This morning reports surfaced showing a PS4 with its led line glowing red, alleging that it was an overheat-related malfunction similar to Xbox 360’s dreaded “red ring of death.” The report was immediately debunked by SCE Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida, who said that it’s “not true” over Twitter, even if he did not specify in which way.
That said, whether the picture is simply a fake or not, the whole hoopla teaches an important lesson: you should never trust reports that try to sell some sort of widespread malfunction of a console when the picture looks like the one showcased below.
Truth is that a whole lot of consoles, both PS4 units and Xbox One units, are going to malfunction at various events from here to the launch of the console. More will start breaking as soon as demo units are delivered to shops. And you can be sure that every time one will break down in a way that’s even remotely public, someone is going to report on it, because FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) sells. Making you believe that the infamous Red Ring of Death is going to come back with this or that console is the perfect way to attract those delicious clicks of yours.
First of all, every single piece of electronics, no matter how sturdy, durable and well designed, has a failure rate. Thousands of consoles are going to be demonstrated in the next month, and due to simple statistics, some will malfunction. This doesn’t mean that any console has a higher failure rate than usual, or that there’s something to worry about. It simply means that perfection in manufacturing any piece of hardware is unattainable, and that’s absolutely normal.
That, of course, doesn’t even count environmental causes that increase the chance of failure, and here’s another important detail: demo units are often put in environmental situations that are quite near the worst possible operational conditions, and that will pretty much never be replicated at home.
First of all, demo units operate under stress for prolonged periods. We’re talking about time frames that go from early in the morning to late in the evening every day, and that by itself puts a strain on the components. But you have to add to that the fact that they’re moved very often, either from one event to another or from the storage area to the demo station, and when you move a console that often, all sorts of bad things can happen.
Finally, and this is the case of the picture showcased above, consoles need air to live. It may sound cheesy, but it’s true. Like any computer they generate a lot of heat that requires good ventilation to be dissipated.
Demo stations and cabinets are often designed with a really horrible airflow. In the picture above there’s basically no ventilation. The only holes in the Plexiglas are small and placed at the bottom, where they’re partly obstructed by the cables. Since hot air tends to travel towards the top of a container, and not towards the bottom, almost all the heat generated from the console is retained inside the case, with potential disastrous results. Those are really some of the worst operational conditions for a console, but for some reason demo stations keep being designed like that.
The example below is a little better, as it has bigger holes placed on the side of the casing. It’s still not perfect (having more and some placed at the top would be better), but it’s definitely a way to increase the operational life of the demo unit.
There are also cases in which the demo unit is a simple dummy made of an empty shell and an USB extension cord designed to pass the controller input to the real console locked inside the cabinet underneath, in which case ventilation really depends on the cabinet. But having a console locked inside an enclosed space is never a great idea, especially if that space is small.
Ultimately, malfunctions will happen to both next generation consoles, and there definitely are parties out there with an interest in making you believe that such malfunctions are due to something more worthy of concern than an average failure rate and environmental conditions. You should really take those sources with a big grain of salt, because the operational conditions of a demo consoles are simply completely different than those of the units you’ll have at home, pampered and cared for as they deserve.