InsideAMX Tertiary

Firmware updates - friend or foe?

There is no argument that updating firmware in devices can be a pain – especially in a large fleet distributed across a wide geographic area like universities typically are. 

Firmware updates have been with us in the AV industry since the nineties when the first generation of programmable devices hit the market.   Initially firmware updates were done by physically replacing an EPROM or similar chip on a card or board.  This was soon replaced by the ability to ‘flash’ or load firmware from a serial port, then via IP.   Not a huge deal when doing one or two devices. 

So why has firmware upgrades become such a big ’pain point’ in recent times? 

  • Fleets have grown from a few rooms to hundreds.
  • The number of devices in a system which are internally managed with firmware has grown
  • The complexity of devices has increased – eg within a DVX, there is the controller, the control port subsystem and the switcher/DSP subsystem – each with its own firmware.  Even within the switcher subsystem there are sub-subsystems like the DXLink chipset which is firmware controlled.
  • The transition to digital video has created a moving target as 3rd party manufacturers release products with their own ‘personalities’ or behaviour that control system manufacturers like AMX need to accommodate and adapt to.  Things like EDID management and odd-ball resolutions that appear from time to time will trigger a new firmware release.
  • Environmental issues – often quite obscure ones – can be discovered after a product is released which are addressed with new firmware.  This has become a bigger issue because of the trend to higher resolution and enormous amount of bandwidth required to transport signals in fairly hostile electrical environments.  Squeezing 10.2 gigabits down a twisted pair cable is quite a challenging exercise and not without pitfalls
  • Any device which sits on a network will be competing more and more for bandwidth as the traffic volume spirals upward.  New techniques to deal with this increased traffic can require a firmware update.    

Whatever the reason or trigger, new firmware is released to improve a product – whether to address a single issue or bug fix, to add a new feature or functionality (which may or may not be relevant to your situation).  But more commonly firmware releases are bundled to include a mix of fixes and enhancements.

In AMX-land we occasionally have a single purpose interim firmware release called a ‘hot fix’ to address a newly discovered problem.  These are not published on the website but are available from Tech Support on request.  Hot fixes are bundled with the next public firmware release at a later date. 

What is making firmware updates appear such a pain at the moment is the frequency of new releases.  This is primarily due to the fallout from the transition to digital video as manufacturers learn to deal with each others’ devices and interpretation of ‘standards’.

Upgrade or not?  If your systems are perfectly stable, never hiccup or require the occasional reboot, then there is probably no pressing reason to update firmware.  This is the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” strategy.

But if on the other hand you experience the odd unexplained failure, or worse a regular crash*, then it’s quite possible the latest firmware could contain a fix.

(* - if you are experiencing a regular crash and suspect it’s an AMX issue, please contact our Tech Support team at support@amxaustralia.com.au .  The first question they will ask is what version of firmware is currently running).

So – friend or foe?  I will say overwhelmingly friend, but with a little bit of pain involved.

 

I’ll finish with a challenge.  If you haven’t already, think about your strategy for managing firmware in all the devices in your fleet, AMX or otherwise, as this will continue to be an important part of maintaining technology uptime across your campuses.