Bypassing manufacturer-imposed battery lockouts

sony_battery_cell_swapping

When [Barret] went to use his camera the other day it kept shutting down on him, and upon inspecting the battery, he found that it was a bit swollen. Knowing that he needed a replacement, he turned to an aftermarket battery he had sitting around, but grew pretty annoyed when his Sony Cybershot camera would not accept it.

Apparently a recent firmware update causes his camera to reject non-Sony batteries, a situation he describes as “battery DRM”. There was no way he was going to pony up another $50 to Sony instead of using the perfectly good $10 battery he already had, so he decided to rectify the issue himself.

He stripped both batteries of their plastic coatings, revealing the lithium cells and their charging circuits. He desoldered the PCB from his Sony battery, transplanting it to his aftermarket battery after a little bit of trimming. He wrapped everything up with some tape and gave his franken-battery a spin. It worked a treat, and he was so satisfied with it that he did a similar swap in his aging Logitech mouse.

As more and more companies lock competitors out of the user-replaceable consumables market, these sorts of hacks are certain to become more and more prevalent.

61 thoughts on “Bypassing manufacturer-imposed battery lockouts

  1. I think it’s good idea, but please watch out for explosions. Aftermarket batteries may have a little different chemistry, for which sony controller would be mistuned.

  2. This is the kind of hack that makes me grin when I flip on here every day. You’re absolutely right Mike, we will see this kind of stuff more and more regularly.

    For example, my mother was trying to do a nice thing for me last year and bought me this really nice Kodak All-in-one printer/scanner/copier unit, it even has wireless access to my windows smb network via bonjour printing.

    Sad thing is, you can seem to only print like 100 pages and it says the black ink is about down to 1/4 full AGAIN (cartridge 4!) and when the printer decides it’s empty, that’s it, even if there is still in in there!

    My printer isn’t the only one that has a “DRM-cartridge” either, but no one has had any interest in hacking the same model printer as mine. If I had a buspirate or something I’d totally do it.

  3. yetihehe, wont the charge controller learn the battery capacity after a full charge cycle? But yeah, I’d give that thing a few charge/ deplete cycles outside of my pocket before risking toasting my gonads.

  4. People still buy Sony products?
    I can’t think of any other company that so hates it’s customers. They go out of their way to create non-standard standards.

  5. Having worked for a division of Sony in the past, I can tell you that we would buy batteries that were certified to work at conditions beyond the ratings of ordinary lithium cells (mainly temperature). Hacks like this could create a hazard.

    I’ve done similar things myself, but people should understand that there’s a (small) risk.

  6. Hate this kind of thing – they are hidding “cost” of camera in new battery… There should be some regulations against that kind of stuff.

  7. i was thinking the same thing XZOR. they seem to be lees about there customer and there build quality. i guess the same goes for M$ to.

    i love these kinds of hacks it shows the man you can take your over priced drm bull s@#$! and shove it

  8. Good hack, and great to see any company that participates in these schemes (especially Sony) deprived of income.

  9. @Bill: There is no safety issue with this. The ‘certified’ batteries were just the ones manufactured by Sony, at the Sony-run factory, using the same cheap bulk parts, to ensure all exorbitant profits from the Sony device are funneled directly back to Sony themselves.

    For the record, I also used to work at Sony. Boy was that a treat.

  10. It makes me think of batteries whose controller will lock after x charges because the battery should be at the end of its life… Sad sad sad.

  11. It is a rather obnoxious trend, and while I can see that manufacturers are trying to make every dollar they can, the practice is odious at best.

    The saying, “It’s cheaper to buy a new printer than to pay for ink” is really not that far from reality. I bought a relatively cheap laser printer a few years back for around $85 on sale, but even “compatible” replacement toner cartridges can cost upwards of $60.

    When the supplies to maintain a product start to overrun the cost of purchasing a new one, there is no incentive for people to keep the stuff they have. This leads to excessive consumption, which is great in the manufacturer’s eyes, but terrible for the environment. Now I’m not an environmentalist by a long shot, but the last thing we need is more e-waste piling up in our landfills.

    I suppose this “disposable” mindset is good for the hacking community as we will rarely have a hard time finding salvage material, but surely there has to be a better way.

    As I mentioned in the post, I think that hacks like these will become increasingly more important as time goes on, so I love seeing this kind of stuff come our way.

    1. Oh the irony! Don’t get me wrong here as I agree with what you say but then you ask “surely there has to be a better way”.

      Well there is, or was, the way we did this before. Before when we bought products from manufacturing companies and not marketing companies. [Your favorite company] doesn’t make [your favorite product] anymore, they’re just a marketing company.

      And yes, it is disgusting how much we are polluting this planet with e-waste but it will continue for as long as e-waste means profit for companies and cost for governments (and the people through tax). At the moment it isn’t costing that much because we ship all the toxic e-waste to places like Africa where they salvage some things for a pittance while exposing them selves to dangerous cancer producing toxic chemicals.

      This article is just another example of how bad and outright blatant this has become. In some places in Europe you have to pay for the disposal of a product at the time of purchase. This should be how it should be everywhere so that we destroy this false economy that puts profit in the pockets of ‘brand names’ while destroying our environment.

      I am waiting for this ‘paradigm shift’ but I don’t expect anything to happen before things get much worse in the environment.

  12. Oddly, the more I’ve learned working with a few batteries, the more this sort of hack worries me. For example, when he says, “identical, except for a different circuit board,” I now naturally look for something to jump behind.

    The “battery DRM” is not just a money grab. IEEE specs require two protection mechanisms to reduce the chance of damage (read: explosion or electrocution) in the event of a short, to cutoff charging if the battery is in an unsafe state, and to make sure that the charging scheme is appropriate to the chemistry. IEEE spec also requires one of those protection mechanisms to be embedded in the battery itself, specifically to reduce the chance of a crappy aftermarket battery and an incompatible device coming together and working just long enough to to blow up. Usually you would by two chips from set, put one in your device, and the other in your battery. The DRM makes sure the chips are really working together, and not just a clever hack by someone with just a little information. Keep the cell from exploding, and the company from being sued.

    If the cells used are the same chemistry, what Barret’s done here is no different than what you’d do at the factory by replacing a defective cell with a new one. Depending on various factors, his power meter may be inaccurate (usually the on-battery chip handles coulomb counting and multi-cell charge balancing too), but it will work.

    If it’s a different chemistry (say, lithium-polymer instead of lithium-ion), then it goes without saying that the charging process will be faulty and perhaps dangerous. Also, when trying this hack in the future, other batteries may require more effort to get them working, because the order in which some connections are made matters to some chips (to prevent accidental discharge when assembling the pack at the factory).

    I’m not usually out to rain on anyone’s parade, but this is a bit more involved than replacing ink in a printer. Precautions must be taken.

  13. Not buying from Sony EVER again. I wish they go belly up.

    As for consumables, read this, marketing people: I don’t mind paying a printer or a camera or anything a reasonable price, so that everybody is happy, as long as its quality.
    But, please stop trying to rip me off by forcing me to buy grossly overpriced consumables.
    I find it an insult to my intelligence.
    Now, what kind of business insults their customers?

  14. Seems like this has more to do with frivolous lawsuits than DRM.

    Please people of america stop suing each other anytime you get a whiff of a big payout.

  15. I agree with RooTer… there should be regulations against DRM’ing batteries – but companies have been doing this sort of thing for years – not just ink cartridges and batteries.

    As an example, Apple used to do it with their hard drives. The SCSI drives they used had to be from Apple and were 3 to 4 times market price.

  16. @Philippe

    Consumers don’t buy printers that are reasonably priced. For electromechanical devices of their complexity, printers are grossly underpriced. The model is still to undercharge for the printer, and the profit from the ink. This is beneficial for the consumer when it allows someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a printer to buy one, especially when they only use it sporadically.

    Commercial printers, on the other hand, have a larger profit margin, and ink/toner have less (although they are also being sold in bulk quantities). This has been changing with verification chips on toner. That’s just a dick move.

    1. I have to disagree with some of what you said but perhaps it’s just me. I buy printers that are reasonably priced but perhaps that is because I can fix them and get a reasonable life from the unit.

      My last mono-laser printer was about $400. It lasted about 11 years. My current mono-laser is about 5 years old now. It was about $300. Recently I bought a second hand color laser for $30. The normal retail is about $250.

      The previous mono-laser went until the plastic was literally de-composing from UV exposure. The current mono-laser has had the thermal film sleeve in the fuser replaced, a $5 part. The color laser also needs a replacement thermal film sleeve and it has only done 5000 pages.

      You said “This is beneficial for the consumer when it allows someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a printer to buy one”.

      I disagree. The real evaluation of a printer is the total cost per page. Cheap printers are most often more expensive in the long run.

      Just as a side note – I had to go to a government department to pay an Eh Em ‘fee’ today and noticed that they were using oki-data dot matrix printers lol.

  17. Good job Barret!

    This is a common thing for me to do. Although I usually open up the original battery, and replace the actual cells with identical chemistry, and ratings. (Same idea!)

  18. a percentage of the power is going to supply those pointless ICs..

    oh yeah and this is Sony, hope they don’t have the government raid your house and sue you..

  19. As far as battery chemistry goes, there are only a few manufacturers. Having worked at a battery manufacturer as a QC Inspector I saw the same battery go into 100’s of name labels. Same exact battery off the line. This 1000 to Exide, the next 1000 to Duracell, etc.

    This marketing of “throwaway” products will continue until the public gets wise to it.
    I use a “printer cartridge” re-cycler for my printer needs. If they don’t have my cartridge, I send them my extras so they can have them in their system.

  20. 1. Admittedly, I might try the same.

    2. Battery pack forgery is a real problem and the reason may have resorted to identifying authentic packs before using them. For example, what would you think if your fire department relied on their walkie-talkies while left in a charger. After market packs have been known to generate enough interference so as to compromise the operation of the radio.

    3. Just matching chemistry may not be enough. Chips involved in the care and feeding of secondary (rechargeable) batteries have dozens of settings which, if properly adjusted, are different even for the same type of battery. You usually need an SMBus reader to get to these settings inside the chip.

    4. The “fuel gauge” chip is usually smart and gets conditioned to the batteries in the pack through use. Switching out these batteries with new ones may result in false charge level readings. Maybe for the life of the new batteries.

  21. For some reason, this reminds me of those slug AVRs that Sparkfun got. Not really comparable at all, it just made me think of it.

    (For those who don’t know, SF bought a bunch of AVRs from a questionable dealer, and got a whole bunch of chips that LOOK like an AVR but they’re just a lump of metal inside.)

  22. BTW: did anyone else notice that a FIRMWARE update did this? He had usable aftermarket batteries ON HAND, and Sony decided he couldn’t use them any more. That’s just bunk.

  23. “I can tell you that we would buy batteries that were certified to work at conditions beyond the ratings of ordinary lithium cells”

    That’s a laugh and so are all these ‘well the chemistry may be different blah blah blah’. A battery is a battery and a stupid camcorder aint nothin special either. Power in to recharge, power out to make device function. We’re not talking some specialized highly singular device which needs a special battery made in some special shape etc. IT’S A BATTERY.
    If the manufacturers want to try and complicate things with cheap parts, cheaper labor and or some kind of bs drm scheme, that will be their problem, not mine. I as the consumer will simply never buy their stuff again. Crapple included.
    If no one has noticed, all the best electronic devices are user friendly NOT manufacturer bottom line friendly.
    Great hack but just another reminder to never ever buy sony anything. Printers? Please, I have a $65 all in one and refuse to buy ink for it (seriosuly, i have printed maybe 20 pages and I already need 2 cartridges?) f that. My hp still works so when it’s ink runs out I’ll simply go next door, to a friends, or kinkos, but as a general consumer I will not be highway robbed ever again over ink. I don’t care who makes the printer.

  24. Solution?

    STOP BUYING from these companies, and publicly say, “I will not buy sony cameras because of their forcing me to use sony batteries instead of cheaper ones.”

    Honesty, are you people sheeple? Stop buying the new shiny from companies that actively hate you.

  25. Yeah, This sucks. DRM Batteries should not only be banned, but be illegal.
    It is a deliberate way to KILL old devices that would otherwise be fully functional.

    I have a £800 Sony Aibo.
    It Works perfectly.
    Except, It doesn’t, because I can’t get the batter to hold a charge.
    Sony No longer make or sell the battery.

    This hack is made even HARDER on the Aibo because if the protection chip loses power AT ALL, EVER it dies completely and never works again for any pack no matter what the charge or cells.
    Because of this I can no longer use a very expensive Sony product and there is no way to fix it.

    Thanks Sony. I too will never buy another Sony product, especially after they gave out all my personal info through useless (in)security.

    DRM Should only ever be legal in a situation where after it is NO LONGER available the product is released from the DRM. If Sony made a firmware patch for my Aibo to unlock it, yay. But they didn’t.

    Short story, Sony killed my pet dog.

    1. …although this does present a business opportunity.

      Aftermarket replacement batteries for proprietary crap. Incorporate in the Republic of Zimbab-wistan, spin up an eBay account, and off you go!

      …charge a fair price… offer a quality solution… Everybody (EXCEPT SONY) wins!

  26. Sometimes you’re almost completely forced into a lock-in with a particular manufacturer regarding battery packs because there is no other conpany making clones.

    Case in point: electric bikes, the battery on the majority of ebikes have a specifically designed outer case for that bike (or the range of bikes the manufacturer sells), 3rd parties won’t necessarily bother making copies because the market isn’t big enough meaning the only way to get a cheap battery is to get lucky and acquire one 2nd hand and then you don’t know how old it is or how much use it has.

    I did manage to get lucky regarding my current (2nd) ebike battery, 2 years ago I got it second hand (it was a 10 month old ex-demo one that had been properly cared for) for less than 60% retail and only now it’s capacity is diminishing which is roughly on course for lithium battery ageing & use.

    Before the year is out I’ll be needing a replacement, brand new is the only way I’ll be able to get one for upwards of £250 (some ebike batteries are in the £500+ range!), however if I buy tabbed cells I can recell a pack for about £70-£80, roughly 30% of retail cost of a new pack.

    The stranglehold the product manufacturers have on consumers is often nothing but despicable, but sometimes there really is no alternative for the average consumer who doesn’t know the hot end of a soldering iron.

  27. Look at what the European Union did for phone chargers. They all have to be the same now. No more unique chargers for each and every phone. Save a lot of e-waste going to the landfills.
    They need to do the same with batteries. Like the A, AA, AAA, C, D, etc.

  28. I remember the first time I swapped a battery in this manner. I had a Blackberry Pearl 8130 who’s battery got swollen (Too many nights on the phone with my gf while charging), so I pulled a battery that was about the same shape, size, and rating from a broken Samsung phone. A new battery would’ve cost me $40, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. My gf looked on in amazement as I did it, as she didn’t know anyone else who could do such a thing. That Blackberry lasted me another six months, until I sold it. I didn’t notice any ill effects from the swap.

  29. another happy sony customer it seems.

    oh and by the way, i don’t think someone that shoves a NON-OEM battery in a product can have a case against the OEM if it blows up. Somewhere along the lines of your-own-damn-fault(tm).
    one is more likely being sued by Sony for doing that, given it’s frivolous legal track record.

    surely it’s about pure shiny profit, milking cash cows and giving the shareholders something to bite on.

    what’s next, DRM toilet paper sold by the toilet manufacturer?

  30. Dimension 3d printers have chips on the cartridges that hold the platic material. You are 100% locked in to their cartridges at $250 bucks a pop!

    Thank GOD for reprap…

  31. When the battery in my Canon camera gave out (and to use an external power supply) I made a fake battery with a male connector on the end. I also modified a Sony battery charger with the same male connector. Add in two unused cellphone batteries (one OEM and one 3rd party) with matching female connectors and I was good to go.

    How’s that for battery workarounds?

  32. While I would have discovered this dependently if I where ever faced with the problem, it’s nice to know it before hand.

    Even if enough of the general public recognized what’s going, and raised a stink. Those in position of real influence will just say that’s capitalism, and like one commenter here blame “frivolous” laws suits. Most likely the corporations invented the practice of using the civil courts in hopes of getting other party to pay what is the first parties responsibility. Lemmings of all species are easy manipulated, so I don’t expect any changes soon. Anyway a proprietary battery pack can only increase the chance of a lawsuit being filed against the deeper pockets of Sony, if a hacked after market fails in a Sony product. Would I perform the hack? hell yes; I have already performed similar on my portable transceivers’ battery packs. Would I put them on the charger and leave the house on the initial charge? No. In the end I do expect enough of the consumers to keep handing over the cash to the manufacturers, while bellyaching to anyone who will put up with their bellyaching.

  33. @xzor: Ditto that.

    When Sony used a software update to remove a feature they said they would never remove through a software update over a year ago, I said it wasn’t an issue of money or customers or security, it was an issue of principals. Sony wants you to know that when you give them money to purchase their products, you aren’t getting anything. The electronics, the batteries, the movies, music, or software you’ve purchased still belong to Sony, and they can still do anything they want to it(like removing features or adding battery lockout), whether you like it or not.

    Looks like I was right.

    So here’s what we should all do about it.

    Sony insists that you don’t own the products you buy from them. That means you’re spending money to get nothing.(This is commonly called a “scam,” by the way)

    You know, spending nothing to get nothing isn’t stealing.

    So what we should all do is take from Sony without paying them anything. They still own the products we use either way. It’s not piracy, it’s not stealing, it shouldn’t be illegal.

    Unless… Sony concedes that perhaps when you give them money, they ought to actually give you something in return.

    1. I can say what you pay for. You pay for a service, a right to use the Product. Its the same when you buy a TV subscription with a free Set top box, or a broadband subscription with a free ADSL/Cable modem. Normally, you will have to return the Equipment when you end the subscription.

      In the same way, Sony Products with DRM can be seen. See it as you don’t buy a Product, you buy a service, that gives you right to use the Product indefinitely until it fails.

      Same with Music, games and other copyrighted material. You buy the right to use the material to listen. Not own it.

      Have you actually read the legal text on a SodaStream canister? The SodaStream canister specifically says that its not sold to you, its licensed, and other legal language that prohibit you from doing anything else than using it (which means you are not allowed to sell or give away the canister to a friend)

      And when you HIRE a Product, what are you paying for then? Yes the right to use the Product given the agreed contract and agreed time. You can’t keep the hired car and say that you are not getting anything in return for Money. Or when you hire a house, its not your house.

      I see no strange thing in DRM for physical Products, its just Another way to sell Products.

  34. Volfram: great synopsis. I’d love to hear from Sony’s legal dept on what you are actually purchasing.

  35. the press jumps all over exploding batteries and the like, it causes a lot of harm to the rep, some dude in china had a home made gun go off in his jacket but for a while the cellphone battery was the blame, which is what people remember.

    You really think this big corps etc are making that much money off a possible battery sale to make it worthwhile to lock it down like this, or that it makes it harder to make knock off clones that can do way more damage in bad PR ?

  36. Aaaaaaand this is exactly why I have made it a point since a long time ago to only buy compact cameras with plain AA batteries (yes, my PDA used AAAs too – back when PDAs were still in use…) and to buy the printer with the most hackable / unDRM-ed cartridge type when I need one. Seems to work out great so far…

    Still, if you’ll ever be gathering a lynch mob against makers of cost-hiding ultra-expensive proprietary consumables, definitely do count me in. I’ll promise to keep my pitchfork nice and shiny just for them…

    1. The infuriating thing is that fewer and fewer items use standard cells. Do you also get the you’re-a-crazy-man look from the sales people when you insist on a model that (the horror of it) uses standard cells?

      Ditto on the lynch mob.

  37. The worst part is these companies can sue u and win using the DMCA for bypassing their schemes like a company who was making cheap inkjet cartridges using reverse engineered id chips.

  38. When I bought the camera the batteries were 80 dollars each at my local sony store. Unbelievable! After a bit of research I found that they are standard 3.7 volt used by almost every device manufacturer under the sun and not worth much more than $10.

    Just a couple of notes about battery chemistry: Its really important to match voltages. These batteries come in 2 flavours. 3.6 and 3.7. Never replace a 3.7 volt with a 3.6 or kaboom. As long as your swapping packs of the same voltage and chemestry you should be safe :)

  39. More info: The batteries Sony shipped with this Camera are the older 3.6 volt flavour, however the Sony chargers are designed for newer 3.7 volt batteries. This probably explains why the battery packed failed so quickly (I had the camera about 1 year) the charging voltage is too high.

  40. When I was a kid French Sony’s catch line was “J’en ai rêvé, Sony l’a fait” (~I dreamt of it, Sony built it), it was very convincing. I later realized how pervert their commercial policy was. However, I couldn’t resist buying a VAIO TZ…

    1. Up to somewhere around the end of the ’80s Sony had an enviable reputation for making great stuff. I wonder what old man Morita would have thought of the way Sony treat their customers now.

      1. The nastiest is that they still do great stuff in some sense. But the greatness vanishes because of the lock they impose on their customers. To some extent, same sadness with Apple.

  41. I can understand having protection circuits on lithium batteries, but id chips as well just to lock out the competition? Anti-competitive practice. Looks like an FTC complaint to me. F! Sony and the horse they rode in on. My Nikon P100 is fine with aftermarket batteries. Saves me a bundle.

  42. As for bike batteries. There is not even ONE single ebike distributor in the US who makes one worth buying. Not one. They are either chinese crap with pos motors or overpriced bs made for the wannabe rich kids.
    However, ecospeed makes both a motor and a controller that will accept ANY battery. Doesn’t matter if it’s a lithium setup you made, a lithium battery ecospeed made, a car battery, or even a power tool battery. It simply doesn’t care. They are expensive but made in the usa from development to production it’s very state of the art.
    They even offer an aftermarket lithium which is much much cheaper than theirs.
    My neighbor has an allinone hp and he has his cartridges refilled. He can afford it though.

  43. I got a nice battery for my Sony DCR-SX45 but camera does not accept it. What can I do? Can you help me fix the problem? I would do everything but not buy an original battery to make Sony richer as they are already.

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