Change Notice: PS5 Controller Teardown


The Sony PlayStation 5 was released to much fanfare at the end of 2020. Besides the advancements in raw power and the ability to render and display more complex games, Sony also bundled a sleek new controller that could push back and resist the player in some ways. This feature, dubbed Dual Sense, potentially unlocks a new way of interacting with video games. 

However, not long after its release, users started complaining about the analog joysticks. The components seemed to be drifting from their initial calibration rendering them useless in games where quick and precise movements are essential. 

In this episode of Change Notice, ex-Apple engineer Tobias Noonan-Harris and ex-Amazon engineer Chris Li opened the PS5 controller and looked at some of the interesting choices the designers made and speculate on ways they could have approached the design differently if they were thinking more about how to improve the analog joystick performance. At key points in the teardown, they turned to the Instrumental platform and some images they took to get a closer and deeper look at areas of interest.

After unsnapping the perimeter trim and removing a few screws, the teardown team got directly into the product. Confronted immediately with a hard-shell battery and lots of vertical low-insertion force (LIF) connectors, they discussed some of the pros and cons of those features ranging from the cost, space, and re-workablity of those design choices. 

PlayStation 5 controller with hard-shell battery and vertical connectors exposed after opening the product

Later, they pried out the board and took a closer look at those pesky joysticks. With some members of the audience chiming in with questions and ways to make improvements, Chris and Tobias speculated on how the component worked and what could have caused so many people to experience issues. Time-limited them on how deep they could get into the design of the component itself, but a surprise guest, Taylor from iFixit posted a link to a more in-depth look at how they work and how this is a prime candidate for considering the right to repair movement when designing new products.

The back of the PCBA on the PlayStation 5 controller showing the analog joysticks

The teardown team finished up the recorded part of the video by revealing the unique design for the main buttons. They pointed out the lack of physical dome switches and explained how the conductive rubber inserts actually connected the open traces on the flex together without the risk of damaging a more typical dome switch with a limited life cycle. Michael from the audience chimed in that this is actually an old-school technique used in calculators from the 80’s and 90’s.

The button FPC of the PlayStation 5 controller doesn’t have any actual dome switches. Instead, it relies on conductive rubber on the molded buttons themselves.

Although the recording ended shortly after the button discussion, a lively discussion continued in the Q&A. The team was able to answer some more questions from the audience and share their experience. A few extra fun images from the instrumental platform were shown on screen including an X-ray from our friends at Creative Electron and a close-up of the texture on the grip decorated with the iconic playstation button shapes. Taylor from iFixit joined on stage for a bit and just before the end, Chris was able to open up the new Dual Sense motor modules to show how those worked and how surprisingly repairable they are.

Detailed texture on the bottom housing on the PlayStation 5 controller show familiar shapes upon closer inspection

Watch the video below to see the whole teardown. We invite you to attend future Change Notice episodes. We will have more teardowns and guest speakers who are tackling some of the most interesting problems in the consumer electronics industry. 

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