News & Opinion

You Should Never Wait for Firmware Updates


For those of you not familiar, there has been a controversy in home theater. Mainly, the rollout of the HDMI 2.1 boards. Even before the pandemic, this was a problem. Once the supply chain issues started up in earnest, those problems exploded into a full-fledged crisis. Everyone wanted the latest HDMI 2.1 features but the boards were hard to find. But, not to worry! The home theater receiver manufacturers have promised a firmware update that will fix all your HDMI 2.1 problems! You just have to wait. Well, not anymore. Waiting for firmware updates will kill the home theater industry. That’s why we have to stop.

What are Firmware Updates

In simplest terms, a firmware update is essentially a software fix. Nearly every piece of AV gear has some sort of program within it. Many of these programs can be updated if a bug or problem is discovered. Those updates can be pushed through the Internet if the device is connected to your home network. They can also be provided through a USB or RS-232 connection. It depends on the device.

The most common reason for a firmware update is because a bug or other problem is found. If it can be corrected by updating the program, that is a fairly easy fix. Other firmware updates can and do add features. Many times, the hardware inside a device is capable of doing more or a workaround is found to give a device more features or functionality. A firmware update can be provided to enable these as well.

The Problem with Waiting for Firmware Updates

When the first HDMI 2.1 boards first started shipping (namely inside Yamaha and Denon AV receivers), there were few other devices available that could support the new HDMI standard. That meant that it was impossible to know (at least from the user’s end) whether or not the features actually worked. But, as new displays, gaming consoles, and players were released, it quickly became apparent that there were issues. Big ones.

“Not to worry,” said Yamaha. “We’ll push a firmware update that will solve the issue.”

On that promise, people bought Yamaha receivers and waited for the promised firmware update. As you can probably guess from the tone of this article, it never truly came. First, they released a repair program that would swap out your board for another (turned out that board wasn’t fully functional either). Then they pushed a firmware update that enabled some of the HDMI 2.1 gaming features but not all.

“We’ll Fix It In Post”

It seems to be a common mantra in the tech industry that products, especially video games, are released in an unfinished state. They promise that they’ll provide bug fixes “soon.” Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. It wasn’t always this way.

When video games were first brought into the home, they were on some sort of physical media (yes, I had an Atari 2600). It was impossible to fix a bug after the game was released. Therefore, there was a lot of focus on getting it right the first time. Games might be delayed, but they were rarely released in a completely broken state. Not like they are today (looking at you Cyberpunk 2077).

The AV Industry Was Different

There have always been fringes of the AV industry that have lived on promises. They talk about a new product and get a small but very vocal following excited. People pre-order and then…wait. Not for updates, but for actual products. Sometimes the products would arrive, sometimes not. If they did show up, they could be years late.

But the major manufacturers were different. They operated like the game companies of old. Their products were thoroughly tested before leaving. Sure, there were some issues here and there. But, for the most part, things worked. If a bug was found, it was usually fairly niche and obscure. A typical user would be unlikely to notice. Those that did? They didn’t have to wait long for a firmware update. Usually.

HDMI 2.1 Changed Everything

Let’s make one thing clear: AV manufacturers aren’t making their own HDMI boards. They are buying them. That’s why Denon and Yamaha both ended up having problems at the same time. They were basically the same boards. But Yamaha was the only one that asked customers to wait for a firmware update that would fix everything. Denon just said something along the lines of, “We’re looking into it and we’ll let you know what we come up with.”

Well, Denon and Marantz (sister companies) released a free fix (our article about it here), but it wasn’t a firmware update. Yamaha, on the other hand, not only required owners to send their AV receivers in for an HDMI board swap, but they also had to release a partial firmware fix. If that was the end of the story, we’d probably write this one off as a one-off event and try to forget about it.

But it wasn’t. Yamaha doubled down.

When Yamaha announced their 2021 AV receivers, we once again were promised a firmware update to enable features. After the debacle of the 2020 AV receivers’ release, did they really expect people to believe them?

Well…yes…because they did. But that is beside the point.

We Must Stop Waiting for Firmware Updates

Would you buy a car with only three wheels on the promise that the fourth wheel would arrive soon? You could still rev the engine, listen to the radio, and enjoy the AC. Do you really need to drive it around?

Sound ludicrous? It should! This is the path of waiting for firmware updates.

We cannot continue to buy AV products that are clearly unfinished on the promise that the manufacturer will finish them with a firmware update. Sooner or later (clearly sooner as it has already happened), those promises will be broken. What will be your recourse? If we let manufacturers get away with it once, they’ll do it again. Small bugs will turn into major features that are “coming soon.”

Call to Action

The solution is simple: Don’t buy an AV product unless it has all the features you need/want actually implemented. If they promise a firmware update, don’t buy it now and wait. Wait before you buy. As much as we want to have the latest and greatest, we rarely need it. And honestly, with places like Accessories4Less.com, you can pick up a relatively inexpensive AV receiver to hold you over.

They want us to wait for their firmware updates? I say we make them wait for our money!


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