Homebrew PlayStation 4 development on older consoles is finally happening, which has in turn led to the arrival of pirated software and a way to run more of the PS2 game library on Sony's modern console.

The floodgates opened earlier in the month with an exploit that allowed for low-level system access on the console, albeit restricted to consoles operating with system software 4.05. This automatically limits - severely - the amount of consoles on the open market that can run the exploit, and the vulnerability in the console was patched with firmware 4.06, which arrived way back in November 2016.

However, since the exploit was released, there's been a lot of activity and support from hackers, including the arrival of Linux support, full root access to the system via FTP and the arrival last week of PS4HEN - a homebrew enabler. We've now reached the point where package files can be installed on the PS4, and tools are available to decrypt games, which can then be re-packaged and installed on compromised consoles.

Work has also been carried out to reverse engineer PS2 Classics for PS4, and tools are now available for users to inject their own ISO files into a specially prepared package that installs and runs on hacked machines. PlayStation 2 emulation is a system-level feature that PS2 Classics downloads tap into, and features a number of interesting features - including a 4x resolution boost and improved performance compared to the same code running on original hardware. Until now, users have had no way to run their own PS2 games on PlayStation 4 - only a relatively small number of titles are available on the PlayStation Store.

PS2 emulation for PS4 was a big deal, but the lack of releases and the inability to run your own discs has been an issue - not to mention a proliferation of PAL 50Hz titles on the EU PlayStation Store. It's a shame, because as you can see here, the emulation offers 4x resolution over original PS2 hardware - and faster performance.

Reported tests for PS2 game playback have shown that some titles which could not be run on PS3's software emulator (for example, Klonoa 2) do run on PlayStation 4. However, others do not fare so well, and with no specific tuning, graphical gitches or other artefacts may intrude. However, the fact that users with hacked consoles have access to more back-compat support than official users is bound to rankle.

On the face of it, the swift arrival of pirate software for PlayStation 4 after the release of the exploit is concerning, but its impact will be mitigated by the fact that the vast majority of users will be running the latest system software, which cannot be compromised with the available exploit. On top of that, we would assume that games mastered for higher firmwares - the vast majority of games from 2017, basically - will be encrypted with keys that are not available on 4.05 consoles or lower.

Where this hack goes in the future is anybody's guess. What's been surprising from our perspective is just how long it has taken for the 4.05 exploit to be released - many months have passed since hackers publicly revealed that they had low-level access to the system, with Linux shown running on 4.01 way back in October 2016. However, it's believed that kernel exploits initially located in firmware 4.55 still persist to this day - they haven't been publicly revealed, but potentially open the door to further piracy problems later on down the road.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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