As we approach the PlayStation 5’s first anniversary in just a few weeks’ time, I don’t see how anyone could possibly challenge the assertion that Sony launched the console far too early. The PlayStation 5 has been out of stock since day one, and occasional shipments of consoles are either sent out to folks who pre-ordered one months earlier, or else are snapped up by bots or the occasional legitimate buyer within minutes of becoming available. To be fair, this isn’t something exclusive to Sony – Microsoft has had similar problems with the Xbox Series X and S.
As a result of ongoing shortages, Sony is clearly scrambling to make more units available as quickly as possible. Failure to do so will see the brand continue to take a hit, and if there isn’t sufficient stock in the run-up to Christmas, with parents and gamers forced to either go without for the second year in a row or buy from a scalper at over-inflated prices, the PlayStation 5 might take a long time to recover. Enter the downgrade controversy, which has been doing the rounds online in recent days.
In short, newer PlayStation 5 consoles appear to have smaller, lighter cooling systems, which obviously saves Sony a bit of money and presumably makes consoles easier and cheaper to ship around the world. The internal components are otherwise the same, but the heat-sink and cooling apparatus have been significantly changed. Many folks are calling out Sony for this, saying this represents a significant downgrade. Controversy and argument has ensued.
Let’s get the obvious things out of the way first. No one is suggesting that PlayStation 5 consoles are suddenly going to burst into flames or melt or explode or set your house on fire. That’s the dumbest, most pathetic straw-man argument I’ve seen put forward by some Sony fanboys as they try to defend the company. But it is clear that Sony has started using smaller, presumably less effective cooling solutions in newer consoles, so what’s going on? And is it a risk or a potential problem?
Heat is bad for sensitive electronics, like the microprocessors used in video game consoles and PCs. The reason why manufacturers spend such a large amount of time and energy on figuring out the best cooling solution is because of this plain and simple fact. If an electronic device – like a PlayStation 5 console – runs at a higher temperature, there’s a higher chance of its components wearing out sooner than if an identical machine could be cooled better and more efficiently. That’s the heart of this discussion – not straw-man arguments about “catching fire.”
So the question I have is this: was the original PlayStation 5 cooler over-engineered? Or to put it another way: was the original version essentially “too good” at its job, providing a level of cooling that the PlayStation 5’s internal components didn’t need? Anyone who’s ever built their own PC can tell you that it’s possible to go overboard with cooling – eventually you hit a point of diminishing returns where cooling is as efficient as possible. Adding more cooling capacity is meaningless if a component or machine is already cooled as efficiently as possible.
If that’s the case, and the original PlayStation 5 had more cooling capacity than it could reasonably need, then perhaps this downgrade is perfectly understandable. The difficulty with figuring this out is that the console is less than a year old, and any long-term effects from overheating aren’t known right now. These things can take several years to fully manifest, and by then it could be too late for players who’ve bought a downgraded console if indeed there is an issue there.
From Sony’s point of view, this is already a PR problem. Disassembly videos and articles by popular tech websites and YouTube channels have already highlighted the downgrade, and whether or not it represents a genuine threat to the longevity of newer PlayStation 5 consoles and their internal components, there’s no denying that some people are concerned. Not only that, but it risks Sony looking cheap, like they’re skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internals. That perception – regardless of whether it will actually cause a problem for the average player – is a real danger for the company.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the launch of the PlayStation 5 has been rocky at best for Sony. “Supply chain issues” has become a buzzword for all sorts of companies over the past year or so, but the public’s tolerance for such things is limited. Add into the mix the perception that Sony is trying to circumvent some of their shortages by cheaping out on something as important as cooling and you have the makings of a significant challenge for the console’s reputation – and the company’s.
Sony will need to address this issue, and do so quickly. Their response will be significant for the future success of the PlayStation 5, because if they allow the console to acquire a reputation for being hit-and-miss or for having cheap, low-quality components, that will be hard to shift. Microsoft had to spend a lot of money repairing the damage done by the Xbox 360’s dreaded “red ring of death” in the mid-2000s, not just in terms of replacement hardware but in terms of the console’s reputation. Sony doesn’t have the financial resources of Microsoft, so they need to get this right first time around.
In summary, then, I’m not sure whether this downgrade is a significant issue. If the original PlayStation 5 had an unnecessarily large cooling capacity – which seems unlikely, but you never know – then perhaps all this is is an attempt at efficiency. My suspicion is that Sony is trying to find ways to cut the costs of shipping given the sudden jump over the past year in the price of sending products around the world – reducing weight is a great way to save money right now, and PlayStation 5 consoles are heavy. This downgrade does have the potential to be damaging, though, as sensitive electronic components that aren’t sufficiently cooled will wear out more quickly. Any impact, however, seems likely not to arise for months if not years.
Where Sony needs to worry is in terms of reputation and PR. Right now there’s a growing image among consumers that the company is skimping out on the PlayStation 5’s internal components, and they need to act fast to prevent that from becoming the headline – especially with the holiday season approaching. The PlayStation 5 has already endured a difficult launch, but until now the biggest issue Sony has had is that folks want to buy a PlayStation 5 but haven’t been able to. If this perception sets in and takes hold, the company could soon find that many of those would-be PlayStation 5 buyers have changed their minds and don’t want a console after all – and that will be a much more difficult problem to solve.
The PlayStation 5 is out now – assuming you can find one. PlayStation, PlayStation 5, and other properties mentioned above are owned by Sony and/or Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.