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Report: Xbox’s “instant on” feature could consume 4 billion kWh by 2025

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Enlarge / A lot of neon green power potentially

Aurich Lawson / Getty Images

The “instant on” feature that’s activated by default on new Xbox Series S/X consoles could suck up a total of 4 billion kWh—the equivalent of a year’s operation for a large power plant—from US owners alone through 2025. That’s according to a preliminary report released this week from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmentally focused nonprofit advocacy group.

As the name implies, the “instant on” feature of the Series S/X (and the Xbox One before it) lets users skip the usual startup time when turning the console back on. That saves about 10 to 15 seconds of waiting per power cycle on the Series S/X, down from about 45 seconds on the Xbox One. (This is separate from the Xbox Series S/X’s heavily promoted “quick resume” feature that loads the game state for recent titles directly from the system’s fast SSD storage and works in either mode)

“Instant on” standby also lets the system check periodically for system updates in order to download and install them in between play sessions. But leaving the “instant on” feature active means the Xbox Series S/X draws nine to 10 watts of power 24 hours a day—even when it’s not being actively used—compared to less than 1W if the standby settings are switched to “energy saving” mode.

The Xbox Series S/X initially drew 25 to 28W of “instant on” standby power at launch, but a recent firmware update caused a dramatic reduction, placing the new systems below the ~13W drawn by the Xbox One’s “instant on” mode. The PlayStation 5, by contrast, uses between 1 and 2 watts when sitting idle in “rest mode.”

It all adds up

A power draw in the single digit watt range may not sound like much, but it can add up when millions of systems are left plugged in and idling for years at a time. For a single console, that 9W of additional “instant on” power draw can add up to about 78 kWh in a year, or roughly $10.60 in energy costs for an average US home (going by the October 2020 EIA average of 13.6 cents/kWh).

To estimate the total extra “instant on” power draw across all Xbox consoles, NRDC author Noah Horowitz told Ars he assumed 30 million US sales of the Xbox Series S/X through 2025 (a number itself based on estimated sales of the Xbox One). Most of those sales would be concentrated near the system’s launch in Horowitz’s modeling.

Horowitz then assumed that two-thirds of all Xbox owners would stick with whatever the “default” energy setting is on their system. “We don’t have hard data on this but it’s based on typical anecdotal experience whereby users typically stick with the default option, rather than opting out and selecting something different,” Horowitz said.

With all that factored in, Microsoft’s decision to have “instant on” as the default power mode adds up to 4 billion kWh of additional energy consumption over the next five years. That’s roughly equivalent to the annual output of a 500 MW power plant, and it translates to about $500 million in added energy costs and 3 million tons of additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the NRDC’s reckoning.

“Given those numbers, our hope is that most users would be willing to wait an extra 5 to 10 seconds for their console to restart if they knew the impact,” Horowitz writes.

Uncheck that box

The NRDC is urging Microsoft to change the system’s default settings to “energy saving” mode right out of the box worldwide (this is already the case in Europe, thanks to the region’s energy efficiency directive). That change could be implemented by firmware update for existing systems and at the factory for newly sold systems going forward. Microsoft has yet to respond to a request for comment on the matter from Ars.

The NRDC also notes that high-end games consoles are absolute power hogs when it comes to the simple function of playing streaming movies or TV shows. New consoles draw anywhere from 31W (for the Xbox Series S) to 70W (for the PS5) when streaming from Netflix or Amazon Prime in NRDC’s testing. That’s way more than the 3W or so for a dedicated streaming box like Roku or Apple TV.

“We have repeatedly urged Sony and Microsoft to include a dedicated low-power chip for video playback in their consoles, and this request is even more important today given the potential for long hours of ‘binge watching’ via the console,” Horowitz writes.

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Marvel drops first teaser for Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings

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Simu Liu stars as a martial artist trying to escape his past in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

A young man who once trained as an assassin for a Chinese criminal organization discovers just how hard it can be to escape one’s past in the first teaser for Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings, part of the MCU’s Phase Four. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, it is the first Marvel film to feature an Asian lead—Simu Liu, best known for his role as Jung Kim on the sitcom Kim’s Convenience—as well as a predominantly Asian/Asian diaspora cast and crew.

The title character first appeared in a Marvel comic in 1973, after the company had tried and failed to acquire the comic book rights for the popular 1970s TV show Kung Fu (starring David Carradine). Modeled in part on Bruce Lee, Shang-Chi was originally the son of Chinese criminal mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu, trained in martial arts since childhood to become an assassin. After Marvel lost the rights to the Fu Manchu character, Shang-Chi’s paternity became murkier, but the international crime lord theme was common—although his father was revealed to be an ancient immortal sorcerer in the Secret Avengers storyline.

Shang-Chi has not traditionally had special superpowers, but his training in multiple styles of martial arts and assorted weaponry makes him a formidable opponent and a useful ally. Plus, he is a master of chi, making him even stronger and faster—fast enough to dodge bullets. When he eventually joins forces with the Avengers in the comics, Tony Stark gives him a pair of bracelets to further focus his chi (as well as some snazzy high-tech nunchaku).

Back in the 1980s, Stan Lee had preliminary discussions with the late actor Brandon Lee about portraying Shang-Chi in a film adaptation, but no concrete project ever transpired. The Ten Rings organization was briefly name-checked in 2008’s Iron Man, and the infamous Marvel supervillain the Mandarin made an appearance in Iron Man 3—or rather, Ben Kingsley played Trevor Slattery, an imposter posing as the Mandarin. For Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel created an entirely new character, Wenwu, who has gone by many names over the years—including the Mandarin.

In addition to Liu, the film stars Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) as Shang-Chi’s best friend, Katy, and none other than Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung (Hard Boiled, Chungking Express, Hero, and so on) as his father, Wenwu, aka the Mandarin. Meng’er Zhang plays Xialing, Shang-Chi’s estranged sister; Florian Munteanu (Creed II, Borderlands) plays Razor Fist; Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians, Bliss) plays another pal, Jon Jon; and Fala Chen (The Undoing) plays Jiang Li. Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery) plays a character named Jiang Nan, having previously played a different MCU role (Aleta Ogord) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There’s also a masked character dubbed Death Dealer; Marvel has not yet revealed who plays him.

Based on this teaser and what little is known so far, the film appears to borrow a few elements from the Ultimate Marvel universe, among other storylines, and possibly the wuxia-inspired Secret Wars (2015) as well. We hear Leung’s voice as the Mandarin in a voiceover, admonishing his son for “wasting” the last 10 years. Shang-Chi works as a parking valet for a posh hotel when he isn’t hanging out with Katy singing karaoke tunes.

That carefree existence is about to end. “I trained you so the most dangerous people in the world couldn’t kill you,” we hear the Mandarin say. “But it’s time for you to take your place by my side.” Shang-Chi stubbornly refuses the offer—or is it a command? He just might learn, as his father says, that “you can’t outrun who you really are.”

Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings is currently slated for release on September 3, 2021. As of this writing, it will be solely a theatrical release.

Listing image by YouTube/Marvel

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Sony reverses course, keeps legacy PlayStation online stores open

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The store has received a stay of execution on the PS3 and Vita…

Just three weeks ago, Sony announced its plans to shut down the digital stores for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita, effective this summer. Today, Sony partially reversed course, with Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO Jim Ryan writing in a blog post that “it’s clear that we made the wrong decision here.”

As such, the PS4 and Vita online stores will continue operations, Ryan said, while the PSP store will still shut down as planned on July 2. PS3 and Vita players will continue to be able to purchase games through the hardware itself, while web-based versions of those stores will seemingly remain closed following their shutdown last month.

“When we initially came to the decision to end purchasing support for PS3 and PS Vita, it was born out of a number of factors, including commerce support challenges for older devices and the ability for us to focus more of our resources on newer devices where a majority of our gamers are playing on,” Ryan wrote. “We see now that many of you are incredibly passionate about being able to continue purchasing classic games on PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad we were able to find a solution to continue operations.”

Ryan didn’t set any new timeline for the PS3 and Vita store support, so it’s not clear just how long of a reprieve this will be in the end. But nothing lasts forever in the world of corporate-controlled servers, as shown by the continuation of plans to shut down the PSP store. That will come over 16 years after the PSP launched in North America and nearly 13 years after the PSP first got support for direct game downloads through a firmware update. Sony officially stopped producing PSP hardware in Japan in 2014, while PS3 production lasted until 2017 and Vita production lasted until 2019.

A sigh of relief

In the wake of Sony’s closure announcement, many online sources had begun compiling lists of the best games to download before the legacy PlayStation Store stores went offline for good. A VGC analysis suggested over 2,000 digital-only titles would become inaccessible if those stores shut down, including 138 that were not available on any other platforms. Other observers noted how piracy would become the only way to preserve some of these games in the wake of the shutdown.

As The Gamer noted, the planned Vita store shutdown also threatened to stop the production of some Vita games that were (and now are) still in development. “We’re way past the point where it makes a ton of financial sense to release on Vita, but it’s one of my all-time favorite consoles and I wanted to release a game on it before everything shut down,” Spooky Squid Games developer Miguel Sternberg told the site regarding a planned Vita port of Russian Subway Dogs.

Sony has still remained silent on a longer-term problem that could eventually make digital PS3 titles and all PS4 titles unplayable if and when Sony decides to stop supporting those consoles’ PSN connections. Recent testing by concerned players suggests that same problem could affect all digital PS5 games and some physical PS5 discs at an unknown point in the future.

Sony’s decision to change course comes months after Microsoft quickly reversed plans to raise the price of Xbox Live after strong fan backlash to the idea. “We messed up today and you were right to let us know,” Microsoft said of that turnaround.

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Nintendo sues Bowser (not that one) over Team Xecuter’s Switch hacks

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Enlarge / A prototype SX Core device soldered to a Nintendo Switch motherboard.

Team Xeceuter

Months after his arrest on 11 felony counts last year, Nintendo has filed a civil lawsuit against Gary “GaryOPA” Bowser, the leader of notorious Switch hacking group Team Xecuter, in a Seattle federal court.

The suit (as obtained by Polygon) seeks significant monetary damages and disgorgement of all profits from Team Xecuter’s sale of the piracy-enabling SX OS software and a line of hardware devices that use various exploits to install the OS on Switch units. The suit alleges that “at one point, the SX OS was pre-installed on 89% of modded/hacked Nintendo Switch products available for sale,” though the suit doesn’t provide a source for that number.

The lawsuit calls out Bowser as “one of only a handful of key members of Team Xecuter,” and it quotes Ars’ own assessment (without credit) that Bowser is “the closest thing to a public face for the team of coders and foreign manufacturers that made up the [Team Xecuter] supply chain.” In promoting and selling SX OS, Bowser “worked with a network of developers; established a distribution chain of resellers, testers, and websites; and designed the marketing and content of other public-facing websites for Team Xecuter,” the suit alleges.

The Team Xecuter website (and a number of URLs that pointed to it) were “largely under [Bowser’s] control,” according to the lawsuit. A handful of hand-picked moderators also provided assistance. The suit notes that “after Defendant’s arrest, no additional posts were ever made to Team-xecuter.com.” That site, which remained up as recently as January, has started returning a database connection error in recent months.

Bowser has “continued to thumb his nose at the law,” Nintendo says, providing circumvention tools to resellers and “forcing Nintendo into a game of whack-a-mole” to try to shut down their distribution at the retail level.

A history of hacking

Team Xecuter has been involved in the console hacking scene since the days of the original Xbox. The group drew its fair share of controversy in that scene even before Bowser and two of his associates were arrested as part of an international manhunt last October.

That’s in part because the group profits from what are otherwise generally open source efforts to identify and publicize vulnerabilities in console hardware. Team Xecuter also markets its devices with a specific focus on decrypting and copying legitimate software, while open source hackers tend to keep the focus on installing homebrew software and custom firmware that doesn’t directly enable piracy.

In 2018, Kate Temkin, who worked with Team ReSwitched on the Switch’s original Fusee Gelée exploit, told Ars that she “strongly disagree[s] with the idea of hiding software exploits and then releasing modchips that use (potentially obfuscated) versions of them,” as Team Xecuter does. “I think it’s both unethical—as it gives malicious actors a chance to pick up and use the vulnerabilities before they can be addressed or public knowledge can spread—and against the spirit of knowledge-exchange we want to see in the console-hacking community.”

Aside from monetary damages that could easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nintendo is asking that Bowser give up his control of the Team Xecuter website and its URLs and turn over every SX OS hacking device in his possession.

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