Microsoft Facing New Criticisms Over Xbox One Energy Consumption

In the wake of a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Microsoft last week published a blog post that outlined the various steps the company has taken and will take to improve the Xbox One‘s overall energy consumption. Now, NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz has published a response to that blog post, saying it was a positive first step, but also calling on the technology giant to do more.

The key change Microsoft is making for the Xbox One is giving new console owners the ability to choose the “Energy-saving” mode right out of the box instead of the default “Instant-on” power setting. This will be rolled out through a future platform update in the next few months. Horowitz said this is “great news,” though he took issue with the wording that will be used in the new prompt.

As you can see in the image above, Microsoft’s language is quite impartial. The Instant-on message is very positive in nature, using phrases like “faster startup time” and “get updates automatically.” By comparison, the Energy-saving message says players who choose this option can expect “slower startup time” and are warned that they will “get interrupted for updates.”

Horowitz also points out that Microsoft’s message does not include the respective power consumption levels for each option, which the group estimates is 12.5 watts for Instant-on and less than 1 watt for Energy-saving. If people had these numbers in front of them when choosing a power state, “a lot more people” might choose the Energy-saving option, Horowitz said.

“And that would mean a lot less climate change pollution being emitted from generating the extra electricity wasted to power these devices when they’re NOT being used,” he explained.

In the near-term, the NRDC wants Microsoft to change the language of the prompt to offer something more neutral, though no suggestions were provided. The group is further calling on Microsoft to make the Energy-saving option the default power state. On a longer-term basis, the NRDC wants Micosoft to reduce the Xbox One’s standby power use to 1 watt with Instant-on. Horowitz said the NRDC recognizes that this will require software and hardware changes and could take a while to be implemented.

For its part, Microsoft says the Xbox One’s Instant-on mode is something fans have been calling for since the Xbox 360 era. The company even said that, since the console was released in November 2013, it has been able to reduce the total power used while in Instant-on by a third.

“When factoring the monthly system updates, new features in apps, and games and automatic mobile purchase downloads, the Instant-on setting easily saves users countless hours of needlessly waiting,” the company said last week.

In response to this, Horowitz said that in fact, Xbox One updates “are not that frequent.” He added that players are freely able to download updates at a later time.

“With today’s technology, there is no reason for a device to be drawing 12.5 watts 24/7 just so it can be ready to receive and install an update,” Horowitz said. “If your cell phone or tablet operated this way, the battery would run out of power almost immediately. These devices receive notifications that updates are available for downloading, often in the background while the device is in use.”

“Microsoft’s competitor Nintendo provides an elegant and effective solution whereby its Wii U game console automatically wakes for a few seconds hourly to check for updates,” he added. “If an update exists, it downloads and installs it and then goes back to sleep at less than 1 watt. This results in a trivial amount of energy spent for background updates compared to Microsoft’s current energy-guzzling approach.”

Further still, Horowitz called out Microsoft for failing to mention that one of the biggest reasons why the Xbox One uses “so much power” in the Instant-on state is because of its Kinect voice recognition feature. This lets people with a Kinect camera simply say “Xbox On!” to wake the console up.

We’ve reached out to Microsoft to see if they have anything new to add regarding the NRDC’s comments today. We’ll update this post with anything we hear back.

People who already own an Xbox One can choose the Energy-saving Xbox One option through the Settings menu.

Horowitz ended his blog post by saying he is optimistic that Microsoft’s engineering team will come up with solutions to improve the Xbox One’s overall energy consumption.

“We are thrilled that Microsoft’s talented engineers are now hard at work trying to develop user-friendly, energy-saving solutions to these issues and are optimistic the results will be consistent with the company’s historic leadership position on environmental sustainability,” he said. “We’ll report back on the results.”


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