Why it matters: Console users who prefer physical media have become increasingly concerned in recent years as the industry deemphasizes discs in favor of digital distribution. The emergence of the PlayStation 5’s new slim model presents an intriguing compromise on this issue, but further information has revealed a potentially significant caveat.
Close examination of photos of the upcoming PlayStation 5 Slim’s packaging reveals that installing the optional disc drive will require an internet connection. The fine print likely won’t be an obstacle for most users, but it could create problems in edge cases or raise concerns regarding preservation in the far future.
Eagle-eyed readers caught the detail when well-known Call of Duty leaker CharlieIntel posted pack shots for a PS5 Slim bundle that includes the upcoming Modern Warfare III. The connection is a one-time requirement, so users can still play physical games offline after the drive’s initial installation.
The issue is concerning because it adds a new step that depends on the longevity of Sony’s authentication servers. Setting up the disc drive version of the original PS5 doesn’t require an internet connection, allowing anyone to play physical PS5 games anywhere and anytime. Receiving an optimal experience may require patches and system firmware, but launch-period consoles won’t become completely useless in a theoretical future after official PS5 support has ended.
Selling separate optical drives gives owners of digital-only consoles a path to accessing physical games. It also allows users to replace broken devices without replacing or shipping the entire console for repairs. However, the one-time connection requirement adds another potential failure point. Moreover, the box pictured is the PS5 Slim Disk version, suggesting that this model also requires online authentication and removing the ability to play physical games offline out of the box.
Sony and Microsoft have long used DRM to link their consoles’ optical drives to their motherboards. So far, this has only been a problem for third-party repair shops that can’t swap out defective drives for working ones without breaking US copyright law. However, the upcoming self-installed PS5 disc drive makes copy protection an issue for ordinary consumers, and it could be the primary reason behind the internet requirement.
Giving customers direct access to the hardware linking the drive to the rest of the console theoretically facilitates the eventual emergence of modded or third-party optical drives that could enable piracy or custom firmware. Sony could be attempting to head off that eventuality, but an online authentication doesn’t guarantee that the company’s security is uncrackable. Circumventing the disc drive’s online requirement could also provide a tool for future game preservation.
The PS5 Slim arrives in November. The disc version will cost the same as the launch SKU–$500, while the digital model’s price gets a $50 price bump to $450.