Video & Audio Firmware Update Pitfalls

firmware updateMany audio and video products today offer the ability to upgrade the software in them that determines in many respects how these machines function. Most people believe they need the newest firmware to have the best performance from their equipment. My experience indicates this may not be the case. While the manufacturers promote the benefits associated with these updates they rarely inform the consumer about the drawbacks to doing this.

During the course of my work I find that firmware updates in audio and video equipment are a two edged sword. While they can bring new features and bug fixes they frequently can introduce errors into a piece of gear that were not present before. I find that many if not most manufacturers do not put the effort into debugging these updates as thoroughly as they do the factory versions. The magnitude of many of these mistakes can completely offset the benefit of the improvement that the update addressed.

Examples of problems I have seen with firmware updates include:

  • Increased lipsync problems
  • Non-functioning products
  • Speaker phase errors
  • Channel levels not functioning
  • Equalization not functioning
  • Bass management not functioning

The frequency and severity of problems associated with firmware upgrades that I have witnessed are most common and severe in receivers and preamps. I would avoid updating these products unless there is a feature or problem that you need to have resolved. Updating just because there is a newer version available risks degrading your products performance for no reason.

Sources like Blu-Ray players, media streaming devices and cable boxes seem to have very few problems associated with these updates and in most cases benefit from their use. New software is required in many cases to maintain compatibility with the latest discs or the cable system itself. I would keep these products up to date with the latest firmware to ensure compatibility with the source media.

Displays are between sources and receivers in the potential benefit versus harm to the product. I would avoid updating these products though unless you know there is a feature or problem that you need to have resolved.

W. Jeff Meier

ISF and THX Certified Home Theater Consultant

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