Over the weekend, Sony broke two records: Over one million PS4s were sold in the first 24 hours of availability — but on the other hand, it seems a huge number of those consoles were dead-on-arrival bricks. Sony’s customer service department will replace these broken consoles, but due to the dearth of stock in North America, early adopters are being told that they may have to wait months for a replacement PS4. Why are so many PS4s DOA? Is this the second act of the Xbox 360 red ring of death saga, or is it something altogether more complex?
If you have a bricked PS4 and you’re looking for tips on how to fix it, skip past the next section.
Different kinds of death
Sony has admitted that around 0.4% of PS4s sold in the US have been dead out of the box, or have broken very soon after being powered up. There doesn’t seem to be a singular cause of this mass-bricking, and likewise there seem to be a few different ways that a PS4 can die. This indicates that there isn’t a single flaw that’s causing the PlayStation 4 to break, but a variety or combination of factors that are only rearing their ugly heads now that there are one million PS4s in North American homes.
With the Xbox 360, most deaths were attributed to thermal failure, probably caused by overheating over a few days or weeks of play. The broken PS4s, on the other hand, seem to be dead out of the box. People are plugging in their PS4 for the first time and being greeted by a blank TV (no video output) and a blinking blue light bar of death (BBLOD, video above). In some cases, the BBLOD combined with no video/sound output only appears after the PS4 has been booted a few times. There are some reports that the PS4 broke soon after updating the firmware to version 1.5. There have been some cases of the PS4 overheating (a red light bar), but the vast majority of broken PS4s seem to be DOA.
What isn’t clear, this close to the launch of the PS4, is whether the console will suffer the same miserable drawn-out fate of the Xbox 360 RROD. The Xbox 360 had an issue that caused it to wear out over time, while the PS4′s issues are obviously more immediate. It will be interesting to see whether the number of PS4 deaths accelerate over the next few weeks, or whether we’re looking at an early spate of infant mortality, followed by years of problem-free gaming. It will be interesting to see how the Xbox One fares later this week, too — Microsoft, trying to recover from the Xbox 360′s awful reliability issues, says that the Xbox One is engineered to last 10 years.
How to fix a broken PS4
Sony has published some guidance for PS4 owners trying to fix their BBLOD. In some cases, updating the firmware of your TV can fix the no video/sound issue. If you hold the power button for seven seconds (until the system beeps twice), and then unplug the PS4 at the wall, that might fix things. Sony also recommends checking your cables/sockets for damage (if the HDMI socket is damaged/dirty, that can explain your PS4′s lack of audio/video). You can also check to make sure your PS4′s hard drive is properly seated — if it got jostled a bit during transport, that would explain why your PS4 is failing to turn on fully.
If none of these steps help, you need to contact Sony for a replacement console — or rather, a fixed console, as there’s no stock in North America to like-for-like replacement of your broken console. Reports seem to be varied on how long it’ll take to get your console fixed; some PS4 owners are saying that Sony is quoting between two and four weeks, while some owners say that they’ll be waiting until February for a replacement.
What’s causing so many broken PS4s?
At this point, no one is entirely sure why so many PS4s are dying. Even Sony isn’t sure what’s going on. If these deaths only occur in the first few hours of ownership, then the flaw is almost certainly a manufacturing fault, or damage caused by shipping (being dropped would explain an unseated hard drive or a damaged connector). Someone purporting to be a Foxconn intern has said that he and his fellow workers sabotaged the PS4 production line to retaliate for poor working conditions, but this seems unlikely (the consoles probably wouldn’t have passed QA).
It’s worth noting that a failure rate of 0.4% isn’t actually that bad. If Sony sold one million PS4s, 0.4% equates to 4,000 dead consoles. Given the number of poor reviews on Amazon (many of which are from verified buyers), I suspect Sony might be understating the failure rate — but even if it’s nearer 1 or 2%, that’s still not awful (but definitely indicative of a manufacturing/shipping flaw). Some of the Amazon reviews could be fake, too.
It is also noteworthy that the PS4 is the first console launch that has occurred since the popularization of social media. The amount of negative press/tweets/reviews could just be a sign of the times, rather than an accurate indicator of how many PS4 buyers got lumped with $ 400 bricks. It will be very telling to see whether the number of dead PS4s accelerates over the next few weeks, and also whether the Xbox One also experiences the same level of social media-amplified failure rates, or if the engineered-for-10-years-of-constant-use console actually turns out to be more reliable than the PS4.