Thursday, June 01, 2006

I saw that Glenn was talking about kids' books. I too [can't remember if he got Henry Reed from me or I got Henry Reed from him] have fond memories of my pre-adolescent reading. For geeks like us, those books were incredibly formative. They must have been, because I still vividly recall,albeit through the filter of a kid's perceptions, all those books. I mean, Glenn wouldn't be Glenn without the Mad Scientists Club. Trust me on this.

Personally, I started with the Happy Hollisters, and moved on to the Hardy Boys. In those halcyon days, every book I read was the best book I'd ever read, which was, I guess, literally true. Believe, me, I was disappointed years later when I actually ran across books I didn't like. The bloom was off the rose....

One of my dreams has always been to pass on the books I read as a kid to my children, such that those books would have the effect on my kids that they had on me. Not be be, apparently. My nine year old, who is an avid reader, has eschewed both my Hollisters and Hardy Boys books, sadly enough. His current favorites seem to be the Goosebumps books. A couple of years ago, he couldn't get enough of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series. He'll be happy to know the Captain will be appearing in a new story soon.

Maybe my six year old will like my old books ....
For all those who, like me, are relatively clueless on Windows MCE 2005 issues, we have -- you guessed it -- an MCE blog!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thanks to all for checking out my reviews of Dell's customer service and my odd-yssey involving Adaptec. I got a couple of emails about trying to get the AVC-3610 TV tuner to work properly, and one canny emailer posited that the problem was likely through Windows Media Center edition, and not necessarily with Adaptec. Spurred by this cogent comment, I went into Microsoft's MCE site, and posted the following question into the applicable newsgroup:

I've got MCE 2005 with an Adaptec AVC-3610 dual tuner. I set it up originally with input 1 coming from set top box RCA out to AVC-3610 RCA in. The device saw the signal and set up for the remote. Then I set up Input 2 with direct cable, split at the wall, coming through a VCR, into Input 2 of the AVC-3610. MCE went through the setup for both inputs and saw the signal on both inputs. Even though I had no STB on Input 2, I allowed MCE setup to use the EPG that was also being used for input 1 [STB]. After all, the reference the same channels.

When I completed MCE setup, however, I could see and control only Input 2 -- the second input set up. It is as if the first set up -- through the STB -- doesn't exist. I have been able to find no way to toggle between input 1 and input 2. How can I record from both signal feeds if I can't toggle between the two to set the record commands for one, the other or both?

What am I missing? Right now, I;m running only one tuner setup, through the STB. I want to be able to record VHS tapes up to digital, and currently can't, without recabling and re-setting up.

Then, after a response which was nice but not too helpful, I got more specific:

OK, let's say I use 2 STBs on each input. How then do I toggle between the two feeds? Example: I start recording West Wing at 7:00 through input 1,
but I want to watch/record MSNBC on live TV through input 2. How do I go back and forth to set the timer for each input source and to watch one or the other?

Here is, I think [finally],the answer I have been looking for:

Since they're both the same, MCE treats each source as identical and
interchangeable, and it manages it for you.

In other words, if you're recording West Wing through the schedule, and you turn on MCE and go to watch Live TV and switch to MSNBC, it does so without question or hesitation. This is as opposed to the case where you only have one tuner. In that case, it will give an error saying that you will have to interrupt the recording if you want to watch Live TV.

Want to record two programs simultaneously? Just tell it to do it, and it manages it for you. If you try to record three, it will then give an error and ask you to pick which 2 of the 3 you want to record.

Does that help?

So here's the solution. First, I have to use the same signal sources on each input, although I don't know how the device senses the different signals. Second, apparently, I don't have to do anything to toggle between the two input sources -- MCE does it for me seamlessly.

Cool, if it actually works. Here's my next question, though. One of the reasons I sprang for the new computer and TV tuner was to be able to move my Tennessee football games [I've got most of the televised games since 1989] up to digital, and then move them to DVD. If I have to use the same input sources on each input, how do I get a VCR into the chain. Can I daisy chain the VCRin between the set top box and the AVC-3610? Any bright ideas out there?

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.

The Trials and Tribulations of Buying From Dell [grrr], by Instalawyer:

OK, so I had some extra cash, and/or needed a deduction, and my none too reliable Sony Vaio finally bit the dust with a motherboard glitch that crashed the computer anytime I physically moved it. After weeks of dithering as to what type replacement laptop to get, I finally decided at the end of March to go with the Dell XPS-M140, a relatively light and compact notebook that I could load up with features. Interestingly -- and of some concern to me -- Dell's web site no longer seems to contain a link to the XPS-M140. Have they taken it off the market already?

Anyway, I elected to get the full 1 GB of RAM, the fastest processor available for the unit, Bluetooth, even though I currently have no Bluetooth devices [you never know in the future], the longer life [9 cell?] battery, and the three year on-site service deal. Finally, I got the Windows Media Center Edition 2005 [MCE] operating system and the bundled "TV tuner" [make and model unspecified by Dell], with the goal of using the new computer as a quasi-do-it-yourself personal video recorder and video capture device.

In this latter respect, I would be able to record items off the cable TV [for work purposes, of course -- news stories and such related to cases], as well as take items on VHS video and convert them to digital editable form. You see, with my TIVO, I can do this conversion, but TIVO's digital file format is not susceptible of editing. Why would I need to edit? Well, to remove commercials, to redact deposition testimony that I don't need, that sort of thing.

After a couple of weeks, I finally received the computer. The computer itself seemed fine: appropriately speedy and compact, but with a wide-format screen big enough that I didn't have to squint to see, and a well-sized keyboard for typing.

However, no TV tuner was included. I called Dell, and the heavily accented overseas customer service person [Indian?] told me that the TV tuner was not included with what I ordered. Now, this makes no sense, because there's really no reason for me to get MCE unless I have PVR capability, for which I would need that TV tuner. I made some noise about this , and the Dell person generously agreed to ship me a TV tuner for free. OK, great, I thought to myself. Problem solved.

After another week or so, I got the tuner. It was an ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0 model. I took it home and thereupon spent about four hours trying to install it. For some reason, the install program off the CD-ROM kept failing at the outset. I did kluge an install once, but then the device wouldn't see the cable TV signal. I was stymied, but because it was Friday night, I couldn't get any customer support from ATI until Monday, during business hours.

The following Monday, I got ATI on the phone [their support rep was in California], and while on hold, I found semi-hidden documentation on the ATI web site that this particular device only worked with Windows XP. In other words, Dell's idiots had sent me a TV tuner device for my MCE computer that was incompatible with my MCE computer!

So I called Dell again. This call was the second or third to Dell, not counting their "inadvertent" hang-ups. The new overseas Dell person i spoke with needed some convincing that the ATI device was incompatible with an MCE computer, but finally agreed to take the return and then ship me a new device. Dell's accessories page showed a few devices that allegedly worked with MCE 2005. The top contenders in my my mind were the Hauppage WinTV-PVR-USB2 Personal Video Recorder and the Adaptec AVC-3610.

I suggested to the rep that Dell send me the Adaptec device, because it was a dual tuner device, so [at least] theoretically, I could attach one signal input from my cable converter box, and the other from direct cable/VCR. That way, without any recabling, I could record signal off cable, as well as using the device for VHS conversion to editable digital format. Also, if I wanted, the dual tuner capability would allow me to record two different signals simultaneously. That's pretty cool. To my surprise, the Dell rep said they would send the Adaptec device. Standard delay time: three to five days to ship. Great, I said, we're finally straightened out, I said. Little did I know....

Two weeks later, I still didn't have my TV tuner. I called Dell again, and the overseas rep [apparently, Dell uses no one in the U.S. for customer support] stunned me by asserting that the Adaptec AVC-3610 is not available from Dell!. While this person was saying this, I was punching up that very item on Dell's web site. While looking at Dell's page for the AVC-3610, I told this person, in [ahem] exasperated tones that he was flatly wrong, and that it was available from Dell. The person put me on hold for a few minutes. When he/she came back on the line, lo and behold, the AVC-3610 was available. He/she agreed to send the device, using the exact same language as had been used two weeks previously. I could have bitched more, but it would have served no purpose. I was just going to have to wait and see whether Dell actually made good on its [second] promise to ship me this item.

Finally, finally, I received the Adaptec device. Total time elapsed from when I received the computer to when I received the TV tuner: six weeks. Am I happy with Dell? Not a bit. The computer works fine. The large battery I got is great -- I used the computer at depositions this past Friday. I turned the computer on at 9:00, and when we finished at 2:30, I still had an hour and a half of battery time left. That's great. Dell's customer service leaves a lot to be desired, however. I estimate that between the phone calls, the time spent on trying to install the ATI device and the general tsouris of it all, I spent about five hours dealing with what should have come with the computer originally. I bill my time at $225 per hour. In the words of Paul Newman in Absence of Malice: "Who do I see about that?"
Instapundit and Power Line are clearly better proofreaders than CBS viv-a-vis miscategorizing Rep. Jefferson as a Republican. CBS has now corrected its online news story to identify him as a Democrat.