The case for online HDTV firmware updates
CNET editors ruminate on the positives and negatives of HDTVs getting firmware and software updates.
Anybody who has a
Personal computers have been doing the same thing for years, via Windows Update for example, and now that the PS3,
The same goes for
Among HDTV makers, I suspect Samsung will be the first to offer an "update" service on its Internet-connected HDTVs. When I heard about models with Ethernet connections, such as the
To update your TV, you not only have to know about the existence of an update, but you then have to download it to a USB drive and install it on the TV yourself. Granted, the Samsung updates so far have fixed minor performance issues, typically 1080i deinterlacing, but I think most HDTV buyers would be interested in improving the performance of their sets regardless of how minor the update.
Many HDTVs available today have Ethernet connections, such as numerous Samsungs, the Sony KDL-Z4100 series, Pioneer's PDP-20FD series and Elite Pro 1FD series, and the Panasonic TH-PZ850U series, but as far as I know, none of them can utilize those connections to perform firmware updates. The Panasonic models do allow updates of additional content, but that's not the same as update-able firmware to fix performance or modify features intrinsic to the TV.
The flip side of this argument is that HDTVs shouldn't need updating--they're fine as is, and their only purpose is to display content, so why would they need updates? My answer is that updates can seriously improve performance. A great example is the Samsung LN-T4671F from 2008, which was the company's first attempt at an HDTV with 120Hz de-judder. The initial firmware shipped with that TV didn't allow users to actually turn off the de-judder processing if they didn't want it. The firmware update, again available only via download to a USB drive and only to people who knew about it, fixed that issue, improving the performance of the TV . It's true that firmware updates can't fix light black levels or poor off-angle performance, but they can evidently improve video processing at least.
Another argument is that firmware updates allow manufacturers to rush imperfect products to market, knowing they can fix the problem later. With a little more quality assurance testing, for example, perhaps those issues wouldn't have occurred with the Samsung TVs mentioned above. But we notice performance issues all the time during HDTV reviews, and in the majority of cases they're not addressed at all. Offering a fix to a problem, even if it's relatively late, is better than ignoring it as far as I'm concerned.
If done correctly, as with the PS3, firmware updates to HDTVs via the Internet can be painless, instill a sense of confidence, and ward off obsolescence. If you've ever appreciated the added functionality or performance after a PS3 or satellite box update, you know what I mean.
What do you think? Should firmware updates be available directly to HDTVs, or are they too confusing for the average user? Will it happen in 2009?