BBC’s Watchdog investigates PS3 “yellow light of death”

The BBC consumer affairs program, Watchdog, has just screened in Britain. One of the issues of contention, right alongside a piece about a bogus healer who promises to cure terminal cancer with his hands, was… The Yellow Light of Death. Not a massive talking point in the videogame industry. Until now.

Well, maybe.

The Yellow Light of Death is the PlayStation 3 equivalent of the Xbox 360’s Red Ring of Death. Essentially it’s what happens when your console dies. While the yellow light is not as prevalent as the red ring (Sony claim just 12,500 cases have been reported from the 2.5 million PS3s sold in the UK), the causes are thought to be the same. Namely, overheating and component failure.

Watchdog, fronted by Anne Robinson, have taken issue with the way that Sony deal with yellow light failures. If your PS3 fails during the 1 year warranty, then Sony will send you a new one. If it happens after the warranty expires, you’re pretty much stuffed. Sony won’t repair it and advise that you pay £128 for a refurb model.

However, Watchdog, ably assisted by Ian Lee (who works freelance for Microsoft, funnily enough) reckon it can be fixed quickly and easily, with no need for a replacement console.

Parking a van outside SCEE headquarters in London, Lee and the Watchdog PlayStation Repair Action Team (hilariously acronymed P.R.A.T) set about repairing some busted PS3s by opening them up, cleaning them out and popping the circuit boards in a kind of special oven. The oven heated the circuits, melting them and restoring any broken connections. Essentially, it’s the toweling method preferred by desperate bricked 360 owners. Unfortunately, of the 11 they fixed, 4 broke again.

Sony, for their part, have pointed out – among other things – that not only is the problem relatively rare and not the result of an inherent hardware issue, but also that it is standard in the electronics sector not to pay out for goods no longer under warranty. They have also issued a massive 6 page document refuting the BBC’s claims and stating that they will “take all necessary steps to protect its reputation and that of the PS3.” They’re not happy.

So what have we learned from all this? Well, firstly Anne Robinson’s career is clearly in a terminal nosedive. Secondly… not a lot. As much as we applaud anybody who attempts to protect our consumer rights, it seems like on this occasion Watchdog may be making a fuss about nothing.

Also, a note to BBC producers: Please do not end your programmes with god-awful PS3 musical pieces (skip to 4:06). You may find it cheapens your message. Thank you.