Both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 consume between two to three times the power of their predecessors--mostly waiting around for something to do.
The report, issued Friday by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, found that the Xbox One's power consumption was especially egregious, consuming a maximum of 289 kilowatt-hours per year, as opposed to the 70 kWh/year consumed by the last-generation Xbox 360. But the Nintendo Wii U went the opposite direction, actually consuming 37 kWh/y versus the 40 kWh/y consumed by the Wii.
The One's power consumption was especially egregious, due to the fact that the console is used both for controlling a television as well as listening for voice commands. But the Playstation 4's USB recharging is also very inefficient, the NRDC said.
All told, the energy consumed from all three modern consoles will cost U.S. consumers an estimated $1 billion in energy costs this year, consuming enough electricity to light all the homes in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, the NRDC estimated.
"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," the NRDC said.
And if you're using your One to watch a movie? Don't. An Apple TV consumes about 2 watts to stream a movie in HD, the nonprofit said. An Xbox One consumes 72 watts to do the same, and a PlayStation 4 consumed 89 watts using the NRDC tests.
Another hit for the Xbox One
But the One received the bulk of the NRDC's ire. For one thing, simply using the One to control a television tacked on 72 watts to traditional TV viewing. "Do you really want a 72-watt remote control, when a traditional battery-powered remote draws less than 1 watt?" Pierre Delforge, director of high-tech sector energy efficiency for the NRDC, noted.
"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 when no one is home," Delforge wrote. "If left unchanged and all Xbox 360 models are replaced by Xbox One consoles, 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--and its associated pollution."
Instead, the NRDC said, Microsoft should reduce the Xbox One's power consumption when in a connected standby mode, and allow users to opt out of power-sucking voice commands. (In a way, announcing an Xbox One without a Kinect sensor solves this problem.) Likewise, the nonprofit recommended that Microsoft power down when in TV-only mode. Sony, for its part, should power down its USB ports when not in use. And both consoles should optimize for video streaming.
To this, we'd add our own recommendations: it seems clear that Microsoft's own Quiet Hours feature on Windows Phone 8.1 could be adapted to the Xbox One. Simply set a time during which the console drops down into a low-power state. And if an insomniac wanders into the room at 3 a.m., let it take a minute or two to warm up. Or use the person's Windows Phone to sense when he's at work, and do the same.
In any event, only the Wii U comes off favorably in the report, earning praise for improving graphics while cutting power. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the One has been criticized for taking its focus away from playing games, including charging for free entertainment apps. Apparently that will hit One users in the pocket with higher energy bills, too.