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New Xbox One: Good for Gaming and Voice Recognition, But Maybe Not the Environment?

Noah Horowitz

Posted May 24, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming

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This week Microsoft announced the launch of the Xbox One video game console, the long- awaited successor to the Xbox 360. Much was said about how “powerful” the device will be and how the upgraded Kinect motion sensor now includes advanced voice recognition. But will these features come at a high energy cost?

Microsoft has yet to release information about how much energy the Xbox One will use when you are playing a game or a movie, let alone when you are asleep. If Kinect remains on awaiting your voice command to launch a game, even at 3 a.m., it could be wasting a significant amount of energy each year

Hopefully, Microsoft will talk more about how energy efficient the Xbox One is, or isn’t, at the upcoming big E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) gaming show in Los Angeles from June 11 -13. Here are some of the questions I hope Microsoft will answer and why:

1.  Will the Xbox One sleep when I do and use very low levels of power in the middle of the night?

The Xbox 360 now ships with an auto power down feature enabled. That way users who forget to turn their console off when they are done playing or watching a movie, will have their console automatically go into standby mode after extended period of user inactivity. This reduces power use to less than 1watt rather than 65 watts or so if continuously left on. This is great progress and we commend Microsoft for making this change.

What about the Kinect voice recognition feature that Microsoft advertises as always listening for your voice command? Will this feature be awake, and drawing more power than it needs to, while you are sleep?  If the Kinect bar uses 6 or 12 watts all day long waiting for you to say “Turn on Pandora” or “I want to play Halo 3” this would translate to roughly 50 or 100 kilowatt hours per year worth of electricity. To put that into perspective, a new 32-inch LCD flat screen TV only consumes 75 kilowatt hours per year. In fact today’s Xbox 360 draws roughly 100 kWh per year for everything – game play, movie play, standby power, etc. Let’s hope the numbers we guessed about the new Kinect are wrong.

It’s fine for the device to use some incremental power when you are in the room and using your Xbox One and the Kinect’s voice recognition capability, but it shouldn’t use this extra power 24/7. If it hasn’t already, Microsoft could add an “occupancy sensor” so the Kinect doesn’t waste all that energy when the user is away all day at school or work, or asleep. Alternatively, the Xbox One could have a user “selectable scheduler” and built in timer whereby you tell the console when you are normally away so that it doesn’t stay awake wasting power trying to hear your voice. With 5 billion transistors, maybe it could even be smart enough to know when you are normally around and when you are not.

2.  Will the Xbox One use 20 watts or less power to stream a movie or play a DVD like a good standalone Blu-ray player does, or will it consume 65 watts or so like the Xbox 360 does or, worse yet, even more?

In addition to serving as a state-of-the-art gaming device, Microsoft wants the Xbox One to become an entertainment hub by allowing you to stream movies and other content directly from the web. As such, we can expect for all but the hard core gamers that their Xbox One will be used more for media playback than for gaming. In order to reduce the energy footprint of this device, it needs an energy efficient solution for playing movies. Microsoft could do this using a dedicated low power chip so the Xbox One uses very little power to play a movie, or at a minimum, a power scaling system on a chip that allows it to play movies using far less power than it takes for game play. If the Xbox One is an energy hog for playing movies, folks might instead stream movies through a Roku box or Apple TV, which can stream movies for less than 5 watts. This is clearly not in Microsoft’s best interest.

3.  How much power will the Xbox One use to play a game? 

When the Xbox 360 first came out it consumed almost 200 watts to play a game. To their credit, Microsoft cut this down by more than 50 percent by switching to more efficient components in newer versions of the Xbox 360 which today only use around 75-80 watts for game play. Will the new more powerful Xbox One use around 100 watts or will it gulp energy like its predecessor did when it first came out?

We look forward to hearing more at E3 about the Xbox One’s energy use and hope to be pleasantly surprised. Either way, we will report back on what we learn.

P.S. Please read my prior blog about the energy use of Sony’s updated console the PS4 that should be hitting the shelves later this year too.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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