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How much data does it take to update my PS4 or Xbox One or Switch?

Posted in computers, updates, video game console by commorancy on May 10, 2018

It seems this is a common question regarding the most recent gaming consoles. Let’s explore.

Reasons?

  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re concerned with data usage on your Internet connection or if your connection is very slow, you’ll find that this answer will likely not satisfy you. However, please keep reading.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you want to predict the amount of data more precisely, then skip down to the ‘Offline Updates’ section below.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re simply curious, then please keep reading.

Xbox One, PS4 and Switch Update sizes

The PS4, Xbox One and Switch periodically patch and update their console operating systems for maximum performance, to squash bugs and to improve features. However, this process is unpredictable and can cause folks who are on metered Internet connections no end of frustration.

How much data will it need to update?

There is no way to know … let’s pause to soak this in …

How much data is needed is entirely dependent on how recently you’ve upgraded your console. For example, if you’ve kept your console up to date all along the way, the next update will only be sized whatever the newest update is. With that said, there’s no way to gauge even that size in advance. Not Microsoft, not Sony and not Nintendo publish their update sizes in advance. They are the size they are. If it fixes only a small set of things, it could be 50-100 megabytes. If it’s a full blown point release (5.0 to 5.1), it could be several gigabytes in size. If it’s a smaller release, it could be 1GB.

If your console is way out of date (i.e., if you last turned it on 6 months ago), your console will have some catching up to do. This means that your update may be larger than someone who updates their console every new update. This means that if the base update is 1GB, you might have another 1GB of catch up before the newest update can be applied. This catch-up update system applies primarily to the Xbox One and not to the PS4 or Switch.

Xbox One vs PS4 vs Switch Update Conventions

Sony and Nintendo both choose a bit more of an one-size-fits-all update process when compared to Microsoft. Because of this, we’ll discuss the Xbox One first. Since the Xbox One is based, in part, on Windows 10, it follows the same update conventions as Windows 10. However, because the Xbox One also uses other embedded OSes to drive other parts of the console, those pieces may also require separate updates of varying sizes. This means that for the Xbox One to update, it has a process that scans the system for currently installed software versions, then proceeds to download everything needed to bring all of those components up to date.

Sony and Nintendo, on the other hand, don’t seem to follow this same convention. Instead, the Switch and PS4 typically offer only point-release updates. This means that everyone gets the same update at the same time in one big package. In this way, it’s more like an iPhone update.

For full point-release updates, the Xbox One also works this same way. For interim updates, it all depends on what Microsoft chooses to send out compared to what’s already on your Xbox One. This means that the Xbox One can update more frequently than the PS4 by keeping underlying individual components updated more frequently if they so choose. This is why the Xbox One can offer weekly updates where the PS4 and the Switch typically offer only quarterly or, at least, much less frequent updates.

Size of Updates

If you want to know the size of a specific update, you have to begin the update process. This works the same on the PS4, the Xbox One or the Switch. This means you have to kick off the update. Once you do this, the download progress bar will show you the size of the download. This is the only way to know how big the update is directly on the console.

However, both the PS4 and the Xbox One allow you to download your updates manually via a web browser (PC or Mac). You can then format a memory stick, copy the files to USB and restart the console in a specific way to apply the updates. This manual process still requires you to download the updates in full and, thus, uses the same bandwidth as performing this action on the console. This process requires you to also have a sufficiently sized and properly formatted USB memory stick. For updating the PS4, the memory stick must be formatted exFAT or FAT32. For updating the Xbox One, it must be formatted NTFS. The Nintendo Switch doesn’t provide offline updates.

Cancelling Updates in Progress

The Xbox One allows you to cancel the current system update in progress by unplugging the lan and/or disconnecting WiFi. Then turning off the console. When the console starts up without networking, you can continue to play games on your console, but you will not be able to use Xbox Live because of the lack of networking.

Once you plug the network back in, the system will again attempt to update. Or, you can perform an offline update with the Xbox One console offline. See Offline Updates just below.

You can also stop the PS4 download process by going to Notifications, selecting the download, press the X button and select ‘Cancel and Delete’ or ‘Pause’. Note, this feature is available on 5.x PS4 version. If your PS4 version is super old, you may not have this option in the Notifications area. You will also need to go into settings (Xbox One or PS4) and disable automatic updates otherwise it could download these without you seeing it.

How to disable automatic updates:

With that said, you cannot stop system updates on the Nintendo Switch once they have begun. Nintendo’s downloads are usually relatively small anyway. Trying to catch them in progress and stop them may be near impossible. It’s easier to follow the guides above and prevent them from auto-downloading.

Also note, any of the consoles may still warn you that an update is available and prompt you to update your console even if you have disabled automatic software downloads.

*This setting on the Nintendo Switch may exclude firmware updates, your mileage may vary.

Offline Updates

Xbox One

The Xbox One allows you to update your system offline using a Windows PC. This type of update is not easily possible with a Mac. Mac computers don’t natively support formatting or reading NTFS properly, but there are tools you can use (Tuxera NTFS for Mac).

To use the Offline System Update, you’ll need:

  • A Windows-based PC with an Internet connection and a USB port.
  • A USB flash drive with a minimum 4 GB of space formatted as NTFS.

Most USB flash drives come formatted as FAT32 and will have to be reformatted to NTFS. Note that formatting a USB flash drive for this procedure will erase all files on it. Back up or transfer any files on your flash drive before you format the drive. For information about how to format a USB flash drive to NTFS using a PC, see How to format a flash drive to NTFS on Windows.

  1. Plug your USB flash drive into a USB port on your computer.
  2. Open the Offline System Update file OSU1.
  3. Click Save to save the console update .zip file to your computer.
  4. Unzip the file by right-clicking on the file and selecting Extract all from the pop-up menu.
  5. Copy the $SystemUpdate file from the .zip file to your flash drive.
    Note The files should be copied to the root directory, and there shouldn’t be any other files on the flash drive.
  6. Unplug the USB flash drive from your computer.

PlayStation 4

You can also update your PS4 console offline using Sony’s system updates. Here’s the procedure for PS4 offline updates. Note, the USB memory stick must be formatted either exFAT or FAT32. The PS4 doesn’t support any other types of stick formats. This means, if you buy a USB stick intended to be used on Windows, you will need to reformat it properly before you can use it on the PS4.

Update using a computer

For the standard update procedure, follow the steps below.

The following things are needed to perform the update:

  • PlayStation®4 system
  • Computer connected to the Internet
  • USB storage device, such as a USB* flash drive
  • There must be approximately 460 MB of free space.
    • On the USB storage device, create folders for saving the update file. Using a computer, create a folder named “PS4”. Inside that folder, create another folder named “UPDATE”.
      PC Update
    • Download the update file, and save it in the “UPDATE” folder you created in
      step 1. Save the file with the file name “PS4UPDATE.PUP”.
      Download Now Click to start the download.
    • Connect the USB storage device to your PS4™ system, and then from the function screen, select Settings (Settings) > [System Software Update].
      Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the update.
  • If your PS4™ system does not recognize the update file, check that the folder names and file name are correct. Enter the folder names and file name in single-byte characters using uppercase letters.

Nintendo Switch Updates

Nintendo doesn’t offer offline updates at all. The Nintendo Switch only supports Internet updates. There is currently no way to download or update your Switch via USB stick or SD card. The Nintendo Switch is the newest of the consoles, so it’s possible that Nintendo could offer an offline update mechanism some time in the future. However, knowing Nintendo, don’t hold you breath for this feature.

Offline Updates are Point Release Only

These offline update processes apply point-release updates only and not interim updates. Interim updates must still be applied directly from the console. Interim updates scan your system, find what’s needed, then download the patches. This can only be done directly on the console. This means you could find that after installing a point release, the Xbox One may still require an additional update or two.

Updates and Internet Connectivity

Game consoles require updates to keep them current. The primary reason for most updates is to keep yours and your friend’s games in sync when playing multiplayer games. This prevents you from having a network edge over another player. When all game consoles are running the same version, all multiplayer activities are on the same playing field.

For this reason, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network (PSN) require all users to update to use networking features. If you declined or postpone any updates, both the Xbox One and the PS4 will deny you access to networking features. You must update both the console and the games to continue using networking.

If you don’t intend to use the network features such as multiplayer or leader boards, then you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you’re not using the networking features, then there’s no reason to buy Xbox Live or PSN. So far, Nintendo doesn’t yet offer a network capable of multiplayer gaming like Xbox Live or PSN, but as soon as they do I’m quite sure they will enforce the same requirements.

Pushing off Updates

While you can postpone updates to your console, it’s not always the best idea. I get that some people are on metered networking connections and can’t afford to download 20GB sized updates. But, at the same time, this is how consoles work. If you’re looking for a console that supports offline updates, then you’ll want to look at the PS4 or the Xbox One. You might want to skip the Switch if this is a show stopper for you.

As we move into the future, these consoles will continue to assume more and more connectivity is always available. Don’t be surprised to find that both the Xbox One and PS4 discontinue their offline update feature at some point in the future.

Though, Sony will still need to provide a way to install the operating system when a hard drive is replaced. However, that won’t help you with updating your console offline.

If you have a reason to want to know your download sizes more precisely, other than what I mention above, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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Can the Xbox One catch up to the PS4 this year?

Posted in business, video gaming by commorancy on August 21, 2015

ps4-system-imageblock-us-13jun14We all know that Sony’s PS4 has outsold the Xbox One fairly substantially. However, will moving into this holiday season help or hurt the Xbox One? Let’s explore.

Halo 5

In October, we will see the next installment of Halo 5 released. This is unusual in that this title usually releases in November. I’m assuming that Microsoft is attempting to gain an early head start in console sales. I’m also certain that Microsoft is hoping that Halo 5 (an exclusive Xbox One title) will push consoles off the shelves. The problem is, however, UltraHD 4K.

4K TVs and Consoles

With HDTVs rapidly dropping in price and especially 4K TVs (there are several sub $1000 models), this spells a big problem for console manufacturers. I’m sure it wasn’t expected to see prices of 4K TVs dropping this rapidly this soon. None of the Xbox One, PS4 or Wii U currently support 4K content or 4K TVs. This is shaping into a much bigger problem and is especially a problem for Microsoft and Sony. Without the ability to deliver 4K content to these sub $1000 4K TVs, many people are going to be hard pressed to justify the investment in a $500 console that doesn’t support 4K. So, not even Halo 5 may be able to budge many of those consoles off the shelves, at least not to existing Xbox One owners.

Personally, I’m not planning on investing in any new console systems until there’s 4K support. When Sony and Microsoft can finally get off their collective butts and release a 4K HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.2 console version, I will definitely consider replacing my existing consoles, but not until that happens.

Of course, I already own a PS4 and Xbox One. I got both day one, but I’ve recently bought a 4K TV. Barring Netflix and Amazon, there’s effectively no 4K content. Still, it does make my 1080p content look amazingly clear without all that annoying pixelation so common in 1080p TVs.

Console Purchasing and the Holidays

Because 4K TVs are now becoming more commonplace and because 1080p TVs will likely be mostly a distant memory in even just 2 years, it’s hard to justify a $500 expense only to replace it in 6 months or a year. It’s not worth it. Additionally, you can buy a video game at any time after it’s released, but it doesn’t have to be on day one. You can just as easily play Halo 5 in spring of 2016 as you can in the fall of 2015. Yes, there are a lot of day-oners out there (must have it the moment it’s released), but because of the deluge of titles in the fall, it’s easy to pick and choose which ones to leave for later. This means you can delay that console purchase or buying that game until the 4K version arrives.

Yes, Halo 5 will push some consoles off the shelves. But, those looking for a 4K version will likely wait. I’m definitely waiting for the console refresh from Sony and Microsoft. For whatever reason, both of these companies are taking their sweet time to provide this refresh. In fact, Sony should have pushed out this refresh as part of the fall game launch. Sony being at the forefront of the 4K revolution makes it ever more important for Sony to finally get this refresh out the door. It’s even more important to get this refresh out for holiday purchases even if we can’t take advantage of the 4K content yet. Though, I know that Sony’s video on demand services for use with the Sony 4K UltraHD Media Player already offers a very large number of 4K movies. There’s no reason not to get this technology into the PS4 and widen that audience. Not only will it widen the audience for their movie services, it also immediately widens their game playing audience. In this case, were Sony to release this 4K refresh faster than Microsoft, Sony would have tremendous advantage both in sales and in gaming.

Sales Advantage

It’s clear, which ever company gets out their 4K refresh faster, they will have a sales advantage. As I said, considering Sony’s involvement in 4K, it makes perfect sense for Sony to get this refresh out now.

I don’t believe even Halo 5 sales could argue with a Sony 4K hardware refresh. People would think twice about buying an Xbox One until Microsoft also provided a 4K Xbox One refresh themselves. Should Sony release first, it would push Sony’s PS4 much higher in sales numbers because many existing PS4 owners would immediately replace their existing PS4. I know I would. So, that means double sales. Sales to everyone who already has a PS4 and to those who don’t. Of course, this would happen with the Xbox One as well once their 4K refresh is available.

Though, should the Xbox One and PS4 4K edition release together, I would still buy the PS4 version first unless Microsoft released the Xbox One 4K version with a 4K 60Hz playable version of Halo 5. There is currently no franchise title that Sony owns that is that compelling. But, were Black Ops III or Fallout 4 to support 4K, I’d be hard pressed not to consider a 4K PS4.

I personally believe that Sony is currently more likely to release a 4K refresh sooner than Xbox One. Microsoft doesn’t embrace new technologies quickly, especially when Sony is one of the primary proponents of that new technology.

Ultra HD 4K Content

Today, there’s not much 4K content. The drought of 4K content is about as severe as California’s rainfall levels. This can all change with a console refresh. Consoles are quickly becoming the ubiquitous media outlet for the home, especially for children. With a console refresh from Sony, that immediately picks up a relatively large number of 4K movies. With the addition of developers taking advantage of 4K gaming, that opens up a huge new door (literally pixel-wise). While that number of pixels is immense, it offers a brand new immersive level of gaming that hasn’t yet been achieved. Yes, it requires producing much bigger content, but the games will be spectacular, the environments breathtaking and the realism levels achieved would be astounding.

The problem today is that most developers can’t even grasp 1080p. So, I do not expect 4K gaming any time soon. Perhaps from the Call of Duty brand and possibly from Microsoft’s Halo (if 343 can figure it out). But, smaller companies like Atlus and even larger ones like Bethesda struggle with high def gaming. If we can get one HD title out of a developer per year, I consider that a win. With Ultra HD 4K content, I’d expect it might even take 2 years per title. That would suck at not having a new game every year, but 4K is where we’re going and Sony, Microsoft, Bethesda, Ubisoft, EA, Square Enix and the rest would do best to take heed. Not only does gaming want 4K, we need it to move forward. In fact, it should have been included in the original PS4 as Sony already had a 4K TV available at the time the PS4 was released. If Sony had had the foresight to create the PS4 with 4K, I wouldn’t even be writing this article.

Ultra HD’s Time Has Come

ultra_hd_blu-ray_logo_uhd_bd_bluray_logo_6501Sony, release your 4K refresh with the Ultra HD blu-ray spec. Microsoft, release your refresh with a 4K Halo 5. Because these two consoles are on the cusp of 4K, I’m anxiously awaiting their release. I won’t consider a new console purchase until these are out. Because they are so close, I would suggest you wait also. I would love to see any 4K console refresh for this holiday season. I’d love to see Halo 5 running in 4K. In fact, I’d love to play pretty much any of this holiday’s season games including Fallout 4, Halo 5, Black Ops III, Just Cause 3 and Star Wars in 60hz 4K. That would be an amazing holiday gift this season.

How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly

Posted in Sony, video gaming by commorancy on July 31, 2015

DUALSHOCK 4[Updated: 12/25/2017] If this article helps you pair your new controller, please like, follow and comment below.

We all know the drill. You’ve just run out and spent $65 for that new and oh-so-cool camo DUALSHOCK 4 controller for your PS4. Well, now you’ve got to go through that hassle of pairing it with your console. But, why can’t I pair it wirelessly? You can. Let’s explore.

USB Pairing

The Sony recommended procedure of pairing your new controller to your PS4 is by plugging it into the console with the Sony USB cable and powering the PS4 with the power button. While that’s all well and good (or at least so Sony thinks), it’s a complete and utter hassle… especially when you have other controllers already working. If this is your only DS4 controller (i.e., no others working), you have two choices:

  • Pair your new controller with a cable
  • Pair it using flat screen’s remote control using HDMI-CEC (jump to CEC)

If you don’t have a flat screen with CEC or CEC is not enabled, you better go find that USB cable.

However, if you have more than one working controller, you can skip this hassle and go to …

… wait for it …

Wireless Pairing

PS4 DUALSHOCK 4 controllers are bluetooth devices and like all bluetooth devices you can pair them wirelessly. Of course, you can’t pair the device if it is the only device (see above), but if you happen to have other working devices to control your PS4 (like another controller or a media remote), you’re good to go to with wireless pairing.

Before you start this process, go to the PS4’s Settings => Devices => Bluetooth Devices area and leave it on this screen. On this screen you’ll see all your paired devices and this is also where all new unpaired devices will appear. Unpaired devices will have no grey or green dot next to them.

DS4PairingGuideHow to begin? Press and hold the PS button and the sharing button simultaneously. The sharing button is the small black oval button to the upper left of the touch pad labeled creatively enough SHARE. Press and hold the PS and sharing buttons until the lightbar begins to strobe quickly (approximately 3-5 seconds). While it’s quickly double strobing, it’s in the pairing state like any other bluetooth device. If the strobe is a slow on and off, then the controller is trying to connect to your PS4 or PC. This isn’t what you want. If it’s slow strobing, then you’ll need to wait until it stops to try again. Pressing the PS button before the share button could lead you into slow strobing. So, I would suggest pressing and holding the share button slightly before you press and hold the PS button to avoid triggering the slow strobe.

Once it’s double strobing, look at your screen under Bluetooth Devices and look for the DUALSHOCK 4 that has no dot (probably at the bottom of the PS4 screen). Using a working controller or remote, select the new controller and complete the pairing on the next screen.

If you don’t see your DUALSHOCK 4 device in the list, check to make sure the device is still in pairing mode. If not, put it in pairing mode. If it’s still in pairing mode, back out of that screen and then go back into it. This will force a search refresh for new devices. Hopefully it will appear now. If not, move closer to the PS4 with the new controller. If this all fails, use the USB pairing method above… again, time to go dig out that cable.

Once paired, you can now use the controller normally.

Don’t have access to your PS4?

I’ve had a number of comments on this article regarding corruption or rebuilding of a PS4 after a new hard drive insertion. Before you lose access to your PS4 entirely either because you failed to power off the unit properly, because the hard drive failed or because you replaced the hard drive, you should make sure you have some alternative form of PS4 XMB menu control. You have to remember to set this up while you still have a working PS4. You won’t be able to easily do some of these steps after you lose access and cannot find or do not have a proper microUSB pairing cable.

Note, if you are replacing the PS4’s hard drive, setting anything up in advance probably won’t work as the new hard drive will need to be reinstalled with a new operating system. So, any settings will be lost on hard drive replacement… skip down to Wired Controller below or be prepared with a PS4 compatible micro USB cable.

HDMI-CEC (control your PS4 with TV remote control)

Many flat screens today support control of the PS4 through the HDMI cable using your TV’s remote control. This is called HDMI-CEC or simply CEC. You must enable this on both your TV and on the PS4 while you have a controller that works. To enable this on your PS4, go to Settings=>General=>HDMI link and check this box. Now, go to your TV and enable CEC / HDMI Link to control the connected PS4 with your TV’s remote. Not all TV manufacturers call it CEC, some call it something with the word ‘Link’ in the name, but the protocol is standard. Once enabled, reboot your PS4 and then turn your TV off and then on.

Technomancer Screen Shot 7:20:16, 4.52 AM 2CEC control has changed in a recent PS4 system update. When you have CEC enabled, the remote is now considered a controller. Once you flip over to the PS4’s HDMI port on your TV, the PS4 should turn on. Once booted up, the remote control should present as a controller (see screenshot to the right). The screen should show your login ID. Press your ENTER or OK key on the remote to enter into the XMB menu. Apparently, Sony realized this intrinsic problem with CEC and updated the PS4 to now allow the remote control to be recognized as an XMB controller on the bootup screen. What this all means is that you can now fully control your PS4 with your TV’s remote control without needing a DS4 controller at all. With CEC, you can now pair your controller using your TV’s remote through settings. Though, I wouldn’t recommend trying to play games using your TV’s controller.

If the PS4’s screen does not show the login ID panel and simply has the words “Press the PS button to use the controller” in the middle of the screen, the PS4 has not recognized a controller. This can be for several reasons. If you powered the PS4 on before flipping to it via HDMI, the PS4 doesn’t see the TV as the controller. The device that powers the PS4 on is the device presented on the boot up screen. When you use a DS4 to power it on, the DS4 will show as the controller on the boot screen. When you use the the TV to switch to and power on the PS4, the TV’s controller becomes the default on this screen. If you can’t get the TV’s controller to show up at all, then you will need to skip down to the next section for pairing with a USB cable.

As mentioned above, you will need to set CEC up on your TV and the PS4 in advance to use this feature. If you have no functional gamepad controllers, your TV doesn’t support CEC or you haven’t set CEC up in advance, skip to USB pairing.

MicroUSB pairing cable

If you’re looking for something right away, you can stop by a store (or order online) and purchase a microUSB pairing cable. Sony offers an official cable that costs around $10. You can get a cable from the following places:

Wired Controller

If you’ve completely lost control to your PS4 through your Dual Shock 4 and you don’t have any other way to activate a PS button and you can’t seem to get your DS4 controllers paired with a cable, you will need to use a wired controller. There are only a few PS4 wired controllers on the market, but Hori makes a couple of gamepad versions.

While these gamepads are not as full featured as a Sony Dual Shock 4 (i.e., no light bar, no rumble, no speaker, no headset jack, etc), they will at least let you control your PS4 when nothing else will. Amazon also offers a few PS4 wired arcade-style stick controllers that may work. Make sure they have a PS button to launch the PS4’s XMB menu. Also, you will need to double-check that they are, in fact, wired controllers. While most third party controllers are wired, you’ll definitely want to read through the product description in the listings carefully to make sure it doesn’t use a wireless dongle. Though, a wireless dongle may work for controlling the PS4 for a short period of time, they may not work for long gaming sessions as they have tendencies to time out forcing the controller to be reconnected often.

Hori Pad FPS Pro Gamepad

I recently picked up a Hori Pad FPS Plus. This is a very nice controller with the exception of two things. First, the shoulder buttons take getting used to because they are pressure sensitive in a different way from the DS4’s trigger shoulder buttons. Because it takes a different amount of pressure to activate them, it feels different from the trigger controllers on the DS4. Once you get used to the pressure needed for these shoulder buttons, everything else is pretty much spot on including the touch pad. And, I like the reversed placement of the D-Pad and the left joystick (like the Xbox controller). This game pad is also well made and quite light in weight because it doesn’t have the lightbar, rumble or battery. I also like that I can continue to play without worry of running out of battery. The second issue, it won’t turn on the PS4 with the press of the PS button when the PS4 is off. For me, this is only a small problem because I have CEC enabled. Simply switching to the PS4’s HDMI port turns the PS4 on. Otherwise, you’ll need to get up and touch the power button or use a DS4 to turn it on and then use PS button on the Hori to get into the menu (the DS4 controller will automatically turn off when the Hori Pad logs in).

Note that there are other things the Hori Pad doesn’t have, like a headphone jack or a speaker. While I do like the speaker on the DS4, for me it doesn’t ruin the game without it. Yes, it is kind of cool when GTA5’s phone comes out of the DS4’s speaker, but it’s mostly a gimmick.

Dualshock 4 and Computers

Note, you can use this same pairing approach to pair this controller to other operating systems. For example, a Mac or Windows. The trouble, while the DS4 does pair, you still need a driver to map the buttons to make the controller useful. For this reason, it’s not that useful on a Mac yet, but you might try Joystick Mapper. I know the Joystick Mapper devs were working on an update to drive the DS4 controller on a Mac. For Windows, there’s InputMapper that does work.

As for pairing and using it on iOS or Android, it might pair but won’t be useful. Yes, some have managed to pair it, but it doesn’t seem to have any kind of drivers or support. I’d like to see Sony create a PS Vita gaming tablet that fully supports the DS4. That would be the best of all worlds. Skip iOS and Android and go right for a full out Sony gaming tablet. But, Sony definitely needs to get more gaming devs on board to bring the blockbuster titles. But, that’s another topic entirely.

Documentation

While I understand Sony’s reluctance to document a wireless pairing guide like this due to the need for an already working controller, I really don’t like having to locate that special Sony microUSB cable for this process. Not all microUSB cables are equal. If you don’t have the correct Sony PS4 (or compatible) cable, the pairing process above won’t work. Because this cable looks like all other black microUSB cables, you can easily mix them up or lose them. For that $65, I don’t understand why Sony can’t include a 3′ compatible cable in the box with the controller since the PS4 is so finicky about which cable will work.

I also don’t typically leave dangling cables hanging from my console for a variety of reasons including safety. So, locating this special pairing cable is not always quick in my house. I mean, one black cable looks like any other. Sony doesn’t specifically mark the cable well, so digging through a ton of microUSB cables trying to find that special Sony cable isn’t something I want to spend my time doing… especially when I already have a working controller.

When you have at least some kind of a functional controller, wireless pairing is a perfectly acceptable (and more efficient) alternative. Yet, Sony’s site mentions nothing of this process. That’s the reason I document it here.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you had difficulties pairing your device, please let me know that too.

‘Tis the season to be breached

Posted in botch, business, california, data security by commorancy on December 8, 2014

As we roll into another holiday season just having passed through Black Friday, it’s wise to understand how to best protect yourself from these accidental data breaches at retailers (see: Bebe’s Data Breach). Let’s explore.

What is a data breach anyway?

A lot of people shop with credit cards without first understanding what they are or how they really work. By this statement I mean, I think people understand that the purchase extends credit for the items in advance and then pay the actual bill later to the credit card company. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what happens when you swipe your card at a terminal. Let’s understand payment processing.

When you enter a store and swipe your card, information is exchanged between the terminal and the cash register. That information is whatever is on the back of the card (the card number, expiration, name, etc). All of that information is now accessible by the register (and cashier). Additionally, stores have networks that connect all of their registers (a type of computer system) to a central controller and ultimately to a company wide network. The company wide network may be connected to the Internet, but may only have direct connections to payment authorization providers.

When you swipe your card and that information is exchanged by the register, a program takes your card info along with the payment amount, securely asks a remote payment authorization service whether the card has sufficient funds to support the transaction (at least this part is secure). If your bank says yes, the transaction is approved and given a transaction number. This is a payment authorization and it instructs your bank to hold this dollar amount aside until the closing paperwork arrives (around 24 hours). If the paperwork never arrives, the authorization falls away and the money being held is released back into your account.

Now, if you don’t have enough funds (or for other reasons), the payment service receives a decline from your bank. The retailer and payment authorization service never know the reason for the decline, only that the transaction was declined. You will need to contact your bank to find out the reason for the decline. Declines can range from not enough funds to bad expiration dates on cards to reissued cards to fraud detection holds. Again, you will need to contact your bank to determine the reason and then rectify it. Note that if you are significantly over your limit and your card hasn’t seen a payment for several cycles, the screen may request the cashier call into a number. The person on the other end might request the card be taken and cut up. This typically means the account has been closed by the card issuer and you are no longer authorized to use the card. It is always wise to pay your bills if you value using that card.

Card Info Data Transit

The problem with data transit on a network is that, depending on the network and who built it, it could be designed to transmit your data as encrypted or in clear text. Let’s understand the difference. Encrypted data means that a key is needed to unlock the data to view it. This means that only devices that have the proper key can view and use the data. However, many network operators don’t use this type of security. A lot of people who build internal networks for corporations feel they are inherently ‘safe’ and choose to use clear text transit. What is clear text? Clear text is just like this blog article. It’s humanly readable without any extra work. Thus, many companies fail to adequately protect data transit between internal network devices under the assumption that no one should have internal access except authorized internal devices. In other words, because of the external border protections such as firewalls that prevent unauthorized inbound traffic, internal networks should be a ‘safe place’, thus adding extra safeguards only serves to slows down processing and, if you happen to be a retailer, could make the customers wait at the register longer.

Internal networks designed with limited or no encryption are a hacker’s paradise. If they happen to get into a network like this, everything is easy to read, easy to find and easy to download. It’s basically a dream come true for the malicious hacker. With little to no constraints on viewing data, it’s a kid in a candy store and that’s exactly how and why data breaches begin.

How do hackers get into a network then?

Because most companies today require their computers to have internet access, especially retailers who need access to payment authorization services, bugs in network and computer devices are impossible to squash. Internally, companies typically hire IT and operations teams to manage their network systems. They also typically hire security teams to help protect their networks. The security teams do their best to mitigate attacks and watch for data breaches, but it is the operations and network teams that manage the network gear and keep them updated. Because the security team and operations and network teams are separate sets of people, getting equipment updated with the latest-greatest version isn’t always expedient. This means that companies could be running one, two or five versions behind the latest version.

It happens for a lot of reasons. It could be old equipment that simply won’t support the latest update. It could be that there are thousands of servers that could be impacted by a single update. It could be that that single update might break custom software written by the company. There are a lot of internal factors as to why any piece of equipment is not on the latest version. Yes, sometimes it’s even a matter of complacence.

How do you protect yourself?

Before strolling into your latest big box retailer, you should arm yourself with knowledge. Knowledge like the above to better understand how your data gets moved around in company networks. Then, you can better understand when to take the risk to use your card and when to use another form of payment.

Use Store Cards

First and foremost, the safest card to use at a retailer is a store card without a Visa/Mastercard logo. These cards can only be used at the retailer where they were issued. They cannot generally be used anywhere else (unless the company owns several retail shops and shares the card among them). So, if you purchase at Target or Macy’s or Sears with a local store card, if there is a data breach, your ‘store card’ card number is no longer the lowest hanging fruit. The lowest hanging fruit are the Visa, Mastercard and Amex branded cards. With store cards, it will take time for a hacker to understand what that card is and how to use it. Also, once they realize that it only works at that single retailer or at that retailer’s web site, it’s much less appealing. Especially considering that many hackers today don’t live in the US. They might be living in China or Korea or Russia where that store may not exist and where they may not ship abroad.

So, sticking with store issued cards is really your safest bet when shopping at big box chains. Using a Visa or Mastercard or Amex branded card, if stolen, can be used anywhere around the globe (unless you call your bank an explicitly ask to prevent its use outside of your country). Note, not all banks can stop international transactions on branded credit cards, but most can. Call your issuing bank and ask.

Of course, should you plan travel abroad, you will need to make sure your bank authorizes international use before you leave. If you forget to call from home before you reach to your destination, you could have problems.

Limit transaction amounts

You can also limit your per day transaction amount to a much smaller amount. This can make it difficult if you want to buy a big ticket item with your card, so you’ll need to weigh just how often you make large purchase (and how big they are). However, lowering your per day transaction amount to $500 or less limits how much a hacker could put on the card per day. Again, your card would then no longer be low hanging fruit. Hackers want cards with high dollar amount transaction limits to they can spend a lot of money per day quickly and get away from it. As soon as a hacker tries to buy something expensive and they get a decline, that card is marked as not usable and they move onto trying another card.

Use gift cards

Because there are now Visa and Mastercard branded gift cards, you can put a dollar amount on the card that you wish to use while shopping. If this card number is lost to a hacker, it’s has limited liability (because of the logo) and it limits how much damage they can do to you financially. Also, because it’s a gift card, there’s limited personal information they could obtain about you in relation to this card. So, identity theft is much reduced by using gift cards. You should read Visa, Mastercard and Amex branded logo gift cards carefully. Some require fees after 1 year. So, you will need to use up the balance on the card within 1 year or you could start losing your balance to the monthly fees.

There are also store branded gift cards without any logos such as iTunes, Sears, Amazon, etc. These gift cards can only be used at their respective issuers. Again, these cards offer limited liabilities if stolen.

Though, if a gift card number is stolen, you will also want to read the terms and conditions with the card issuer. Not all of them assume replacement liability. So, if your gift card is stolen, you may be out whatever money was on them. So, you should always read gift card terms and conditions carefully.

Use good ‘ole cash instead

While cash does have its uses, I don’t believe holiday shopping is really one of those times. Because you’re typically buying large ticket items for holiday gift-giving, carrying a wad of crisp $100 bills around to pay for them can be downright dangerous. During the holiday season, you may be trading your financial safety for personal risk. For example, the first store you visit could lead someone seeing your cash, stalking you and taking your money and gifts from you by mugging…especially if you just happened to walk out of an Apple store. Depending on the city where you live, it’s sometimes not worth trading the potential safety of your financial security by putting your personal safety at risk. If you are mugged, they’ll likely steal your cards too, which also leaves your financial safety at risk.

And, if muggers rip off your cash, there is no replacement at all. It’s gone. Using credit cards, especially Visa, MC and Amex branded cards, these cards offer limited loss liability. So, if someone steals your card number and begins using it, your total loss is quite limited. The bank will pick up the tab on your behalf and then chase down the perpetrators for their involvement attempting to get the money or merchandise back.

Basically, cash is unsafe and insecure if carried in large amounts. Whipping out your wallet and flashing that set of crisp $100s once is all it takes during a busy shopping season to get you mugged.

Use a debit card

Last, but not least, use a debit card. Though, while liability on your debit card might be higher (check your debit card terms), you have a known pin code that is required to buy anything. A pin code is a lot stronger of a protection than a signature on a credit card. Basically, stores are not required to collect signatures from purchases. They can simply state ‘signature on file’ when that may not be true. This is how you can buy with a credit card from Amazon or Newegg without ever having to sign for your purchase. Even some retailers today are not asking for signatures on cards if the transaction amount is under $50.

Debit cards always require a pin for the transaction. With web site access today, pin codes are also relatively easily changed. You can also usually get the pin code changed long before the hackers are dipping into these cards to make purchases. Again, hackers prefer low hanging fruit. This means that most hackers would opt to use Visa, MC or Amex branded cards rather than trying to use someone’s personal debit card.

Though, keep in mind most debit cards issued by banks today contain a Visa or Mastercard logo. So, that means the card can be used like a credit card with a signature alone. Instead, you should ask your bank to send you a debit card without the logo. This card can only be used where debit cards are accepted or at ATM machines. It cannot be used to buy at places that don’t accept debit cards. Again, this keeps your card from becoming the lowest hanging fruit.

Limit your shopping days

When you do shop, keep your receipts so you know the date and time that you shopped and where. Keeping receipts is always smart if you need to return something, but it’s even smarter when there’s a data breach so you know if you may have been affected.

Also, limit your shopping to a limited number of places and keep record of when and where (use receipts or write it down). Four months after the holiday shopping season when a breach is announced, you might not remember that you shopped at that random store that lost data which then subsequently led to some random hacker racking up a large bill on your Visa card. In fact, you might only discover the breach yourself after you notice the large bill on your card.

If you limit the number of times you shop and use cards as suggested above, you can help eliminate your cards as being the easiest to rob.

Shop where breaches have previously occurred

This may seem counter to safe practices, but companies have have endured breaches are less likely to be breached again. This is especially true of big box retailers such as Target, Walmart and the like. These retailers have a whole lot to lose if they are breached a second time. It’s very likely that these companies networks are a whole lot more secure after the breach than before it.

Shopping at companies who have not yet had a breach doesn’t mean that their networks are insecure any more than they are secured. Yes, it could mean that. But, it could also mean that these yet breached companies are lucky not to have been targeted. If hackers focus their sights on a victim, they will chip away at the security until they find a way in. They also have plenty of time to do it. Let’s also note that way into a network may not be through the front door. The hackers could get in just as easily through an executive’s lost or stolen cellphone or notebook or a third party vendor (like HVAC, plumbing or other contractor who’s network might be less secure). Note that hackers may also work on several company networks at the same time until they find one to breach.

What about Sony?

Sony is a bit of an unusual case. Instead of strengthening their network security across the board, it seems their management team may have decided to only tightened security on the division that was compromised. Sony is a very large corporation containing many different entities all over the world. SCEA (the games division) was where the last breach occurred prior to this latest breach on the Motion Picture Group. So, anyone who has read through the MPG spreadsheet of salaries knows that there are at least 6 people in the US alone that are taking home well more than $1 million dollars a year in salary. You would think that these highly paid staff would understand the risks of computer networks and make it their top priority to secure their personnel and other records through best security practices. Nope. For example, an easy best practice is to use a password to open a spreadsheet. Sure, these can be easy to crack, but that’s extra effort required on the part of the hacker.

Unfortunately, these people are not doing their jobs. Some could argue, it isn’t their job. Their job is to be Senior or Executive VP of blah. Part of being a Vice President is to make sure your company is secure. If you can’t ensure that your division is secure, then you shouldn’t be taking home a million dollars in salary. It’s quite simple. These people are way overpaid for the job they perform for Sony. I digress.

Sony is clearly a situation where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and frankly they don’t care as long as they walk away with their pay. So, what about Sony? Here’s the takeaway.

For any company that has been double or triple breached (like Sony), you should stay as far away from that company (like Sony) as you possibly can. Sure, you can buy Sony products at a retailer because the retailer is responsible for the transaction. But, you should not use Sony products that require storage of credit cards for payment. You should also not purchase software from any site that Sony owns. It’s crystal clear, Sony cannot be trusted and they seriously don’t care about data security. If you must purchase something from Sony, use a Sony branded gift card, Paypal, Google or Amazon checkout. These payment systems are not owned or operated by Sony, but can send payment to Sony for whatever it is you need to buy. But, don’t buy directly from Sony (or any other company) that has repeatedly been breached.

Best Practices for Personal Finances

While these are but a few best practices to protect your home finances, there are plenty more common sense approaches to keeping your finances secure. Here are a few top examples of how to secure your own finances:

  • Keep your credit cards in a safe place.
  • Regularly check your bank statements for unauthorized transactions. Some banks now offer email notification of suspicious activity, use it.
  • During the holiday season, make sure you know what stores you shopped by keeping receipts in a handy place.
  • Open a second bank account to move small amounts of money in when you need to purchase items online or in stores. Secure your primary account using limited access to services like debit cards, ACH and other third party access. Use the second account much smaller account for these services. It’s easy to move money between accounts in the same bank using your phone app or on the web, so take advantage of this extra security.
  • Call the bank immediately if you’ve lost or stolen your card. You should write down the number on the back of the cards into your smart phone so you have it in case the card is stolen or lost. Don’t write the account numbers down next to the phone number.
  • Make use of the free credit report you can get once a year and check your credit every year.
  • Don’t purchase from any retailer where they are not following proper credit card practices. For example, they should not have to double swipe your card, write the numbers down or ask for any further information aside from looking at the back of the card.
  • Don’t allow any retail cashier to walk away with your card. They should only need to hold the card long enough to look at it or swipe it once at the register.
  • While it is a regular practice for waitstaff to walk way with cards and bring them back to the table as a convenience, you should be wary of this practice. In fact, it might be best to take the check to the cashier at the place where they ring up your meal and watch them ring up your bill. Allowing waitstaff to walk away with your card out of sight means it could be duplicated, swiped through a cell phone or written down.
  • Throughout the holidays, you should search through a major news site for data breaches at least once a week. As soon as you hear of any store that has breached where you may have shopped, you should ask for a replacement card if logo branded or change your pin immediately if debit. For Visa, Mastercard or Amex logo branded gift cards that may have been used at that retailer, you should call the number on the back to have a replacement sent immediately. Unused gift cards are not a problem.
  • Request your bank place a fraud watch on your account if you suspect anything amiss with your cards. You should also request a replacement card if you have any reason to believe your card number has been lost. Yes, I know that can be a hassle during the holiday season while you wait for a new card, but it can potentially save you thousands of dollars lost to a hacker.

Overall

It is up to you to secure your own home finances. Using the above best practices should help aid you in achieving that goal. But, you should immediately become suspicious of anyone who attempts to do anything out of the ordinary with your card. If a cashier asks to do something with your card that doesn’t make sense, you should immediately ask for the card back and call over the store manager to clarify what’s going on. If they are the only person in the store, you should leave without making the purchase, step out of the store and immediately call your bank and put a fraud watch on your card.

As the Holiday shopping season gets fully underway, you need to be ever vigilant over your finances because the stores won’t do this for you. Worse, because there are many people who need money to meet their own bills and cover holiday shopping expenses, fraud and theft can be anywhere from anyone. That’s not to say that most people working at retail establishments aren’t screened and trustworthy, but for some people, the temptation of all of that money gets the better of them and they resort to taking other people’s money. By far and away, though, data breaches are the biggest problems of all because you don’t know who or where the attacker is. So, this is where you need to watch your finances closely and use your card very limited amounts over the holidays. Use cash where you can, but don’t jeopardize your personal safety by carrying too much cash.

Wishing a Happy and safe holiday season to everyone from Randosity!

Sony PS4 announced.. blah blah blah

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on February 24, 2013

So Sony officially announced the PS4.  But, before I say anything, let’s let their specs do the some talking:

Main processor

  • Single-chip custom processor
  • CPU: low power x86-64 AMD “Jaguar”, 8 cores
  • GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon™ Graphics Core Next engine

AV output

  • Analog-AV out
  • Digital Output (optical)

Communication

  • Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T)
  • IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth® 2.1 (EDR)

Optical Drive (Read only)

  • BD 6xCAV
  • DVD 8xCAV

Super-Speed I/O USB (USB 3.0), AUX
Hard Disk Drive Built -in
Memory GDDR5 8GB

In addition to the actual console specs, Sony also announced a Dual Shock 4 controller with a touch surface on the controller.  Nothing like the Wii U controller, mind you, but a finger touch surface (like a glide pad on a notebook).

Wait.. What? Is this real?

Let me start by saying whoopee! =sarcasm off= My first thought after reading this spec sheet is, “WTF? Is this for real? This has got to be a joke, right?” And then it sank in, this wasn’t a joke and it is for real. This hardware is so 5 years ago. It’s basically a glorified PC with 8 cores and a reasonably slow one at that. I’m definitely not impressed. This is most definitely not what I expected to see from Sony. A glorified PC with a Radeon card as the new PS4?

So, why is this a problem? Let me count the ways…

1) No backwards compatibility to the PS3. The AMD chip is in no way compatible with the PS3’s cell processors. So, unless Sony has asked AMD to build in cell core backwards compatibility, the best we can hope for is emulation. And, with emulation comes slowness and games that feel sluggish, choppy and crappy. Sure, they might play, but they’re not likely to play WELL. That’s the difficulty with emulation.

B) It’s a PC.  I’ll say that again, it’s a PC… and not a particularly great one at that. The graphics card might be somewhere close to a mid to mid-high end card in today’s market, but again Sony has trapped themselves into outdated graphics before the console is even released. Unless they plan to release this ‘PC’ in the next 3-6 months, this thing will be outdated and worthless when it arrives.  Sure, it may be faster than the PS3 today, but what difference does that make in the grand scheme?  If a then $300 netbook runs rings around the PS4 in speed, it’s a DOA device. Sure, I love consoles, but I want them to be cool, sleek and unique, not mundane and something I could buy anywhere.

What Sony should have done here is ask for a modular slot for a graphics card. Then, when the card gets outdated, pop in a new updated card.  This does two things for Sony. 1) A modular slot allows the console to remain relevant independent of the processors. The processors will remain relevant far longer than the graphics processor.  In addition, the GPU can be used for game processing. 2) A modular graphics card slot would allow for many uses all across the board. Placing components into modern PCs should become easier and also allow upgrading graphics cards in such devices as netbooks and notebooks easily. This is a pioneer and innovative approach to creating a new device.

iii) Ok, so I have to concede that it will be compatible with PC games IF Sony doesn’t blunder the PC part of it. That is, if they license Windows (of any variety) from Microsoft, they can at least pull in all of the PC game titles that get released (or at least have them ported much more easily). But, that’s not necessarily going to save this turd… ahem, console.

Sony’s day is Done

Sony has been the odd man out in gaming recently and their lack of innovation in gaming is very much apparent. What Sony needs is something innovative, and the PS4 isn’t it. The Wii U is innovative.  Sure, it’s got issues due to launch immaturity, but that will be corrected through updates. Sony’s product is immature and it will clearly remain that way throughout its life. You can’t turn a Hyundai into a Tesla. That just doesn’t work. Sony’s product is clearly a crap attempt at a new console.

Sony, take this idea, rework it and make it loads better. Then come back and re-release the specs.  This is a crap first attempt at a new console.  Let’s start from here and make it better. Otherwise, your current PS3 lackluster sales will turn into no sales when the PS4 arrives.

Right now, the only thing Sony has going for their entire gaming market is the PS Vita. They better damn well hope they can get some decent games out for the Vita because the PS4 is even less attractive than the PS Vita.

Next Gen Gaming

This is definitely not what I expected to see for a next gen gaming platform. We need to move towards more realistic 3D gaming, not towards commodity hardware. The Wii-U definitely heads in the right direction with innovation. It’s not going to take much for Microsoft’s new Xbox to kick it out of the ballpark. In fact, if Microsoft can in any way integrate a Surface tablet into the gaming experience of the new Xbox, it’ll be a whole lot more innovative than this Sony console has any hope of being.  Sony, take it back to the drawing board and rethink it. I think I’ll call it now, the Playstation home console brand is now officially dead. Sony better hope the PS Vita can carry SCEA onward.

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