A host of new graphics capabilities and hardware gimmicks have made the newest generation of games consoles the biggest power-sucks yet. An analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox One consume two to three times more electricity than their predecessors. The Nintendo Wii U was the only one of the three major consoles found to actually use less power than the Wii that preceded it. With over 15 million of the three consoles sold in the U.S., they will use over a billion dollars worth of electricity a year, more than the city of Houston.
One of the big drivers of the added energy waste was the Xbox One’s move to package every new console with the Kinect, the motion-and-voice sensor, that would be on 24 hours a day by default, listening for voice commands. The always-on Kinect was widely derided as creepy and unnecessary, which prompted Microsoft to grudgingly announce Tuesday that they would make a version of the console available without the sensor. Energy consumption is just one more reason to hate the always-on feature. The NRDC’s report found that the Xbox One consumes 15 watts of power even when it’s not actively on, just waiting to hear a voice command from a user. And though the PS4 doesn’t have a similar always-on mode, it draws a fair amount of energy by keeping its USB ports powered even when the system is off and nothing is plugged into them. The Wii U is the clear winner on energy consumption, using nearly no power when switched off, and using anywhere from half to a third of the power the other consoles use when in use.
Both the Xbox One and PS4 are part of an effort by the leading console manufacturers to move consoles away from a focus on games, attempting to turn their systems into full media platforms. And besides coming at the expense of quality games, reliance on hardware and graphics gimmicks has made this generation of consoles bigger energy-wasters. Sony and Microsoft want users to treat their gaming consoles like full-service home entertainment systems, with Blu-ray and streaming capabilities. But the NRDC found that the consoles use 30 to 45 times as much power to stream video compared with other dedicated media players. And increasingly high graphics standards take more and more power to render, another area where the Wii U held power use steady by only making mild increases in graphical abilities. And that’s not to mention the increased burden that complicated graphics put on game developers to stick with developing highly-profitable games in established franchises, stifling creativity in the medium.
As consumers take climate change and their place in the world more seriously, products that consume a lot of power, from automobiles to lightbulbs, have been pushed by regulation, consumer pressure, and manufacturer choices to become more efficient. But video games are moving in the opposite direction.