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Study chides PS5, Xbox Series X for default power settings

Backward compatibility, streaming apps use less power than on last-gen consoles

a PlayStation 5 sitting horizontally next to an Xbox Series X, photographed on a dark gray background Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S both use significantly more electricity than their predecessors when playing games designed for the new consoles, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental-advocacy group. However, the NRDC found that the new consoles draw less power than previous-generation systems when playing backward-compatible games, and while using streaming video apps.

The NRDC’s analysis — which it also performed in 2013 at the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 — praises the low-power modes that both Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles offer. The energy-saving modes allow users to resume full operation within 10 to 15 seconds while drawing less than 1 watt of electricity on standby. However, the NRDC criticized Microsoft and Sony for choosing not to make that the default power setting — the same charge that the organization levied about the PS4 and Xbox One.

The new Xboxes’ “Instant-on” mode still draws 10 watts in standby, said the NRDC. The report extrapolated that extra usage through 2025, and calculated that it could total 4 billion extra kilowatt-hours of energy — the equivalent of a single large, coal-burning power plant’s annual electricity generation.

The NRDC’s analysis used a PlayStation 5 and an Xbox Series S, which has less processing power than an Xbox Series X, and also doesn’t have an optical disc drive. The group said it was unable to obtain a Series X for full testing, but expects that the beefier console would use more energy than a Series S. Microsoft has not provided official power consumption figures for either console; Sony’s listed hardware specifications say that the standard PS5 is rated at a power draw of 350 watts, while the PS5 Digital Edition is slightly lower at 340 watts.

Sony’s new console won plaudits from the NRDC for its standby mode, which consumed 1 watt or less and allowed for booting up within 10 to 15 seconds. It did draw “a few extra watts” of power during the first three hours of standby in order to charge devices with its USB ports. But the PS5’s rechargeable DualSense controller was an environmentally preferable choice for the NRDC over the new Xbox gamepad, which ships with disposable batteries. (A rechargeable power supply for the controller is sold separately.)

The PS5’s standard power settings have the console shut off after one hour of inactivity for gaming, and after four hours for streaming content (both settings may be changed by users). That means the PlayStation 5 continues to draw about 70 watts of power if a user leaves it on after, say, watching some Netflix.

Even so, power consumption while using streaming apps, for both the PS5 and Xbox Series S, is lower than that of their predecessors — although the NRDC said that dedicated streaming devices use even less power for the same task. The PS4, according to the NRDC’s 2013 analysis, used 90 watts while streaming Netflix to the Xbox One’s 74 watts. The Series S consumed 31 watts to stream Netflix (and, inexplicably, 41 watts for Amazon Video), while the PS5 drew 68-70 watts to stream from both services.

Overall, though, the expected draw of 160-200 watts to play PS5 titles, or games optimized for the Xbox Series X, is more power than a 60-inch television set consumes, the NRDC said.

In 2013, the NRDC warned that the PS4 and Xbox One could be responsible for as much as three times more energy consumption than the preceding PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. In 2015, the organization said the Xbox One could be responsible for up to $250 million in additional annual electricity costs for U.S. households. The NRDC’s newest analysis warns that Xbox Series S or Series X owners in the U.S. could pay as much as $500 million, combined, over the next five years, for the extra power those consoles use in their “Instant-on” mode versus the “Energy-saving” mode.

In 2015, after the NRDC sharply criticized the launch Xbox One’s power use, Microsoft added an energy-saving mode as an option when new Xbox One users first set up their consoles. At the time, Microsoft said the difference in power consumption between those two modes would save customers between $6 and $15 on their annual electricity bill. And the company released a software update in late November that reportedly reduced the power consumption of the Instant-on mode by as much as 61% for the Xbox Series X.

Polygon has reached out to representatives of Microsoft and Sony for additional comment.

Correction (Feb. 1, 2021): The Natural Resources Defense Council says there was a typographical error in its original story, which led to an inaccurate estimate of how much Xbox Series X and Series S owners in the U.S. could pay over the next five years, combined, in additional electricity costs. The correct figure is $500 million. This post has been corrected to reflect that.

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