Firmware issue threatens to make PS4 games unreadable

Unless something changes An issue lurking in the old internal timing systems of PlayStations threatens to make all PS4 games and all downloaded PS3 games unplayable on current hardware. Right now it’s not a matter of if but when this problem will occur.

This firmware time bomb has been known in some Playstation preservation and piracy circles for a while. But it’s gain new attention amid Sony’s recently announced decision to close online stores for PS3, PSP and Vita software. While this impending store shutdown does not affect gamers’ ability to play and redownload previously purchased software at this time, the eventual wider shutdown of PSN servers for these aging consoles could have a much more drastic effect on performance. playability of a wide range of Games.

The root of the upcoming issue has to do with the CMOS battery inside every PS3 and PS4, which systems use to keep track of the current time (even when unplugged). If this battery dies or is removed for some reason, it raises an internal flag in the system firmware indicating that the clock may not be in sync with reality.

Once this flag is raised, the system in question should register with PSN the next time it needs to confirm the correct time. On the PS3, this online check occurs when you play a game downloaded from PlayStation Store. On the PS4, this also happens when trying to play retail games installed from disc. This check should be performed at least once even if the CMOS battery is replaced with a new one so that the system can reconfirm the consistency of the clock.

Why does PlayStation firmware care so much about having the correct time? On the PS3, timer verification is used to enforce any “time limits” that may have been placed on your digital purchase. (As confirmed by the error message: “This content is limited in time. To perform this operation, go to the settings date and time settings defined via the Internet.”) This check seems to be necessary even for downloads that do not have an actual expiration date definition, de facto adding a one-time online registration requirement for systems after their internal batteries have failed.

On the PS4, however, the timing check is apparently aimed at ensuring that PSN trophy data is recorded accurately and preventing players from claiming to get trophies earlier than they actually did. You would think that this check could be separated from the ability to load non-trophy parts of the game, but player test showed that this appears to be a requirement to load PS4 games at all.

None of this is a huge problem for most PlayStation owners. at present. Yes, the 10-20 year lifespan of your average CMOS battery is slowly depleting, especially for older PS3 hardware. But replacing the battery and resynchronizing the internal timer with the PSN is a relatively minor inconvenience at the moment (assuming you can find a Wi-Fi hotspot and the PSN isn’t. suffering from one of its rare breakdowns).

But nothing lasts forever, as recent decisions by Sony regarding the old PlayStation online stores show. At some point in the future, whether it’s a year or 100 years from now, Sony will Shut down the PSN servers that are supplying sync control for hardware that it no longer considers important. After that, it’s only a matter of time before failing CMOS batteries slowly reduce all PS3 and PS4 hardware to semi-functional trinkets.

Sony could make the problem fairly straightforward with a firmware update that limits system functions related to this sync check. So far, however, Sony has not publicly indicated that it has such plans and has not responded to several requests for comment from Ars Technica. Until that is the case, complex workarounds that use jailbroken firmware are the only option to ensure that aging PlayStation hardware will remain fully usable in the future.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.

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