Video game energy use explained

Video game consoles and games are popular gifts during the holiday season. Over Thanksgiving weekend alone, Ebay sold about 33,000 Xbox One systems and 28,000 Nintendo PlayStation 4 consoles. With so many systems sold early in the holiday season, you can bet gamers everywhere will be thrilled when they find one under their tree come Christmas morning.

Game consoles have come a long way since Nintendo first introduced us to classics like Tetris and Mario Bros. These entertainment systems now allow consumers to connect with fellow players all over the world, stream video services like Netflix, double as a DVD or Blu-Ray player and more. For kids today, this multi-use device is the norm, but many consumers forget that increased functionality comes at a price – particularly in the form of a rise in your monthly electric bill.

According to a study done by the Natural Resources Defense Council, gaming consoles are consuming 10 to 11 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year and costing Americans roughly $1 billion annually. That’s about the same amount of electricity consumed by all of the households in Houston, Texas, America’s fourth largest city. The power consumption of game consoles depends on multiple factors, starting with the features and capabilities the console offers. Some of the most popular models on the market today, Wii U, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, offer a good picture of the options available to consumers.


Power consumption (watts) in the most common operating modes

Mode (watts)

Xbox One

PlayStation 4

Wii U

Game Play

112

137

34

Video Streaming (Netflix)

74

89

29

Navigation/TV Mode

72

88

32

Connected Standby

15.7

8.5

0.4

Off

0.4

0.3

0.4

While Wii U uses far less energy than its competitors, PS4 and Xbox One deliver significantly higher performance. This high performance level is achieved through innovations and improvements designed to help products stand apart from their competitors. In developing Xbox One and PlayStation 4, console makers Sony and Microsoft focused on different console components to improve their device. The result for both companies was a faster, higher performing machine that allows users to have better experiences while gaming.

While there are differences in Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s newest Xbox, both products offer features that seem to be fairly balanced making it difficult to select a clear winner in the race between these front runners. PS4 has a faster memory and a more powerful graphics processing unit than its competitor, but Xbox has different memory architecture and offers more advanced voice and gesture recognition capabilities. All of these extras contribute to increased energy consumption.

Improved performance and additional features are not the only factors contributing to the higher energy consumption by today’s gaming consoles than those of years past. In fact, when you look at the annual energy consumption of these devices, the biggest culprit of energy use may surprise you. Gaming and video streaming are not responsible for soaking up all of those watts. When you look at the energy consumption of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 over the course of a year, the largest percent of energy used is actually when the devices are in connected standby mode.

Connected standby mode represents nearly half of Xbox One’s annual energy consumption and roughly one-third of PS4’s. In this mode, the console is off, but remains connected to the network. It wakes up quickly and provides other limited features like USB charging and voice recognition (Xbox One only). This default setting for consoles draws 15.7 watts on Xbox One and 8.5 watts on PS4 despite the fact that both consoles have a low-power off mode that draws less than one watt.

Another major source of energy use in these consoles is TV mode and video streaming. Many households are turning to video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu to get their TV fix. If you’re interested in streaming directly to your TV without the use of your computer, you’ll need to hook some sort of device to your TV. Devices like Apple TV and Google Chrome are designed specifically for this purpose, but many consumers are turning to all-in-one devices that perform many functions rather than purchasing an additional media accessory. For this reason, video streaming represents a growing share of consoles’ active use time and annual energy consumption. While new consoles can perform these tasks without issue, they will use 30 to 45 times as much power to stream an HD movie as a device (Apple TV or Google Chrome) that’s designed specifically for that purpose. 

Tips and hints for energy smart gaming

  • Know the energy use of your console. The more information you have about the energy you’re using, the better you will be at picking out opportunities to save a few watts.
  • Don’t leave your console in standby mode. Consoles spend most of their time in connected standby mode and this mode soaks up more energy over a year than the console uses gaming. When it’s not being used, turn it off. In order to do this, you’ll have to go in and adjust the default settings.
  • Use a dedicated DVD or Blu-Ray player to watch movies. These electronics use less energy to complete the desired task,
  • Use a streaming device like Apple TV or Google Chromecast to stream video. These use far less energy to stream HD video than a gaming console, approximately 30 to 45 times less.
  • If you have an Xbox One, be smart about how you connect your devices to your TV. For Xbox One users, one of the biggest factors in energy use is determined by the setup of the console. If users set up their console with the Xbox being a connector between the TV and TV Set-Top Box, your Xbox will need to be on every time anyone watches anything on television. This will add 72 watts of power consumption to your TV viewing. You can avoid this by setting up the Xbox on a HDMI port separate from the one used for the set-top box, but you won’t be able to use this console’s TV Mode.

December 2016