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Gamers waste $1 billion of energy? Probably not

NRDC claims that gamers are wasting $1 billion of energy by leaving their consoles on, but CNET finds the assumptions of the study a little unbelievable.

On Wednesday, NRDC released a study claiming that video game consoles are wasting $1 billion per year. There's a lot of interesting research in the study, including the differences in power consumption between different games and how the PS3 is incredibly inefficient as a Blu-ray player compared to standalone models.

The headline-grabbing "$1 billion wasted" claim, however, seems hyped in our opinion. Digging into the report, we found that the one of the assumptions used in deriving this figure is that 50% of gamers leave their consoles on all the time--24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That seemed unbelievable, so we dug a little deeper to see how the NRDC came up with this number. Here's what we found:

While we are unaware of any user data revealing the percentage of users who turn off their consoles after use, we have found anecdotally that many users leave their consoles on all the time. Some turn off their televisions at the end of a session [...], while others keep their consoles on in order not to lose progress in a game.

I certainly used to leave my NES on to save my progress on Bubble Bobble, but with modern game consoles, saving is much easier, and I don't know anyone that leaves their console on to save their progress anymore. The study addresses the assumption again later on:

The lack of concrete information on usage cycles for video game consoles, and particularly consoles that can also function as DVD players, led us to develop usage scenarios in which 50 percent of users turn off their consoles when they are done playing a game or watching a movie, and 50 percent of users leave the device on continuously. Since we know the power use of the consoles by mode, we are able to estimate the annual energy use and operational costs to consumers for each of the major consoles on the market today.

In other words, the 50% claim is a guess, and we're betting it's far from the truth. Confusingly, NRDC points to more concrete usage data later in the study.

Using the best and most current usage cycle information available, the Nielsen Group found that, on average, users who account for close to 75 percent of all playing time have their consoles on for an average of 5 hours and 45 minutes per day.

But instead of using that data, which intuitively seems more accurate to us, the NRDC decides to stick with the idea that many gamers are leaving their consoles on all the time.

Nielsen's statistics can be difficult to interpret because the time in Active mode reflects an average across only the days when the console was turned on, rather than a true daily average reflecting use across the entire time metered. It is likely, however, that many heavy users often have the console on every day. For all of these reasons, we built upon the information available and the following assumptions to complete the energy analysis.

It's probably fair to assume that some gamers do actually leave their consoles on all the time (especially PS3 users taking advantage of Folding@home), but we can't help but feel that the 50% assumption was selected to create the headline-grabbing $1 billion figure. Assuming at the average console is on about 6 hours a day is probably closer to the truth, particularly since we do know people that leave their console on while multitasking (switching to watch a football game, surfing their laptop, etc.)

It's worth noting that CNET uses assumptions to calculate costs in our Juice Box scores in our TV reviews and the TV Power Consumption Guide. We assume that the average household TV is left on for 8 hours a day, based on research by Nielsen.

What do you think? Do you leave your console on all the time, sucking up energy and draining your bank account? Or is the NRDC completely off base with its assumption about gaming habits?