PS5/Series X: New Study Examines Environmental Impact Of Latest Consoles

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With climate change being one of the greatest existential threats looming over humanity’s survival, gamers may wonder what role they play in the fate of the environment. A new study seeks to answer that question, and the findings don’t look all that reassuring.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a US-based non-profit dedicated to climate advocacy, published a study looking at the environmental impact of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. The organization found that both consoles use between 160 and 200-plus watts of energy–more than previous generations. They also need roughly the same energy as the TV they’re likely plugged into, which uses between 120 and 200 watts depending on size.

Of course, the energy used dips pretty low when either console is low-power mode or on standby. In fact, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S use less than 1 watt in these states, according to the NRDC. However, that changes with Xbox’s “Instant On” setting enabled by default and PlayStation’s inability to smartly adapt to console inactivity. As a result, the wattage used by both consoles can jump to double-digits if gamers forget to turn them off.

The Energy Needed To Game

Hours of play is just as important when it comes to energy consumption. According to a report done by GameSpot sister site CNET, if 100,000 PlayStation 5 owners beat Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales’ estimated 15-hour campaign, the carbon emitted would equal about 230 tons or, as stated by the EPA, the equivalent of 45 cars driven for a year. Just an hour of Spider-Man: Miles Morales gameplay is the same as charging a smartphone 18 times. And if 70 million PlayStation 5 owners played a AAA exclusive for two hours per week, over 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide will be created. While CNET didn’t specify the numbers for the Series S and Series X, the site stated that Microsoft’s Xbox consoles “would see similar numbers.”

CNET tested others games–including Dead Cells, Fortnite, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild–to see how playtime in these titles affects energy consumption. Dead Cells is low across the board because it isn’t as technologically demanding as most games. Breath of the Wild is the same, which would generate the carbon dioxide equivalent of 2.3 cars for a year if 100,000 people played for 15 hours. Fortnite, however, is an energy hog, consuming between 170 and 220 watts of energy on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Fortnite on Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series S fares much better, using up about 14 watts and 76 watts, respectively.

A Game’s Generation Determines Energy Consumption

One of the biggest factors that determines power usage is a game’s graphics. More specifically, the energy used on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S varies depending on not just the game that’s played but also the generation the game was developed for. According to the NRDC’s testing, playing NHL 2021 on PlayStation 5–the latest hockey simulator that was designed for the PlayStation 4– uses between 80 and 104 watts. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 5 exclusive Astro’s Playroom eats up anywhere from 180 to 200-plus watts of energy.

Xbox seems to do much better in this regard, with NRDC saying that games downloaded from Xbox Game Pass and played on a Series S use up to 57 watts. Though it’s not a Series X exclusive, CNET’s reporting found that Gears 5 consumes about 209 watts of electricity.

Streaming Needs (More) Power

Gameplay isn’t the only activity consoles can perform, as they’re all equipped to stream content by using apps like Hulu and Netflix. As expected, streaming requires energy–and lots of it. The NRDC study found that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S can consume 10 to 25 times more electricity when streaming than dedicated streaming boxes. For comparison, an Apple TV only uses 2.8 watts, while an Amazon Fire TV needs between 3 and 4 watts.

To break it down, NRDC tested the wattage required to stream a show on Amazon Prime and Netflix. While the organization didn’t clarify how many hours it was testing for or what show it was watching, the results found that the Xbox Series S consumed 31 watts on Netflix and 41 watts on Amazon Prime. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 5 used 68-70 watts to stream the same show on both platforms. The Xbox Series X couldn’t be tested because the NRDC didn’t have one on hand, but it estimated that the console needs between 40 and 53 watts of energy.

Below is a comparison between the current- and last-generation consoles and their approximate energy consumption:

  • PlayStation 5: 50-220 watts
  • Xbox Series X: 45-220 watts
  • Xbox Series S: 25-100 watts
  • Nintendo Switch: 10-18 watts
  • PlayStation 4 Pro: 75-160 watts
  • PlayStation 4 Slim: 55-110 watts
  • PlayStation 4: 90-150 watts
  • Xbox One X: 65-180 watts
  • Xbox One S: 35-90 watts
  • Xbox One: 70-120 watts

All of this signals that while Microsoft and Sony have created consoles that don’t require much energy when not in use or while inactively idling, there’s still more work that needs to be done.

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