The Latest-Generation Video Game Consoles: How Much Energy Do They Waste When You’re Not Playing?

Issue Paper
June 10, 2014

As a follow-up to NRDC's 2008 report on the energy use of video game consoles, we performed extensive laboratory tests on the latest generation of the most popular consoles -- the Nintendo Wii U, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One -- and found they have incorporated many energy efficiency features into their designs and offer greater performance. However, the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One consume two to three times more annual energy than the most recent models of their predecessors. The Wii U consumes less energy than its predecessor the Wii, despite providing higher definition graphics and processing capabilities, in large part thanks to its very low power in connected standby mode.

NRDC projects that, together, these three brands of new consoles will use roughly 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually in the United States alone, once all previous-generation consoles in use have been replaced by new ones. This estimate takes into account the efficiency improvements that are likely to be achieved via advances in semiconductor design in the coming years. To put this into perspective, game consoles are on track to consume as much electricity each year as all the homes in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, and cost consumers more than $1 billion to operate annually. Most of that energy will be consumed in the middle of the night, when the console is in standby 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.

Key Findings from NRDC's Study

After testing these devices and analyzing the data, we made the following observations regarding the consoles' features and energy use:

  • 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 standby 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 standby 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.

Recommendations and Priorities for Energy Savings

NRDC's latest report includes several recommendations on how console manufacturers can bring down the energy use of these consoles:

  • 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.

NRDC estimates these improvements could save another 25 percent beyond natural semiconductor efficiency trends. 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. Some of these recommendations only require settings or user interface changes; they can be implemented rapidly on new products and even on existing products via software updates. Others require hardware design changes and will require more time, but work should start on them as soon as possible.

Note: Testing was performed on launch units with system updates up to mid-April 2014. The effects of any system updates and hardware improvements released after that date are not reflected in this report.