Having problems playing a new movie? With all the features and copy protection on Blu-ray discs, players need routine updating to be compatible with new titles.
This is called updating the firmware, and while it’s vital to the continued performance of your Blu-ray player, shockingly, sometimes it’s not possible.
Sometimes, manufacturers just stop supporting their products, even models only a few years old.
Why Firmware Upgrades?
Blu-ray players have firmware updates for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to fix bugs/problems in the players themselves. Sometimes the Blu-ray standard is upgraded, and you need a firmware update to let your player take advantage of those changes.
Some manufacturers will take positive advantage of this, and add new features to their players. Oppo has done this well in the past, adding support for network streaming of audio and video, as well as support for additional streaming formats. It also allows Netflix and other streaming companies to update their capabilities and have Blu-ray players take advantage of it.
One of the major reasons for firmware updates, though, is copy protection.
With DVD, the copy protection scheme was compromised shortly after release. This let people rip bit-perfect copies of their DVD discs and distribute them online. With Blu-ray, they wanted to prevent this and introduced more extensive copy protection. One of the most significant features is the ability to add additional, new methods of copy protection, and to revoke permissions for playback if something like the DVD fiasco happened again.
If you have a Blu-ray player, and a new form of copy protection introduced, (or your player’s “key” has been revoked) a new disc may not play on it. Parts of the disc may load, but then parts that utilize the updated copy protection will fail. If this happens, you may get random audio and video glitches that render the movie unwatchable. To avoid this from happening, you need keep your players firmware up to date.
With older players, there are usually two ways to upgrade the firmware: you download a file from the company website, then copy that to a USB flash drive, or burn it on a CD or DVD. Insert this drive/disc into the player, and the player will update the software.
Most Blu-ray players now support updates over Wi-Fi or Ethernet, which makes the process simple. They’ll often check online for updates themselves, or you can manually have them check with an option in the Setup menu. From there the player downloads the file and installs it automatically. The actual install process typically takes 5-10 minutes, and requires very minimal user interaction. The only thing to ensure is that the power doesn’t go out while it’s installing, so don’t do it during a thunderstorm or tornado, hurricane etc.
What about manufacturer support?
As you can see, firmware updates require the manufacturer to create new firmware, and make it available for download. How long they do this for, and how often, varies quite a bit. Sony and Panasonic both have been very good at keeping their players up-to-date, going all the way back to their very first Blu-ray player models. Panasonic had this to say:
“We are currently actively supporting 30 models with firmware updates via net or firmware downloaded to a CD-ROM covering the model years 2010 thru 2013. Panasonic has introduced 40 models since 2007 (including derivative models but not including portable BD players). There are currently 10 Panasonic BD Player models (2009 models and older) that have had no firmware updates supplied in recent years due in great part to the fact that there have not been any issues that required upgrades. Should a significant need for a firmware adjustment arise for any of these older models, Panasonic would issue it if feasible though it is unlikely that this situation would arise at this time.
For example, our DMP-BD45 does not have internet connectivity, therefore the firmware updates are provided via a CD-ROM. If there is a firmware update the customer can download the latest firmware from our website to their PC and then[sic] burn it on a CD-ROM and insert into their player to update the firmware. If customer does not have internet connection, our call center will send the CD-ROM with the latest firmware. This applies to all year models.”
Sony has a similar response, saying that they are capable of updating every model they have made, and continue to provide updates to consumers as issues are discovered.
Vizio, however, is a different story. They list the 8 models they still support with firmware on their website. They also indicate that updates are only available online (via the player), and not by downloading to a CD or USB. Vizio has at least 7 other Blu-ray players that they have released in the past, including as recently as 2011, that are no longer supported with firmware updates at this point.
What this means is if you have a slightly older Vizio player, even from 2011, and a new movie is released with a new form of copy protection, your player might not play it, and you’ll have no ability to update the player to play it. Your only recourse is to buy a new Blu-ray player.
Talking to SquareTrade, their warranty coverage might be a good solution for those looking to buy a Blu-ray player and are worried about this issue. At $21 for $100-$150 Blu-ray player, you get a total three-year warranty that will protect you in case of lack of support, as well as other more common hardware issues. If your player won’t play a new disc, and there is no more support available, a SquareTrade spokesperson says they will replace it with a new player, or refund you the cost of the unit.
Though given the price difference between Blu-ray players these days, that extra $21 will likely get you a player from a company that has a track record of offering firmware upgrades on older players.
Keeping your player updated is easy and simple to do. Keep it connected to the Internet, and if it doesn’t check automatically, then occasionally use the settings to check online for a new version. This will keep your player and its features up-to-date, and make sure that you don’t have problems playing the latest discs. Thankfully, tier one vendors like Panasonic, Sony, Samsung etc. do a very good job of keeping their players updated to the latest technology.
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