Why old PS3s should be left untouched

Found an original PS3 on original firmware? You have a unicorn, truly! Sony has consistently removed features from the PS3, and the worst update really blew a hole in the flexibility of the console; PS3 Slims never had those features in the first place.

I had a 60GB PS3, the original UK model. It cost £425, a price I considered justifiable because the system included a high-definition movie player (Microsoft charged £99 at the time for the xBox 360 HD-DVD drive), wireless as well as wired connectivity, a decent size of HD and 4 USB ports plus card readers. It also included HDMI and the ability to run Linux, making it an ideal “home computer”.

Thanks to the activities of one talented individual, Sony elected to remove the Other OS function from machines that allowed it – a mere month after stating their commitment to keeping the feature in place.

Sony marketed the systems on this capability and made a lot of noise about the cluster systems based on the PS3. You can even see such a system in some product placement in the show Person of Interest; liquid-nitrogen cooling optional.

This was far from the first change Sony made to the system, though it’s arguably the least logical.

Cost-reducing the PS3

The first downgrade to the PS3 came before many users got a system – the PS2 compatibility afforded by retaining some PS2 hardware was reduced, losing the Emotion Engine chip in systems sold outside Japan (essentially). This wasn’t a disaster, but it did limit how compatible the PS3 could be.

Then the “Fat” PS3 models were updated, bringing 40 and 80GB variations. However, the new systems had lost the compactflash, SD and MS readers and two of the USB ports.

Given the number of peripherals Sony markets that use the ports – like Play TV, the Eye camera, the mechanism for charging the controllers – this seems like a particularly pointless step, particularly wireless devices like the Guitar Hero and Singstar controllers need USB receivers on the otherwise wireless PS3 system.

Not just that – they lost SACD support and the ability to play PS2 games.

Finally, the Slim model debuted, losing the OtherOS support.

The price of the system came down as the features were removed – though it could be argued that retaining a sensible number of USB ports would have been useful.

Hackers are jerks, sometimes

However, OtherOS has not been removed to save money, or support costs. It’s a knee-jerk response to the activity of “GeoHot” – or George Hotz, who famously cracked the iPhone. Cracking the iPhone made some sense; Apple had produced some compelling hardware and restricted it in ways unusual for the marketplace.

Sony had done the opposite with the PS3. Cracking the PS3 accomplishes nothing of use beyond GeoHot’s own sense of satisfaction that he can do it and seemingly causing Sony to further restrict the operation of the PS3. We could use homebrew on the PS3 via Linux, and the “homebrew” market of the other cracked consoles is tiny compared to the “piracy” market that resulted from hackers’ efforts. Protecting their IP seems fair and reasonable in this case.

GeoHot, of course, promises to release a custom firmware to unlock the PS3’s features again. Great, thanks dude, really appreciate it. Putting legitimate users in a position where they have to lose a feature or use cracked firmware they previously had no interest in certainly helps GeoHot’s cause, but is far from ideal.

Given the amount of DLC I have, and the how much I enjoy playing PS3 games, upgrading the firmware was inevitable – though Sony’s response to it does mean that if the PS3 ever fails, or the inevitable PS4 comes out, I’ll be inclined to let that trivial entertainment part of my discretionary spend go elsewhere. (It did, sort of. Raspberry Pis are more fun).

In the meantime, this is a public “Thanks, GeoHot. Nice going, and I suspect that you’re going to find the response from PS3 owners rather less favourable than the iPhone early adopters – but having done this, you really need to fix it, either by discussing with Sony or releasing (and continuing to release) CFW that retains the feature that ultimately, you caused the removal of”.

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