PS5 Slim’s new external disc drive requires online “pairing” before use

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Sony wants you to make an online check in before using that external drive with your PS5 Slim.

The upcoming launch of a redesigned "PS5 Slim" model will mark the first PlayStation to support an optional disc drive add-on for the shrinking number of players who want to stick with physical media. But players who want to use that drive to enjoy their PS5 discs offline must first perform a mandatory online check-in to pair the external disc drive with a specific console.

That's according to Call of Duty news site CharlieIntel, which posted early pictures of the packaging for a new PS5 Slim bundle that includes a disc drive and a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. That packaging includes some tiny disclaimer text notifying players that an "Internet connection [is] required to pair Disc Drive and PS5 console upon setup."

The odd-sounding requirement may be part of an anti-piracy effort by Sony to ensure that only authorized, validated drives are connected to their hardware (preventing the connection of modified or generic drives that might aid in decrypting the data on those discs, for instance). In 2020, Wired tried swapping the stock disc drives included in two launch-era PS5 consoles, only to find that the new consoles didn't recognize the "unpaired" daughterboard on their "new" disc drives. Similar drive-pairing security is built into the drive assemblies for consoles going back to the Xbox 360 era at least.

While it's theoretically possible to use custom firmware to convince an old console to accept a new disc drive, doing so means replacing the official firmware that's used for that purpose. That would be a violation of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it "unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works." The Copyright Office offered a limited exemption to this rule in 2021, allowing for "repair or replacement of a console’s optical drive" provided that "any technological protection measures that were circumvented or disabled" are restored at the end of the process.

A fixable problem?

From the wording on the PS5 Slim packaging, it sounds like the online check-in only needs to be performed the first time the system's external disc drive is installed, which should allow for completely offline play afterward. But that could still cause difficulties for players with unreliable Internet connections or those setting up a system in remote locations.

The online check-in could also prove to be a headache for future preservationists if and when Sony decides to shut off its Disc Drive syncing servers in the future. But recent gaming history suggests that doesn't necessarily need to be a long-term problem. After researchers found a hardware battery-based "kill switch" in aging PS4 and PS4 systems in 2021, for instance, Sony updated the PS4 firmware to ensure those consoles would continue to work even with a dead backup battery. And after players discovered that many older Xbox games required a one-time online check-in before being played on an Xbox Series X, Microsoft quietly updated its firmware after determining that "the online compatibility check isn't needed in the vast majority of cases for Xbox One discs."

A similar update could eventually remove the requirement for online registration of PS5 Slim disc drives in the far future. For now, though, you'd better make sure you have an Internet connection ready before you plan to hook up a new PS5 disc drive.

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