Sony Is Feverishly Battling Vita Tinkerers Despite Vita Being Discontinued

from the why? dept

Update: After this post published, the Kotaku article was updated with more input from the hacker who reversed course and stated his previous exploit still worked on the new firmware version for the Vita. Kotaku apologized for the error in reporting, as do we.

If ever there were a poster child for this strange new culture in which we don't actually own what we buy, there is a strong argument for making Sony the number one pick. Beyond all of Sony's day-to-day anti-consumer practices disguised as anti-piracy efforts, the company is also rather infamous for the Playstation 3 debacle, in which the console was rolled out with a feature that allowed buyers to install other operating systems on it, and then subsequently removed that feature via a firmware update. That Sony wasn't fully trashed in the legal and public opinions courts for doing so basically set the tone for the subsequent decade, where now this sort of bullshit is common practice.

Which brings us to the present and a discussion on the Playstation Vita. The Vita, a Playstation hand-held device, has basically been retired with PlayStation Plus games no longer rolling out to the devices and new cartridges for the system no longer being manufactured. As there had been with the PS3, the Vita has a tinkering community around it that has long worked to jailbreak the hardware to allow it do other things. Piracy is part of that, sure, but so is emulation, running other sorts of software, tinkering with hardware performance, etc. Each time someone released a way to jailbreak the Vita, Sony would patch it with a firmware update.

Including, most recently, this past week.

Less than a day after a new exploit for jailbreaking the Vita was discovered, Sony has already released a new firmware update to safeguard its sunsetting handheld.

“Surprise! h-encore² released for PS Vita firmware 3.71,” Andy Nguyen, a Vita hacker behind the recent Trinity Exploit for jailbreaking the most up-to-date versions of the handheld, announced on Monday. Unlike the Trinity Exploit, which required using a PSP game to hack the Vita, h-encore² is a native hack, meaning it can be done directly on the system. And while some hacks on work on Vitas running older software, h-encore² was designed to work on any firmware version between 3.65 and 3.71, the most recent one.

As if on cue, Sony announced firmware update 3.72 today.

A lot of the response to this has been the continued dismay that Sony won't let people who bought their freaking Vita do with it as they please. They own the hardware, but are restricted from using it the way they want. That's as insane as it was ten years ago.

But there is another track some are responding to, namely: "Why the fuck is Sony continuing this whac-a-mole game with tinkerers for a device that has been essentially discontinued?

And for all intents and purposes, Vita has also been unofficially retired, leaving some people in the homebrew community scratching their heads about why Sony has seemingly redoubled its efforts to safeguard it. The Vita no longer gets new monthly PlayStation Plus games, and production of new game cartridges ended earlier this year. “I need a movie about the 4 guys at Sony who still have to work on the Vita in friggin 2019,” wrote one person on Twitter.

Maybe Sony Pictures can make such a film. Then, perhaps, we'd get some sort of firsthand explanation as to why Sony is so committed to ensuring people can't use their hardware the way they want that it continues that practice even after the death of said hardware.

Filed Under: firmware updates, freedom to tinker, jailbreaks, ownership, playstation vita, tinkerers, vita
Companies: sony


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Sep 2019 @ 3:53pm

    And the thing is, Sony's overzealous anti-piracy measures are a big part of what killed the Vita in the first place -- most specifically, the grossly overpriced proprietary memory card.

    That's not the only thing that killed the Vita, of course; the rise of cell phone gaming certainly played a role too. But the $80 memory cards sure didn't help.

    It's a pity, because there were a lot of great games for the thing (not to mention its potential as a portable emulation box). I have a PSTV that I bought when they were discontinued. Maybe I should see what the handheld version goes for these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 2:24am

      Re:

      "And the thing is, Sony's overzealous anti-piracy measures are a big part of what killed the Vita in the first place -- most specifically, the grossly overpriced proprietary memory card."

      What's sad is that this is a lesson they keep needing to learn over and over again. Despite being technically superior, Betamax lost to VHS because its proprietary nature kept the price up and innovation low. Minidisc failed in the marketplace for the same reasons. SDDS, ATRAC, UMD, Memory Stick. They keep coming up with formats, they keep dying because they won't share and get killed by formats that are competitive.

      Only Blu Ray has succeeded in the marketplace in recent years, and that's arguably because of things outside of the format itself leading it to become a defacto standard (PS3 using the format natively vs. needing to buy an external drive to use HD-DVD on the Xbox 360).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 4:03pm

    They could add these guys to the Sony Marvel Universe.

    I know I marvel at Sony's relationship with the homebrew community anyway....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 4:17pm

    death of said hardware

    Updates for: the death of the hardware, plus 70 years

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 4:53pm

    MINE, MINE, MINE....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 4:57pm

    MINE, MINE, MINE...

    It's obvious why Sony continues this tact, they are a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum...

    they don't care that the "ball" belongs to someone else, they own the "Imaginary property... aka air" in the ball, and they are going to take their ball and go home...

    Since they no longer want to play the game (aka the Vita), nobody else should get to play with it either... even those who paid good money to buy them at the store and now own them, Sony just can't stand the idea that someone else is having fun with something they made, without paying them MORE MONEY FOR NOTHING AND THE CHICKS FOR FREE... they were promised and it never happened...

    Where is that high quality dioxyhydroganated fluid now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ladyattis (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 6:33am

      Re: MINE, MINE, MINE...

      It's capitalism in a nutshell at least historically. What's mine is not yours even if it's not really mine anymore. That book you bought? Mine. That burger you just ate even though you paid me handsomely for it? MINE!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 5:17pm

    Correction

    Looks like there's a correction on the original story now:

    "Correction: 8/28/2019, 1:30 p.m. ET: After the publication of this story, the Vita hacker in question now says that the h-encore² hack in fact still works with the 3.72 Vita firmware. Kotaku apologizes the error. The original story is below."

    That's not to say that Sony doesn't have a terrible track record, but we might want to press pause on adding this one for just a minute...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 8:44pm

      Re: Correction

      So is it a case of bad timing (the update was unrelated and the release date was just a coincidence), or bad workmanship (they tried to patch the exploit and failed)?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    aNonymous, 3 Sep 2019 @ 7:24pm

    Don't Own It

    So, if we only license the thing, can we now all send the devices back to Sony for a full refund of the purchase price?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 8:33pm

    it's obvious

    it's obvious why they don't want people hacking on older hardware.

    because thats one less reason for people to buy newer hardware.

    it's literally this simple: think of all the beautiful old hardware filling landfills.

    if someone manages to repurpose one of those devices to do so much as get online and check their email, that's one less customer for a smartphone.

    of course it isn't really such a one to one exchange. but welcome to the inescapable reasoning of commodity hardware. why else don't we have upgradable cell phones? why else don't we have computers with truly upgradable CPU's - a passive backplane that puts the CPU(s) on a pci express card? because then there's no reason to buy the newer model. why haven't we seen an SDR based handheld protocol-agile cellular device? same reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 1:30pm

      Re: it's obvious

      Concerning your question about upgradable cell phones, a couple manufacturers have tried, and failed to make that happen. Even Google has thrown a few billion dollars down that rabbit hole and nothing came out of it. A fully modular cell phone would be about the size of a phone from the 80's if you wanted it to have the same power as a modern flagship device and it would probably cost about 50% more until the economies of scale kicked in. It's just not worth it for a niche device. Lastly, there are massive speed benefits to miniaturization that you just don't get with modular phones. Every time I have to open up a phone or tablet to repair it I complain about the same thing but, I still understand that there are tradeoffs.

      Concerning the idea of moving x86 devices back to backplane architecture, unfortunately, front side bus speeds have gotten fast enough on the highest end consumer CPU's that the length of the traces on the mainboard is becoming a bottleneck. Going back to backplanes just isn't an option for the links between the processor and RAM anymore. Also, certain processes have been moved off of the CPU on to separate controllers on the mainboard and those tend to be CPU architecture specific (this is why, for example, you can't use a Zen 2 chip on an A320 board even though they're both socketed for AM4).

      Based on your comment, I'm pretty sure you know most of this but I'm writing this for anyone else who happens to see this thread.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2019 @ 1:50am

    Theres 3 poster children. Sony, Apple, and John-Deer. With Nintendo as the adopted stepsibling

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 4:33am

    Well, it's a shame about one of them

    3 poster children. Sony, Apple, and John-Deer.

    The case of John Deere is unfortunate. At one time they had a good reputation and played nice with others. Service manuals were available, and the machines were often sold into rural areas far removed from factory-authorized repair centers.

    The farmers and village mechanics kept them running for years and years. Indeed, 50+ year old units are regularly shown and operated at the county fair. They developed a saying, "nothing runs like a Deere".

    Now, thanks to some inept management, the machines are better suited to the urban areas where authorized repair facilities are to be found.

    So, I guess the saying now might be "shoot your Deere and lug the carcass back to the dealer."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2019 @ 5:45am

    Face?

    I wonder if Sony's sheer irrationality is related to their corporate culture and internal competition. If others are able to do better with the old hardware it is seen as a slight to their engineers and management.

    Of course they had the rootkit for CDs and broke Linux on PS3s after selling it as a feature so they might just be hardware control meglomaniacs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 8:18am

    Jailbreaks are Security Flaws

    So depending on how the jailbreak happens, given the fact that the Vita does have a web browser I could see this as a 'proactive' step in stopping hackers from remotely taking over this device.

    I'm not saying that is their core motivation, but it is something from a security perspective that I can at least acknowledge as being apart of their reasoning. How bad would it look if a malicious actor installed malware on those devices? Between ransomware attacks, bricking the device for the fun of it, or even a cryptominer... Sony would be harangued, even here at Tech Dirt, for shoddy security.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Jailbreaks are Security Flaws

      For no longer updating an abandoned device? I have no problem with a company saying that a device as old as the Vita is no longer receiving updates. Especially if they're not selling it or any new games for it anymore.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 2:50pm

        Re: Re: Jailbreaks are Security Flaws

        The Vita is no longer being manufactured, but there's still stock; you can still buy one new.

        Same with the games -- and even though there aren't any new physical releases coming, there's still a large back catalogue that's available digitally, and a quick search indicates there are still upcoming new releases.

        So the Vita isn't quite EoL yet, and there's a good argument to be made to continue releasing security patches.

        The problem, really, is one that's been building for years: we've got these devices running operating systems that don't want to give us, the owners of the devices, root privileges. And gaining those privileges therefore requires a security exploit.

        The result is a pretty fucked-up situation, an adversarial relationship between vendors and customers where power users see vulnerabilities as an advantage and security patches as a bad thing.

        It's no way to run a railroad.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 8:31am

    Sony's perfidy

    I wonder, are the guys doing the hacking publishing their new hacks on a website that Sony has access to? Maybe they should create a private email list for that purpose.

    Sounds like Sony is being WAAAAY overzealous in keeping tabs on the innovation community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2019 @ 11:40am

    Piracy vs. emulation

    Piracy is part of that, sure, but so is emulation

    It's well known that Sony does not recognize a distinction between these things—as seen with Connectix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 4 Sep 2019 @ 7:24pm

    I really wish it was possible to wave a magic and and show companies like Sony what the world would be like if computers had been locked down like today's game consoles and only authorized software was allowed to run on them. I have a feeling that the world would be a very different place (and not a better one).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 5 Sep 2019 @ 12:29am

      Re:

      You don't have to imagine, there's examples. The great one in my mind is the state of web browsing. Internet Explorer 6 was at one point the dominant browser, largely because IE was (illegally) bundled with Windows. Microsoft actually announced at one point that they would no longer be releasing standalone versions of IE, and it would only be packaged with new versions of Windows. At the time, IE was a joke. It was a buggy mess that didn't conform to any kind of web standard, it lacked any modern features such as tabbed browsing and was a major security hole even when it wasn't running, thanks to Microsoft's decision to make the OS dependent on it.

      Thankfully, fate intervened. The open sourced Mozilla code eventually brought us Firefox, which broke IE's stranglehold on the market, while the long delays in getting Vista to market (which was only really a beta version of 7 in the first place) got people interested in alternative OSes. Basically, if you like any feature that's part of the web in the last 10 years, it's because open source replaced locked down proprietary software.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 5 Sep 2019 @ 2:10pm

        Re: Re:

        You don't have to imagine, there's examples. The great one in my mind is the state of web browsing.

        Not a big enough one in general, since other web browsers always existed.

        I was thinking more along the lines of less advanced video and audio codecs, less advanced video editing software, less development tools that are used for technical design, no *nix, etc.

        What would the world be like if IBM and Apple had the final say about what ran on their systems? And it would only be IBM because if computers were handled like game consoles, they would have never opened the design up to other companies and every Intel system today would be IBM branded.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 Sep 2019 @ 12:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Not a big enough one in general, since other web browsers always existed."

          They did, but as soon as Microsoft illegally bundled IE with Windows, there was no real competition. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how great and innovative other software is, if 99% of the target audience never see them, they don't exist to 99% of people.

          Your other examples are relevant of course, but the browser issue is still a good one I think because we're still suffering from the fallout to this day (legacy intranet sites that can't run on anything other than IE6).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Rekrul, 7 Sep 2019 @ 1:09pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Your other examples are relevant of course, but the browser issue is still a good one I think because we're still suffering from the fallout to this day (legacy intranet sites that can't run on anything other than IE6).

            It's just that being stuck with one proprietary web browser wouldn't have prevented the rest of computer technology from advancing. Web standards would have continued to evolve, just that they would only work on IE, which would make Windows even more dominant than it is today.

            But think of all the software that wouldn't exist at all if it needed IBM or Microsoft's permission to run. Would they allow emulators? Competing video standards? Other "office" type applications, especially free ones?

            To be honest, I haven't really been following developments in the computer world that much, but I see stories from time to time. Wasn't MS trying to lock out other operating systems with their secure boot partnership with the hardware makers?

            And they cut off updates to Windows 7 users running certain processors, in effect telling them what version of Windows they're allowed to run. Which I know is part of the push to get everyone using Windows 10, so that they can eventually turn it into a subscription service.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 8 Sep 2019 @ 2:39am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "It's just that being stuck with one proprietary web browser wouldn't have prevented the rest of computer technology from advancing. "

              I'm not saying they would. I'm just saying that it's a great concrete historical example of what happens when you lock open platforms out. Most people will recall switching from IE6 to Firefox or Chrome and how much better it was in comparison, so lacking the magic wand you're wishing for it's a good example to use.

              "Wasn't MS trying to lock out other operating systems with their secure boot partnership with the hardware makers?"

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Extensible_Firmware_Interface

              It exists, but it's not as customised to serve Windows or as difficult to use other OSes as they originally tried to make happen.

              "so that they can eventually turn it into a subscription service"

              It already is, effectively. They've started there won't be another major numbered version at retail, they'll just keep updating the current builds. When 7 reaches end of life, they'll just roll future updates into a subscription without needing to change anything on the client.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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