Sunday, May 28, 2006

In my previous post, I described the Kafka-esque experiences in dealing with Dell on the supposedly bundled-in TV tuner with my Dell XPS-M140 computer. Here is a review of the computer. Well, the pain continues, focused now on the TV tuner, an Adaptec AVC-3610. Here is how Adaptec describes the product:

Dual TV tuners and dual hardware MPEG-2 encoders let you watch one show while recording another, record two shows at the same time, or even record two shows and watch another pre-recorded video. Enjoy DVD-quality video on your desktop PC or notebook.

Based on these kinds of statements, I figured that I could hook up my cable converter box to one input, and direct cable through a VCR to the second input. Thus, I could record off the cable box, off direct cable through the VCR, off the VCR [converting VHS programs to digital], and potentially record two signals at the same time.

Last Saturday, I set up the device, which appears above. You can see that it has RCA inputs on either side of the device, with S-Video capability and RF/Coaxial capability as well. So here's what I did: From the wall, I split the cable with a splitter. One side goes to the converter box. From converter box RCA outs to Adaptec RCA 1 ins. From the other side of the splitter, Co-ax to VCR Co-ax in. Then, VCR RCA outs to Adaptec RCA 2 ins. Voila. I thought.

I used the Getting Started Guide, which is the only documentation Adaptec has for this device. Nothing in its knowledge base, no troubleshooting. Just this guide.

Windows MCE had no problem installing the Adaptec device drivers. To use the device, however, you must go through the MCE set-up. OK, so I did that.

With the Adaptec dual tuner device, MCE sets up the first input, and then does the same setup procedure for the second input. As part of the setup, MCE tries to "see" the signal being sent through the device. Then MCE sets up the included remote control to operate the converter box.

The setup for input 1 [with the converter box] was fine. MCE "saw" the signal, and the remote control setup was seamless and easy.

The setup for input 2 [cable to VCR to Adaptec] was conditionally fine. MCE "saw" the signal, but could not set up the remote control to work with the Sony VCR. I expect that's because it's a VCR, and not a cable converter box. But that's OK. If I have to manually change the VCR channel to record from that input, fine. In any event, I wanted the VCR in the loop more for VHS conversion to digital than for timer recording of cable programming.

So, once it was all set up, I sat down with the remote control and realized there was a problem. A big problem. There was no control on the remote to toggle between input 1 and input 2. What I was seeing on the computer/TV screen was input 2 [VCR], i.e., the last input installed through MCE setup. There was no way to see, or to record, input 1 [cable converter box].

Could the problem lie with the fact that I was attaching two different input sources: cable converter box vs. direct cable/VCR? I couldn't see how, because there is no control to switch back and forth, even if both inputs were from a converter box.

I had to wait till Monday to call Adaptec. I had to be missing something. I talked to Adaptec tech support on Monday. They set up a service ticket [or whatever], and took a few hours to look at the problem. The guy I talked to did not sound too knowledgeable, but I had to hope that the manufacturer of the device knew more about it than I did.

Well, maybe not. The guy probably knew less about the device than I did. At least I had played around with it, and he obviously had not. His conclusion was that I could not "mix and match" input sources. OK, fine, but how do I switch between sources? I have to be able to do this, because if Adaptec's above-quoted sales come-on is accurate, then I have to be able to view and set up recordings on input 1 and input 2. And, if I am recording on input 2, how do I watch input 1? Or vice-versa. There has to be an answer to this. The Adaptec guy had no answer, and knew of no one at Adaptec who knew the answer. He said he would keep working the problem, and get back to me. That was Monday, May 22. I haven't heard from Adaptec or that guy since.

Now, this makes no sense to me. How can it be that no one knows the answer, because there has to be an answer. I'm currently operating off input 1 alone, and it works fine. But the dual tuner capability is completely unused.

I'm hoping someone out there in the Blogosphere has the [hopefully ridiculously easy] solution to this problem.

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