Published On: April 6, 2009

Blu-ray Limits Its Growth Rate With Constant Firmware Updates

Published On: April 6, 2009

Blu-ray Limits Its Growth Rate With Constant Firmware Updates

Home theater technology does not endear itself to users when every time the manufacturers make "improvements" on the products, these improvements require time, effort, research and frequently cash infusions on the part of purchasers to get all the elements to work together.

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What are the Hollywood studios thinking these days with these feature-loaded Blu-ray titles that have the power to render a player to not play their newest films? While Blu-ray has tremendous power to be updated thus allowing new, sexy added value features - when is enough enough? If you are a heavy collector of movies in HD on Blu-ray or have a Blu-ray enabled subscription to Netflix you know exactly what I am talking about with discs that simply won't play. It doesn't take more than a few weeks of playing movies before you encounter a Blu-ray disc that has some new codex, feature or fomatic that requires you to go to your PC (screw us Mac users) to rip a new firmware update to hopefully allow you to simply watch the movie.

Could you live without playing "Liar's Dice" on the Blu-ray offering of Pirates of the Caribbean? I could. Despite how much some studio spent on an added value feature how is it cool if I can't watch the actual movie? How important are the supplemental materials on a Blu-ray that it forces you to have to do a firmware update on your player? Mainstream users want to simply plunk a disc into the tray, press "play" and watch the movie. DVD-Video provides this level of simplicity yet Blu-ray has decided to make things more and more complicated for the end user. Under $100 players, fast load times and this level of universal simplicity are all key to DVD-Video's success. Why can't Blu-ray follow this path to success a little more closely?

Some people are pretty gun shy with firmware updates for their Blu-ray player and for good reason. I will never forget burning a disc of updates for my first generation $1,000 Samsung BDP-1000 Blu-ray player. In went the disc and dead went the player. Dead, I say. Never to play another disc. It was as if I lit 10 Benjamin Franklins on fire right in my dedicated theater. Of course, the player was out of warranty and I ultimately recycled the unit at a local electronics recycling event and bought another new player. I bought yet another player after that one and another one after that one but despite my investments to stay current with Blu-ray I still need firmware updates to watch The Dark Knight or for my wife to watch Marley any Me from Netflix. I mean c'mon - what could go into Marley and Me that requires a firmware update? Perhaps it's the Jennifer Anniston Boyfriend Finder game on BD Live that did it? Its hard to tell.

Read the Proposed Solutions on Page 2

Blu-ray_firmware.gifProposed Solutions
In no way am I suggesting that the electronics companies and Hollywood studios should shy away from making Blu-ray better as a format but the constant need for firmware updates needs to be scaled back a bit. One easy fix is to make all Blu-ray players be wireless devices that when new software is available you simply can choose to download it from the Internet via your wired or wireless connection. I am not calling for constant connections so that Big Brother is watching which Digital Playground titles you are spinning in your free time. What I am suggesting is that much like your DirecTV DVR or your Apple iPod Touch asks you when new software is out - your Blu-ray player should do the same.

For legacy players there should be a more standardized time for Blu-ray updates that studios know of. Old players should be stuck without updates but if there was a standardized time for these updates studios and mastering houses would know the exact standard that they need to meet with the discs they release.

Another relatively affordable add-on to players in the future would be to have USB inputs on the front of players so that you don't have to waste burning a DVD from your computer to update your Blu-ray players. Much like the ad campaign against drinking water out of a plastic (throw-away) bottle - you can save a lot of wasted DVD discs if you can update firmware using a cheapie USB flash drive.

In the end people love Blu-ray when they see it. Netflix users proved that they would pay more to watch movies in HD and are now being asked to pay even more which many likely will. But if Blu-ray wants to get the 91 percent market penetration that DVD-Video has they need to make sure the players flat out work. Mainstream consumers don't want to endure the buzz kill of having to spend 20 to 30 minutes going to some company's website on a Saturday night at 8 PM to rip a firmware update just as movie night is supposed to be starting. The overall process of keeping a Blu-ray player up to speed with new technologies needs to be a lot more simple for the non-IT professional.

Read high end Blu-ray player reviews here.

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