, while April Fools' Day is fast approaching, this is not an April Fools' trick. The "Instant On" mode, which started as the culprit for almost half of the console's annual energy consumption, is still responsible for close to 40 percent of the total, and it's still ridiculous that an option that many users may not care for should hog so much energy. It makes you... One-der if Microsoft is even trying.
Microsoft and its environmental impacts
Actually, Microsoft is trying quite hard to reduce the environmental impacts of its operations and proudly touts its pledge to be carbon neutral. Unfortunately, it did not apply the same zeal to the design of its Xbox One game console. While the device is reasonably efficient when playing a game, that is more than offset by its power-guzzling "Instant On" standby mode that is enabled by default. You could be sure that Microsoft's engineers would quickly cut the standby power of the millions of consoles sold outside of Europe if the company had to pay for the electric bill and carbon offsets for all this wasted energy.
If "Instant On" mode was not the default setting, or if Xbox Ones were updated to make disabling the mode easy at set up, we could save up to $250 million in future energy bills per year in the United States. That's not a joke! It's such a big issue, the Marine Corps is creating a whole new position called "unit energy manager" for every battalion to patrol for energy waste, including idle Xbox One and other game consoles. Combatting "Instant On" energy waste shouldn't be so difficult it requires attention by our military!
Microsoft should reward its loyal fans by providing them with the choice to opt out of "Instant On" mode during initial setup. Right now, finding the route to disable "Instant On" is tricky. That needs to change, and it might be even better if the language on the power options screen warned users that we would have to plant 40 million trees before the amount of carbon "Instant On" releases into the air would be balanced just for those Xbox Ones sold in the United States. I don't know about you, but I think that is a bit too much work for this feature.
And I don't think any of us want our air to be dirtier because power plants need to burn polluting fossil fuels to make all the electricity that's being wasted by the Xbox One.
Gaming the system
Either way, Microsoft doesn't get the last word. Users can save on their energy bills and still use voice recognition when the console is on by adjusting power settings so their consoles don't draw unnecessarily high levels of standby power 24/7. To activate the energy-saving mode, go to the Home screen, press the Menu button on the controller, select Settings, then Power and Startup, and select the Energy-saving power mode.
Also, we strongly recommend against using either the Xbox or Play Station to stream movies as they draw 30 to 45 times more power to show the same movie as a device like the Apple TV, Roku Box, or Chromecast stick.
This April Fools' day, don't let your electronics fool you. Check out this fact sheet for easy to use tips to lower your energy consumption.