Designing the next generation video game console is like a juggling act: You need to squeeze in enough top-notch components to stay competitive over a near-decade life-span. So why did Sony limit itself by imposing a strict 250w power consumption limit on the cutting-edge PS4?
Again, it's the juggling act. 250w is the upper safety limit for a two-pronged power plug going into the back of the PS4 system. Designers sacrificed more power for a plug footprint smaller than that of the three-pronged power cord as the Xbox has been using for years.
The plug trade-off reflects a greater design philosophy at Sony, which made the decision to include its "power brick" AC to DC converter inside the system. The result is not only a sleeker, smaller system but one that’s engineered tightly enough to let the PS4 stand upright, (something the Xbox One can't do).
Will the 250w ceiling limit the system? Probably not. Sony has been using two prong power cords since the original PlayStation hit the market in 1994. Starting with the PS1, a smaller PlayStation released in 2000 alongside the brand-new PS2, each console has gotten slimmer with each redesign. With the release of the SuperSlim PS3 in 2012, the system’s second redesign, it's safe to say that engineering efficiency is a company obsession.
Xbox One vs. Playstation 4: Which Burns Up More Power?
During gameplay or video streaming, the Xbox One uses less energy than the PS4. This is not the case, however, in standby mode, which is the most common state for these systems to be in. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Xbox One is projected to use 253 kW in power over the course of a year, costing the typical player about $30 in power annually, while the PS4’s 184 kW per year will cost consumers about $22.
The Xbox's 250w sounds like a lot compared to the PS4, which consumes about 140w of power during gameplay. But that benchmark applies to a contemporary game, so giving a wide power margin seems wise to future-proof against new games that need greater rendering and console resources. Truly comparing peak power usage for the PS4 and Xbox One will have to wait until more intensive games arrive.
There are other energy drains that fill the gap: Peripherals, like recharging controllers or wireless headsets, nickel and dime power usage for 1-4w per peripheral. In fact, the vaunted always-listening Xbox One’s Kinect is largely responsible for the larger standby power drain compared to the PS4 mentioned in the NRDC report. Similarly, the voice-controlled PlayStation Camera peripheral for the PS4 would likely increase its energy consumption.
System design trends, however, tell us not to worry. The original PS3 was notoriously power-hungry, but its first slimming redesign cut power consumption from a game-running high of 206w down to just 96w. Likewise, the Xbox 360 revisions went from 177w at launch day to 88w for its Xbox 360 Slim. Both can still become more efficient, especially when streaming media compared to stand-alone devices, but both companies are moving in a power-saving direction.