Great! Now I Need to Troubleshoot My DVD PlayerIf DVD movies don't play well, your player might need a do-it-yourself firmware fix to eliminate the glitches.
Tom Spring, PC World
Have you updated your set-top DVD player lately? If you want better and more-reliable DVD video playback, you might want to.
Complaints are mounting as frustrated customers encounter DVD playback problems--in part because of a copy-protection system that Sony is putting on commercial DVD releases. While Sony has tried to allay customer concerns by promising to replace up to 25 million DVDs, PC World has found that DVD playback problems don't stop with Sony.
DVD player manufacturers are increasingly recommending to customers that they update their DVD player's firmware so as to end or prevent problems like players grinding to a halt in mid-movie, video pausing periodically, and mysterious hardware shutdowns.
DVD manufacturers such as Philips and Toshiba say firmware updates address DVD player bugs, add advanced DVD features, and improve a player's ability to handle the latest copy-protection features on DVDs. Updates are available for older-model DVD players, but firmware for HD DVD and Blu-ray DVD players are more common, says Mark Knox, independent consultant and advisor to the Toshiba HD DVD division.
Newer, more-technically sophisticated DVD players have more bugs to be worked out than legacy DVD players, Knox says. Other DVD manufacturers say that new copy-protection schemes being introduced by movie studios are causing headaches for both new and old DVD players.
Service Pack Update for Your DVD
One example appears to be GoVideo's stand-alone VR3840 DVD player, recorder, and VHS player. Complaints about the VR3840 pepper online discussion boards and blogs, with users saying that the DVD player freezes or shuts off in the menu section when a user attempts to play recent DVD releases.
GoVideo now provides a firmware update fix for customers to install, saying in a statement on its Web site: "GoVideo is offering an upgrade to the VR3840/VR5940 that allows certain Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures, or Revolution Studios Movies to play without delay."
According to DVD player manufacturers contacted for this story, these three studios all have introduced copy protection that goes beyond the industry's default Content Scrambling System (CSS) antipiracy protection.
Different makers handle this situation in different ways. For instance, audio and video component maker Harman Kardon says its DVD players play standard DVDs and were never intended to handle the extra copy protection put on DVDs by Sony and other movie studios. "When movie studios start adding their own brand of copy protection, we can't promise seamless playback," said a company representative. Upon request, the company will mail an owner of one of its DVD players the needed updates on a DVD disc for free.
Sony says it issues firmware updates for its players that help DVD players to fix player bugs, add features, and support its own stronger copy protection called ARccOS. Sony also provides an explanation in PDF format.
How to Check and Update a Player's Software
Most, if not all, HD DVD and Blu-ray DVD players have built-in ethernet connectors, which greatly eases updating the player's firmware on the fly. If customers want, they can request (at no charge) a firmware disc that will be sent to them to perform an update.
To date, stand-alone DVD players--along with other consumer electronics gear--have largely been impossible to upgrade because the software used to control the player (called firmware) was embedded into the device. But as DVD players have evolved and grown more sophisticated, firmware is now stored on flash memory in the device. This functionality allows owners to upgrade the players, fix problems, and accommodate new technology without having to visit a service center.
Tools to Update Your DVD Player
Many DVD player manufacturers such as Philips and Sony give users the ability to download the firmware onto their PCs and give instruction on how to burn the firmware onto a DVD and update their player themselves.
One snag you might encounter if your DVD manufacturer does offer a firmware download: These firmware updates are all offered as an ISO image file. ISO image files are exact disc images stored as one file that allow for easy CD or DVD duplication. You cannot use Windows XP alone to burn an ISO image. You must also have a third-party CD-burning software package.
A free ISO creation option is ISO Recorder. There are also software programs like Padus DiscJuggler and Alcohol Software available in trial versions that work well enough to burn a limited number of ISO images.
After you've created a DVD with the ISO image, simply put the DVD in your player. Manufacturer instructions differ, but, generally speaking, you'll be presented with menu choices directing you to trigger the firmware update.
After the DVD player is updated, power it down, then power it back up--and you're done. The entire process--from downloading to updating your player--will vary based on how long it takes to download the ISO. But the entire process, according to DVD manufacturers, shouldn't take more than an hour.
Now that you know how to troubleshoot your DVD player, you can move on to updating your new Sony stereo receiver, LCD TV, clock radio, and turntable. All of the gear listed here--and more--is built to accept firmware updates down the road, according to Sony's support site. Remember the days when all we had to do is spend a couple hours a week troubleshooting Microsoft Windows?
Where to Go for Firmware Update Info
DVD player manufacturers contacted for this story suggest that consumers check to see if a firmware update exists for their model of DVD player. Here are starting points for information from some of the major manufacturers.