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Watchdog vs PS3: the Play response

WatchdogLast night BBC’s Watchdog programme aired an investigation into the failure rate of PS3s and in particular those associated with a yellow warning light on the front of the console. Like many commentators, it chose to characterise this warning light as the ‘Yellow Light Of Death’. While no doubt entertaining and passionate in its consumer vitriol, Watchdog unfortunately failed to make its case for a serious problem with the PS3 hardware or Sony’s consumer services.

In a show that tackled a man who claimed he could cure cancer with his hands and the salt content in high-street restaurants’ soup, the tone of Watchdog‘s editorial was clear. The show’s stunt to expose the failure rate of PS3s and the ease with which they can be fixed was to park a ‘PlayStation Repair Action Team’ outside Sony HQ in London and offer free repairs of PS3s. The simple solution to the yellow light failures, it was claimed, was to remove one particular circuit board and heat it in a special oven to melt the solder and fix any broken connections.

However, there are a number of issues with the way Watchdog presented this or failed to dig further. For a start, it had to admit after showing this footage that of the 11 consoles it fixed that day four have since broken again. When they were told by their ‘experts’ that they had seen a couple of hundred failed PS3s in the last few months with the same problem, they failed to ask what that problem was. Despite having the same team in their studio yesterday evening, they failed to ask them why the consoles broke again. It didn’t seem to be made clear during the show (although it was made clear in Sony’s letter released yesterday) that these experts are a third-party repair firm that charge £103.50 for repairs usually. That’s only £24.50 less than Sony charges, and, as Watchdog admitted, some of those machines break again.

Watchdog did not make clear that the yellow warning light on the PS3 is associated with a number of hardware and software failures, many of which are not fatal to the console. It didn’t show us Sony’s own repair teams working on PS3s, which Sony claims is extensive and even at £128 outside of warranty, still operates at a loss. It should be added that in the first year of owning a PS3 any hardware failure will be fixed free of charge and that Sony will courier the console from and to you at any time to fix it. We do not know if Watchdog‘s expert team offers the same courier service.

Perhaps most importantly in the context of sound journalism Watchdog failed to offer a context for the failure rate of PS3s in the UK. As many of you will probably know the Xbox 360 failure rate is believed to be somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent, but that’s not really our concern. What we should really be comparing PS3s to are other kinds of consumer electronics. Sony has said that the ‘acceptable’ standard for the specific solder problem discussed is around 25 per cent. Watchdog made no claim that this was any higher for PS3. In fact, Sony claims that less than 0.5 per cent of PS3s suffer hardware failures this way. A Square Trade study from 2008 showed that the failure rate of the iPhone in its first year of use was around 5.6 per cent, for instance [source – Cnet].

However, while Watchdog may have failed to offer sound advice to consumers, we will not. Even at 0.5 per cent there could be as many as 12,500 people who have experienced a hardware failure. If that’s happened inside the one-year warranty offered by Sony then there’s no problem, Sony will fix that for free. It is also true that it is not unusual for companies to charge for repairs outside of warranty and, given the evidence of last night’s programme, it could be argued you are better paying Sony to handle your console than someone else. If Sony repairs you PS3 out of warranty then you get an additional 3 months of cover in case the problem reoccurs.

As consumers we feel that there should be some discussion of Sony extending its warranty cover, even though it may be under no obligation to do so. We would also advise you, PlayStation 3 owners, to back up any files you may store on your PS3. Do not panic if you get a yellow warning light as it may be a temporary problem. Obviously make sure your PS3 is well ventilated with room to expel warm air. Ultimately, if you have a hardware failure and are unsure of your rights then seek advice from legitimate consumer advice services such as Consumer Direct. This government-funded service can inform you of your legal rights in fixing or replacing faulty consumer goods.

You can read more about Sony’s response to the Watchdog programme HERE.

You can watch the show itself again HERE.

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  • william dunk

    Typical sloppy journalism. seems to be the way for watchdog these days.

    I have owned PS2 (replaced under warranty) a PSP (never had a problem) and a PS3 (repaired free of charge when it was 1 month out of warranty).

    I cant fault sony for the fault as from what i have read it was down to us. But i can praise them for excellent telephone support with both Playstations and excellent service when dealing with the swap of the PS2 and the repair of the PS3.

    would i have got this from a 3rd party company? i dont know, but for the extra £20 ish pounds i would rather have the repair done by sony.

    my 2p’s worth

  • David

    When have Sony ever repaired a ps3 outside of warranty? They only offer a replacement at the cost of £145. As for backing up your game saves a lot of them are copy protected for some bizzard reason so you simply can’t back them up. Sony should never have allowed copy protected saves in the first place, and i’m very annoyed at the moment that i’ve got to replay all of these games from the beginning:

    Guitar Hero World Tour
    Guitar Hero Greatest Hits
    Juiced 2
    Killzone 2
    Need For Speed Carbon
    Need For Speed Prostreet
    Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2
    Rock Band
    Rock Band 2