(June 22, 2010) In the days of standard definition analog television, you would take your new TV home, plug it in and watch it. It played exactly as the engineers intended it, only requiring tweaking of the user controls to optimize the available settings, or hiring an ISF calibrator to make fine adjustments via the set’s service menu. For better or worse, those days are over. Today, TV makers design their mid and high end HDTVs (including 3D sets) and Blu-ray disc players to be electronically factory modified after purchase.  To get your new TV to perform as best as it can, (in some cases simply properly) you’ll need to get the set’s firmware periodically updated. Unfortunately, all TV retailers queried never tell the buyers of the necessity to perform updates at the time of purchase!

What’s Firmware?

It’s a hardware device, computer instructions and data that reside as read-only software on that device. HDTVs and Blu-ray players’ functions and performance criteria are governed by the software. If it’s not updated with the latest implementation and instead used in the “out of the box” condition, your display may not be functioning as intended by the manufacturer. With “just in time” manufacturing and major retailer demands for equipment makers to ship new product by a specific date or face major financial penalties (such as cancelled orders), equipment makers often deliver products to the retailer and end user that cannot function as they should in order for the manufacturer to meet the retailer’s deadline. The solution, a firmware update to bring the TV up to spec, supplied by the set makers’ websites or servers.

2010 Model Issues

We are in the process of testing a number of 2010 model HDTVs and Blu-ray players. All to date have required firmware updates to enhance performance, add or correct a number of performance functions and in the case of Blu-ray players, allow the playing some newly released discs. Without a firmware update, early and current Blu-ray players can’t play all new discs because disc authoring continues to change.

Why Don’t Retailers Tell You About Firmware Upgrades

Investigating “assisted selling” local stores (Best Buy, Sears, PC Richard and 6 Ave Electronics), we never observed a salesman informing the customer that upgrades are available, or needed and then instruct the buyer as to how to perform them. Nor have we ever heard a salesman ask if the customer was aware the new TVs and players need Internet connectivity near the player to easily perform upgrades. All these stores offer services to connect an HDTV or Blu-ray player to your home Internet router. Best Buy is the only chain we’ve seen advertise Internet connectivity services through its Geek Squad department.

We don’t know why they don’t tell you, however a possible reason, no local retailer suveyed has the Internet connected to their store demo TVs and Blu-ray players. Yes, often the hot new 3D TV demonstration unit does not perform nearly as well as its capable, until the installation of the latest firmware.

How To Upgrade

To perform a firmware upgrade an HDTV requires at least a USB port, memory card slot, Ethernet connector or wireless connectivity. Firmware is either downloaded to the memory device from your Internet connected computer, then inserted into the TV or one can make a direct connection to manufacturer’s server via the Ethernet or wireless Internet connection on the display. The means to obtain the download may vary depending on the brand. The update may be available by direct Internet connection or a download to USB drive or other memory device. However, it is often the case the set maker’s server is where the update first becomes available. Since an Internet connected TV doesn’t need the owner to mess with a PC and memory device, it is the fastest and best way to update your TV or Blu-ray player.

All Internet connected TVs tested to date require the owner to request a firmware download via the TVs on-screen graphics. Panasonic Blu-ray players allow you to opt-in for automatic downloads. It constantly checks for updates and seamlessly downloads and installs them as they become available, keeping your player always up to date.

When shopping for a Blu-ray player or mid to high end HDTV in an assisted store (i.e. Best Buy) ask about your options to get the latest firmware before you leave the store. Inquire how much it will cost to get them to run an Ethernet cable from your router to the TV’s home location, so you can get all the performance and functionality you paid for.

Edited By Michael Fremer

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