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BBC Watchdog Fiasco

I’m sure a lot of you may have seen the video on YouTube, or elsewhere, where BBC was investigating the cause of the infamous “Yellow Light of Death” and how Sony demands money for the consoles to be repaired. All this, while claiming the systems can easily be fixed by heating the circuit boards in the PS3 in a special oven, melting the solder joints and fixing the problem.

Problem is, it’s really just a temporary fix. Out of the 11 consoles that were repaired for free, 5 came back with the same problem, where they were once again repaired by the same team, suggesting that what they did to attempt to “fix” the issue didn’t actually pinpoint the cause. They repaired them on the show again for free, but there was no telling how long they would last after that.

Just a side note here, at the beginning of the show, they performed an x-ray of the system, and pointed to the capacitors that had the trapped gas in them. This is normal as that happens during the lifetime of a console (or any electronic device). Sometimes they do blow, though, which would cause issues, but that’s a possibility with many electronic devices. Samsung televisions had power issues due to blown capacitors on the power supply board (which I, myself, am a victim of). The trapped gas isn’t necessarily the issue though.

Ray Maguire, Senior Vice President Marketing Director of SCEUK, responded to the report with a six page rebuttal, stating:

The information that you have provided suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the technical issues and a mis-characterisation of SCEUK’s Out of Warranty repairs policy.

Watchdog themselves sent Sony a technical report based on only three consoles, with one that was attempted to be fixed by the user itself at one point. 155 people total contacted Watchdog based on the problem (where the 11 mentioned above showed up for the street team). Sony responded by saying:

The testing concerned a sample of only three PS3s, which cannot, on any basis, be deemed to be representative of a UK user base of 2.5 million.

The statement is totally fair. That’s a very small percentage of total users! Now it comes to the actual price of repairs. Sony charges GBP 128 for a repair, whilst the street team, which was a third party firm hired out by Watchdog to repair those user’s PS3 for free, charges about GBP 103. Not a BIG difference. Problem is, since 5 of the 11 came back soon after to be repaired again, maybe their technicians aren’t as thorough as one would be led to believe, giving their “fixes” questionable reliability.

Also of note, Watchdog sent out a disclaimer for participants in the show’s repair service could potentially cause the PS3 to be unrepairable. The disclaimer noted:

The technicians are from a company which specializes in PlayStation 3 repairs, but as I will have already pointed out to you, there is a) no guarantee that they’ll be able to repair your console, b) there is a risk that the machine could be damaged further, c) and there is no guarantee the console will continue to work for long after the repair.

Since the company who performed the repairs, eSales, is a third party company not affiliated with Sony, Sony cannot be held accountable for any shoddy repairs done by them. They will, however, still repair the console even after the warranty seal had been broken (which is still a GBP 128 price tag).

The concept of warranty policies isn’t that hard to understand either. The XBox 360 also had a 1 year warranty for all issues, but given the sheer number of failures across the entire user base (back then, it was around, at least, 1/3), where users were affected by the famed “Red Ring of Death”, Microsoft was threatened by numerous lawsuits because they released a “faulty product”. The warranty was then extended to three years for that issue, but any other failure still fell into the one year warranty.

To their credit, that was nice of them to extend the warranty like that, especially since the overwhelming majority of failures were caused by the “RROD”. Sony’s “YLOD” is more of an isolated issue in comparison, though that takes a good part of total failures for PS3. Given the total number of reports on that particular issue, it’s not enough to warrant an extension to the Warranty policy on the PS3. Thus, if one year after purchase, your console does fail, you should have to be responsible for repair anyway. It’s a one year warranty after all. Some electronics are only 90 day. Be glad that’s not the case for consoles!

Sony declined to appear on the show, fearing the program would “ridicule its defense and it would not receive fair treatment,” according to Which is understandable. The bad press caused by Watchdog will negatively affect Sony in the short term, but given the questionable journalism performed by the program, that affect shouldn’t last too long. The PS3 still has a far lower failure rate (at 10% or so) than the 360 (which is currently at 24%) and is only second to the Wii (at 2.7%) (according to a warranty firm). The PS3 is still a very reliable piece of hardware, and I’m a proud owner of a 60GB system that hasn’t failed on me yet! You can read Sony’s full 6-page rebuttal here at the bottom of the page.