New game consoles may be powerful, but they're hungry for power

Image of gaming controllers
Many new game consoles aren't energy efficient, but you may not be able to resist the temptation to upgrade. If you do, follow our tips to cut electricity use below, and consider finding a new home for your old system. And if it's not working, take the console and controllers to your local electronic recycling centre.

Use energy-saving features and turn consoles off to save energy

Many homes in B.C. have a new piece of electronic equipment in the family room that arrived in the past year. The next-gen video-game consoles from Sony and Microsoft, the PS4 and Xbox One, are much more powerful than their predecessors, the PS3 and the Xbox 360.

Unfortunately, they're using much more energy too; as much as three times more than their predecessors, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"The latest-generation game consoles are on track to gulp a massive amount of electricity," writes Pierre Delforge in the report for international nonprofit environmental organization.

The annual electricity costs to consumers who own the machines will be more than $1 billion, according to Delforge, with nearly half of that electricity use coming from when the consoles are in "standby" mode.

Why the PS4 and Xbox One use more electricity

The new machines require more electricity because of their increased capabilities. More powerful processing power and the ability to deliver stunning graphics comes at the cost of energy.

Other inefficiencies of the PS4 and Xbox One include:

  • When being used for watching television and movies, they require 35 to 40 per cent more electricity than other media streaming devices.
  • The PS4's standby energy use is significant largely because the machine keeps its USB ports active, even when no peripheral device is being charged.
  • The Xbox One's Kinect peripheral, which allows for voice activation and has motion-sensing capabilities, is a massive energy drain, consuming electricity "around-the-clock as it listens for a voice command — even in the middle of the night or when no one is home".

But they also have some power-saving features, the report found, including automatically reducing the power drain after the machine has been inactive, and better scaling of energy use, so the machines draw less electricity when they aren't working as hard.

What you can do to manage the electricity use of home gaming systems

If you've got a PS4 or Xbox One in your home, you have some control over the amount of electricity the devices use.

  • Power down when inactive: You can choose to have the machine turn itself off after a period of inactivity. The report suggests you set this at one hour or less.
  • Consider disabling connected modes: While having the consoles remain connected to the Internet all the time can be expedient for software updates and instant-on convenience, these features can be responsible for up to half of the unit's total energy use. If you don't regularly use these modes, consider disabling them.
  • Xbox One's TV mode: The NRDC report warns that using the Xbox One to watch TV adds as much electricity use to your bill as that of a new 42-inch television set.

Expect future models to be more efficient

While the existing PS4 and Xbox One machines are heavy users of energy, there's every reason to expect that as Sony and Microsoft revise the hardware during the consoles' life cycle, they will become more efficient.

In 2011, the NRDC reported that the PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles available at that time were using 50 per cent less electricity than the launch editions of the machines that were being sold in 2006.

And Delforge has specific recommendations for Sony and Microsoft to implement in future versions of the PS4 and Xbox One. They include:

  • Reducing standby power use of the consoles.
  • Finding ways to reduce the amount of electricity required when using the devices to watch TV or videos.
  • Making the "always-on" features on the consoles disabled by default, so customers are consciously choosing to use high-energy modes.

What to do with your old game consoles

If your family has a new gaming system, take these steps:

  • If you keep it at home and connected to a second TV, remember to unplug it when it's not being used. If it's not the primary gaming device, it doesn't need to be always on, and updates for the older machines aren't as frequent.
  • If you decide to dispose of the old console, the best option is to find a new home for it. The PS3 and Xbox 360 still provide great entertainment value, with hundreds of excellent games available for each of them.
  • If your old system is not working, make sure to take it to your local electronic recycling centre.