(USATODAY.com) - Two of the most popular new video game consoles guzzle large amounts of energy — much of it in standby mode when no one is using them, a report Friday says.
The Microsoft Xbox One and Sony Playstation 4 use at least twice as much energy per year as their predecessors largely because of new features, according to tests by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. The tests found the third major console, the Nintendo Wii U, is an "energy sipper."
"We don't have a problem with people playing games. But the problem is the amount of energy used when not playing a game," says author Pierre Delforge, NRDC's director of high-tech energy efficiency.
Even in standby or sleep mode, he says the Xbox One uses 15 watts of continuous power so it can be awakened by voice command and the PS4 uses eight watts so its controllers can be charged. In comparison, a desktop computer uses less than two watts in sleep mode.
"This adds up to several power plants of electricity," Delforge says, noting the 24/7 power usage increases not only consumer utility bills but also heat-trapping carbon pollution generated by these plants. He says the average lifetime energy costs of operating an Xbox One, $150, is five times higher than that of the Wii U.
An estimated 110 million game consoles have been sold nationwide since 2005, and the three brands tested account for at least 90% of the U.S. market. Since hitting the market in November, Sony has sold 7 million worldwide, while Microsoft says more than 5 million Xbox One consoles have been shipped to retailers.
NRDC found new consoles use more energy, on average, when they show videos or remain in standby mode than when they play games. It says the Xbox One, the biggest energy hog, and the PS4 use 30 to 45 times more power to stream a movie than media players such as Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV. It estimates that replacing the prior generation of consoles with new models will increase energy usage 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually — enough to power all homes in Houston for a year.
Of the three consoles tested, the Wii U was the only one to consume less energy (8% decrease) than its predecessor despite improved graphics and faster processing. It uses very little power, less than one watt, in standby mode.
Microsoft and Sony did not return calls seeking comment. Douglas Johnson of the Consumer Electronics Association, to which both companies belong, says "energy efficiency has been a priority for the industry for the past 20 years." He says manufacturers are constantly improving models so efficiency may be greater at the end of their lifespan than at the beginning.
Delforge agrees gaming consoles have made progress since NRDC's earlier report in 2008, when they lacked an automatic power-down feature. Still, he says newer features such as voice command or TV viewing have more than offset those gains. He says manufacturers can do better and even simple tweaks can slash energy usage by 25%. For example, he notes Amazon Fire TV uses only three watts to activate its voice command.
Johnson says electronics are not causing a spike in residential energy use but have remained a constant share of total consumption, about 13%, in recent years. Yet the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that electronics, along with appliances and lighting, consumes a rising percentage of residential energy use — from 24% in 1993 to nearly 35% in 2009. It says the growing number of devices in homes has offset efficiency gains.
NRDC's tips for saving energy from gaming consoles:
• Set your console to auto-power down when inactive. With the Xbox One and PS4, go into the unit's menu to ensure this feature is enabled and set for one hour or inactivity or less.
• Disable instant-on and other connected standby modes. Even with auto-power down enabled, Xbox One's "instant on" and PS4's standby modes are configured by default to remain connected to the Internet, which can account for up to half of total energy usage.
• Beware of Xbox One's TV mode. This feature, which allows TV control from the console such as voice commands to change channels, requires the console to remain on whenever you watch TV.