An issue has recently been discovered with all PSN enabled Sony consoles, which has massive implications for the future functionality of the PS3, PS4, PS5 and PS Vita consoles. Known as the ‘CBOMB’, the issue centres around the console’s internal clock.
It’s important to note, that this clock is not the one you will see on your console. While the OS does use the internal clock to keep its own clock in sync, the internal clock has no concept of time zones, and operates exclusively using UTC.
The internal clock is a core part of many electronic systems, not just Sony games consoles.
How Does It Work?
For the internal clock to keep ticking, even when there is no power to the console, a battery is required. For the PS Vita, the system battery is used. For home consoles, which otherwise have no battery power source, a coin cell battery is included on the board, solely for this purpose. You will also see similar batteries on your PC motherboard.
The PS3, PS4, PS5 and PS Vita use the clock to verify game licences, and record trophy unlocks. To prevent these from being manipulated, a manual update of the clock will force a time sync before certain content can be used. This means, for example, it is not possible to play a game using an expired licence, by changing back the clock to a time before the licence expired.
So far, this doesn’t sound so bad, right?
Let’s think back to the battery for a second. This battery is required to ensure the internal clock keeps on running. If the battery dies, or is removed, the clock will reset to a hard coded date/time, and force a time sync before certain content can be used.
Again, not necessarily an issue, a quick sync of the time and the system will be back up and running.
So What’s The Issue?
Unfortunately, the way Sony has implemented the lockout is somewhat heavy handed. It is not only time-limited games which are prevented from starting – all digital games will be locked out.
And the issue is even more severe on the PS4 and PS5 – physical games on these systems will also refuse to run. This is presumably due to the desire to ensure trophy progress cannot be manipulated.
When Sony eventually retires the time server, the console will no longer be able to use it to update the internal clock. At this point, all affected consoles will be on borrowed time – once the battery dies, the clock resets, and requires an online update, which would no longer be possible.
For the PS4 and PS5, you will no longer be able to play any games. The system will be pretty much useless.
Should I Be Worried?
For the time being, no. As long as Sony keeps the time server alive, the console will be able to connect to the server and update the internal clock.
In all likelihood, the time server will remain active long into the future. After all, the PS5 has only just been released, the PS4 is still actively produced, and the PS3/Vita still have online storefronts for purchasing digital games.
Custom firmware for the PS3 has effectively blown the system wide open. While not ideal, it is already possible to generate licences on the fly for PS3 titles, theoretically circumventing this issue.
It is also possible that Sony will release an update to correct this issue.
We’ll have to wait and see if/when Sony responds to this problem.