Rather than jump on the “Blue Line Of Death” or rarer “Red Line Of Death” bandwagon that is currently circling the internet right now and joining many a larger and smaller site in adding drama to the situation while not actually giving you any new information, we decided we would get our hands dirty and dig a little deeper.
The source of this new spate of negative coverage originated from initial reports pre-launch of demo units in certain conditions experience a red pulsing line, these reports were largely attributed to the low amount of ventilation provided to these units while being displayed.
Just before launch a few winners of a Taco Bell promotion who received their units reported varied issues, which spread across the internet, as negative news always does, like wildfire. While there may well be others in the same boat, the two most notable reports were from a person livestreaming on twitch, both his experience and troubleshooting with the PS4 – It is worth noting here that this users PS4 did actually work until an error during updating DCOU resulted in a blue pulsing light and being unable to boot – over the course of the night he was able to repair the PS4, and then break it again, multiple times while repeating his attempts to update DCOU.
A second user posted his experience on the forum NeoGaf, in which after installing the 1.50 update, at some point the console froze and rebooted (crashed, basically) “controller light turned white and it has not worked since”.
Kotaku then chirped up with their own issue which was later discovered to be a grounding pin on the outer edge of the hdmi port bending up and obstructing the cable from being fully inserted.
After reading the genuine reports in detail and watching the various youtube videos covering the issues, and experiencing issues of our own with the two units we have in the offices (more on that later) we came to the conclusion that a large majority of “pulsing blue light” PS4 units are not actually broken, but a problem or two either related to the user or from manufacturing are to blame, we will go in to each of these problems in detail.
HDMI port obstruction
Kotaku reported that the unit Sony checked out for them was found to have a bent pin on the HDMI port which had prevented the cable from being fully inserted and making proper contact, when booting a PlayStation 4 system without HDMI connected, the console does not get beyond the pulsating blue light because it is unable to initialize a display, likewise, if the TV you are connecting the hardware to does not support the signal being sent to it, initialization of the video link will fail, even if the connection is good.
For Kotaku the pin they experience being bent was actually one of the “click” pins in the outer shielding itself that are normally used to secure a cable in place, in their instance the bent pin had not made contact with one of the signal pins but simply prevented the cable itself from being inserted far enough to make a solid connection.
Our second unit initially was awkward to insert cables in to, the HDMI cable needed to be “wiggled” gently for it to then slot in firmly, after closer inspection the fourth upper pin on the HDMI connectors central block was lifted slightly, this would mean that the slight wiggling would give the pin enough space to slip in to the connector and work properly.
Once adjusting the pin using a small screwdriver (pushing it down flush with the other pins) we have not had any trouble inserting cables and no longer need to “wiggle” to get it connected up – I can only assume at this point that this occured with Kotaku’s unit except rather than being a signal pin like ours, they had the same issue but with the shielding pins, someone then obviously applied too much pressure thinking the port was just tight, bending the pin further.
The signal pins are thin copper coated prongs and extremely easy to bend, if the pin makes contact with the flat edge of a cable, it would not take unreasonable force to push it backwards, bending the pin out of the way, while the outer shielding pins are thicker and would take a little more force to fully bend, because of their arrangement and direction however it would take a considerably large amount of force to fold this pin back on itself and reach a state there it would be unreasonable to call an easy fix.
For reference, this picture from Kotaku shows the bent pin.
If your issue is not the shielding pins and, like ours, is the signal pin, depending on which pin is bent also could directly cause or contribute towards a “Red Line Of Death” situation, as rather than bend and fold in half the pin could easily bend and fold at the base which would leave it long enough to sit at the back of the port making contact with ground (outer shielding), As anyone with any knowledge of electronics will tell you, grounding any signal or output voltages against the devices own ground will result in serious problems.
To take things a step further we deliberately sabotaged one of our own units, grounding one of the pins against the shielding of the port, using a small piece of aluminum foil, with all other cables correctly inserted, booting would result in a flashing red light on the top of the PlayStation 4, Indicating a hardware failure.
So to sum up, there are three stages of failure for the HDMI port, if a pin is bent:
Stage 1: One of the TMDS lines is bent but NOT grounded against the shielding : Boots and functions properly, but signal would be unstable with ghosting issues and/or horizontal crawl.
Stage 2: One of the TMDS lines is bent but NOT grounded against the shielding : Bent line prevents HDMI handshake, failure to initialize display will result in failure to boot with no video.
Stage 3: Any of the lines bent and in contact with shielding : Red flashing light, no booting what so ever.
If you are currently experiencing any of the following problems with your PlayStation 4 unit, you may well have an issue with your HDMI port, or in support of your display.
Pulsing blue light, no power off: HDMI port failing to sense a connected display properly – Potentially faulty HDMI port, or incompatible TV, or problem completing the initialization handshake between devices.
Pulsating blue light, powers off: HDMI port failing to sense a connected device at all – Most likely HDMI port or damaged cable
Pulsating blue light, switching to white, switch back to blue and repeating: TMDS signal line grounded, initial handshake success but signal highly unstable, check hdmi port pins on both the TV and PlayStation 4, if no pins are damaged or bent try another cable.
Normal operation but corrupt display: Handshake succeeded, video signal stable enough for boot, but displaying artifacts on screen, this is either down to a poor, or damaged TMDS line in either the hdmi socket or cable, or the display having trouble handling the clock signal being sent from the PlayStation 4 over HDMI, check ports, cable, and where possible, another display.
HDD Connection / Corruption
We have heard a number of reports of working systems then failing after a crash or when the console has lost power while updating/downloading, what we need to keep in mind is that as a general rule of thumb, mechanical hard drives have a 2-6% “Defective” rate depending on manufacturer and model, of this 2-6% some will be completely dead, and some will work but with issues.
Factoring in this alone could well explain a large portion of dead units as looking at the PlayStation 3 before Sony included detection measures in their firmware updates to rebuild and repair databases and structures of hard drives, some users would either receive a “Yellow light of death” or just failure to boot their consoles, new or old, in some cases replacing the hard drive was enough to repair these issues.
While it doesn’t mean that every pulsing blue light console has a problem with its hard drive, it has been noted by many users who have experience a crash resulting in failure to boot that removing the hard drive, powering on the system, switching it back off and putting the drive back in would result in the console forcing a repair of the drive once re-inserted and everything would be back to normal again, this would suggest that currently, much like the early PlayStation 3 firmware revisions, error checking and repair is not completely ready on the PlayStation 4 firmware.
But again, we see three stages of failure for the HDD:
Stage 1: Console crashed / failed during a download or while HDD read/write activity was taking place, filesystem/database is corrupted and needs to be repaired, unable to boot.
Stage 2: HDD mechanical failure : Dead as a doornail, replacing with a new compatible drive should resolve this.
Stage 3: Failure to boot with original or replacement compatible drive, most likely not related to the HDD after all.
If you are currently experiencing any of the following problems with your PlayStation 4 unit, you could have a HDD issue.
Pulsing blue light, no power off but no boot: Potentially corrupt drive database, partition table or index, remove drive, boot console, shut it down and reconnect drive, forcing the system to check and repair the drive, this may or may not succed.
Pulsating blue light, powers off: HDD initialization failure, either cannot read from the drive or the driver board failed to respond to query from console, try another hard drive but seek a replacement from Sony, if another drive works then the supplied drive is dead, if another drive does not work, troubleshoot HDMI as listed above, failing that the system has a critical fault, this light configuration occurs when we insert a known-dead pcb board hard disk as well as a known-dead read head drive.
Pulsating blue light, switching to white, switch back to blue and repeating: Regardless of the extensive on-purpose-crashing testing we have done, we have not been able to cause this configuration of lighting with the hard drive tests we have done.
Normal operation but corrupt display: Not related to HDD, check HDMI troubleshooting steps above.
Hopefully using the troubleshooting lists above you will be able to repair your machine without voiding warranty.
Understanding the boot procedure
We need to keep in mind that these new systems, unlike their predecessors, are much more complex, running OS level software that goes above and beyond the basic frameworks of older systems, as such there is no simple booting at speed into a lightweight firmware, these consoles actually boot, much like a PC, into their respective OS and support fast booting from an idle/suspend state, much like a PC too, during this initial boot procedure, if any particular area of the boot process fails, be it accessing a valid and functioning hard drive database table, or successfully initializing video output, the result is going to be that the boot process ultimately has failed and will cease, either to switch off or reboot for another attempt or simply hang.
It has been confirmed that the PlayStation 4 uses a version of the FreeBSD OS, and the Xbox One a modified Windows core, adding further similarities between standard computers and this generation of games console.
As any seasoned PC user will testify to, this sort of instability is common when adding or removing devices, using faulty/outdated drivers or similar often resulting in a “BSOD” and in many cases these blue screen of death loops are very similar to what some PlayStation 4 users are currently experiencing, the issue is more prevalent with PC systems however due to the modular nature, this introduces additional complexity where certain configurations of hardware had not been anticipated or tested as such these issues need to be addressed where possible, be it from hardware firmware updates or via updated drivers.
As the new generation of consoles benefit greatly from being set pieces that rarely change outside of different ram manufacturers and the occasional shift to a lower silicon process, at their base level they are much easier to work with, and indeed repair via software when issues are brought to light – It is safe to assume then that if many of these problems being experienced by users can be rectified with a software update, then such an update would eventually see a release.
With that said, I predict that largely due to the inherent industry failure rate for mechanical drives, we are going to see similar drive-related issues affecting a small number of Xbox One units too, though it would be natural to assume that Microsoft have taken the precaution of including a protective software measure for handling non-mechanical issues due to the nature of it’s internal storage medium not being accessible by the end user, it is reassuring to know however that as of yet no reviewers have experiences such issues.
At this current time, a robust and reliable software framework for handling hard drive content issues is something the PlayStation 4’s current latest firmware only has on a very basic level.
These software solutions of course is no cure for mechanical failings for either console or indeed any device using internal disk drives, the only protection a user would have from such situations would need to be present on the assembly process, but given the mass production nature, extensively testing every single hard drive for problems is not something that can be economically, or effectively done.
Next up we will go in to detail on the testing we have carried out with the hardware, head to page 2!