How to customize your gaming consoles to save energy — and the planet

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ByTebany Yune

I love playing video games, but I also love not destroying the environment. Whenever I plug in a console or two, the guilty half of my brain is aware that I’m using up precious amounts of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, further escalating the climate emergency we find ourselves in and that seems to constantly be getting worse.

I decided to see what I could do to reduce my impact on the environment without completely giving up on console games. Here’s a list of suggestions I’ve found.

1. Check for power saving options in the settings

The Xbox One can waste energy even while in standby mode because of its “instant-on” power setting. This basically keeps the console half-awake so it can hear you say “Xbox on” and spring to life like the obedient little machine it is. According to CNET, this setting uses up 30 times more electricity than the energy-saving option.

While stepping into the room to give your console a verbal command is undeniably cool, it’s not really necessary. To switch the Xbox One from instant-on to energy-saving mode, press the Xbox button on the controller and open up the guide. Go to “Profile & system,” then head to “Settings” and click on “General” to get to the “Power mode & startup” menu. Use the dropdown menu to change it to energy-saving mode. There are other power-related options in the same menu, too, so feel free to fiddle with it to cut down even more on energy waste.

The PS4 is pretty good at saving energy while in rest mode since it’s not using electricity to listen for your voice. Still, there are some options available to make sure it manages your energy well by telling it to stop sending electricity to your controllers or to disconnect from the internet while it’s in standby.

As for the Nintendo Switch, honestly, it doesn’t burn that much energy while it’s asleep. But if you’re not planning on playing it soon after putting it down, it’s best to just shut it down completely to save its battery.

2. Turn off the controllers

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It takes about two hours for PS4 controllers to charge if they’re at zero. Xbox One controllers are likely the same or somewhere under four hours for a full charge. If your controller is dead, then that’s quite a while to wait for them to charge. Instead of waiting to go wireless, just play the game with the controller connected to the console. It’ll charge as you play, which is still a pretty good option.

3. Disconnect any other peripherals

Just like controllers, peripherals can sip at your electricity as well. If you have a Kinect for your Xbox, consider disconnecting it. Only plug it back in when you’re ready to use it again.

4. Turn off the console if you’re not using it

According to a study conducted by the National Defenses Resource Council (NRDC) in 2014, the latest consoles, the Xbox One and PS4, waste more energy in standby mode than while in use. They also burn up more energy than their predecessors because each new console uses better hardware that can handle high-definition visuals and graphics that push their processors harder.

Basically, they demand a lot of energy to make games look super good.

If you’re not playing your consoles frequently enough to justify the constant energy drain that’s happening while you’re away, then just unplug them. Especially if you’ve got multiple consoles hooked up all at once like me.

5. Keep up with your system updates

It’s something of a running joke to boot up the console, eager to finally have time to play your fave game, only to run headfirst into an hour(s)-long update that totally kills your mood. But these system updates can help with energy management, so don’t put them off.

A system software update for the PS4 in 2014 actually dropped its controllers’ power consumption after installation, reducing the amount of energy used by the controllers by over 65 percent.

6. Use separate ports for your cable box and consoles

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The Xbox One allows users to watch TV by plugging a cable box into the console and then connecting the console to the TV. While convenient, this has the unfortunate effect of using additional electricity while channel surfing for shows because you’re wasting watts to use the TV, the cable box, and the Xbox.

However, if you keep the cable box and console separate with their own HDMI ports, then watching your favorite shows will only use electricity for the TV and the cable box. The Xbox won’t be involved, which will keep it from adding on to your energy bills.

7. Use a digital media player for Netflix

Consoles really really suck at streaming video without burning a bunch of unnecessary electricity. According to Energy Star, video game consoles use 15 times more energy trying to stream videos than a digital media player like Roku. The NRDC goes even further, with their study concluding that consoles use 30-40 times more power than the Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Even Smart TVs would be a better option since their streaming features are built-in and more specialized for video streaming.

So even though most modern consoles can access Netflix from the main menu, that’s really not their forté. Stick to video games if you want to save the most energy.

8. Pick an energy-efficient console

Lastly, you can save energy from the very start by picking the most energy-efficient console that’s already out on the market: The Nintendo Switch.

The Switch is very energy-efficient and keeps getting better with each update to the original model. According to the Energy Use Calculator, the Switch only uses about 10-18 watts compared to the PS4 Pro’s 75-160 watts and the Xbox One X’s 65-180 watts.

That’s a huge difference between Nintendo and its rivals, and it’s primarily due to the fact that the Nintendo Switch sacrifices its ability to render realistic, high-fidelity graphics for more battery life. The key characteristic of the Switch is the ability to go from playing it like a console to turning it into a handheld gaming device. To be an efficient portable device, it needs hours of battery life.

So if you want to be energy efficient right off the bat and don’t mind games without a focus on realism just get a Nintendo Switch. You can have your own island and help save the environment at the same time.