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  FAQ's:
Serial Cables: Controlling a Videodisc Player
 

ALERT! This section of the FAQ's is presented more for its historical significance than actual technical support. Videodisc players are difficult to find these days. As well, serial ports have been replaced by USB and Firewire connections on most contemporary computers. Lastly, the information here is relevant for Macintosh computers running OS System 8.6 or earlier and for Windows computers running OS Windows 98 or earlier. The protocols and drivers used to control the playback of videodiscs simply don't function on the newer computers and operating systems.

Now that you are forewarned, please proceed.

Bullet THE VIDEODISC PLAYER IS NOT RESPONDING:
Now What?


Bullet MACINTOSH COMPUTER: Advisories & Peculiarities

Bullet WINDOWS COMPUTER: Advisories & Peculiarities

Bullet INFO ABOUT RS-232 SERIAL PORTS

Bullet PIN-OUT CONFIGURATIONS FOR SERIAL CABLES: The Cable Jungle

 

 

Bullet

THE VIDEODISC PLAYER IS NOT RESPONDING: Now What?

Linking a videodisc player with the computer is often the most frustrating part of using an interactive program. There are many "gotchas." Try using one of the following solutions:

  1. Make sure the videodisc player is turned on and has a disc in it. Try turning the player OFF and then ON again and wait until the disc is spinning at a constant rate (the videodisc will either frame stop on the first frame of the disc, or you'll see images flying by on the video monitor). Also, make sure that the disc is inserted with the correct side up.

  2. Check that the serial cable is securely inserted and make sure that it is in the preferred port on your computer. For heavens sake, don't be lazy...be sure you tightly SCREW the cable plug into both the videodisc player and computer port (if possible). A wobbly plug has been the cause of many hours of troubleshooting.

  3. Make sure that the baud rate setting on the videodisc player is correct. For example, the Pioneer 4200 only uses a baud rate of 1200 or 4800. If the software/computer baud rate setting says one bit rate and the videodisc player is set to another...nothing happens.

  4. Quit your program and turn everything off (the videodisc player, the television, the computer, and any hard drives). Then restart everything making sure all peripheral devices, particularly the videodisc, are powered up and fully running before the computer is turned on. This procedure will often scare away any gremlins.

  5. If there are strange "clunking" noises, searches take several seconds or are never completed, commands work intermittently, or other odd things happen, you may have a problem with your videodisc or player. If you have any other videodiscs, try putting one into the player and testing it. Your problem disc may be warped. Be careful to store your discs vertically and away from sources of heat. They are not indestructible.

  6. If you change the Dip Switches for baud rate on your videodisc player while it is POWERED ON and connected to your computer, you must turn everything OFF and start over in order to reset the new parameters. You can't change a videodisc player's baud rate on-the-fly and expect your computer to understand what you're doing.

  7. Beware of cheap, cruddy cables. Connectors should be high quality and tight fitting, especially at 9600 baud. You can spend hours trouble shooting this variable!! Note that standard PRINTER cables may have the right connectors, but they won't work with a videodisc player. The PIN assignments are different.

  8. Some older players have a lock down screw that is tightened for shipping or moving the player (most newer models don't have such a manual lock down screw). Be sure this is loosened (see your owner's manual for details).

  9. Do not set a heavy TV monitor on top of the videodisc player. It makes for a tidy look, but wreaks havoc with the disc mechanisms directly under the player's thin metal housing. Over time you may experience a total failure from your videodisc player, or you may begin to see some very interesting display effects on your TV monitor. Avoid setting anything on top of your videodisc player. Also, keep the ventilation slots free and clear.

  10. Be sure to check that the video and audio cables feeding your television monitor are securely connected and that the monitor is set to the right input, i.e., Input 1, Input 2, etc.; it varies from TV to TV. Some videodisc players offer an RF feed to your TV like a VCR does. In such cases, you would tune the TV (if it has a tuner) to Channel 2 or 3 to hear and see the videodisc signals.

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Bullet

MACINTOSH COMPUTER: Advisories & Peculiarities

  • OLDER MACINTOSH AV MODEL ADVISORY:
    For those of you using such machines as the 840 AV, the Centris AV, or other AV models, the modem serial port is a specialized "GeoPort" for communications links. There is a System Extension governing the GeoPort. Drag this extension to an obscure folder somewhere outside of the System folder, reboot, and your serial port should behave like an old, run-of-the-mill modem port. For more complete information, check your computer's user manual.

  • OLDER POWERBOOK ADVISORY:
    For those of you using a Macintosh PowerBook (prior to about 1997) hooked to a videodisc player through your modem/printer port, be aware that the default setting is for the PowerBook to use its internal modem (if so equipped). This won't work at all for running an external serially-controlled device such as a videodisc player. Use the Control Panel called POWERBOOK SETUP to switch from "internal" to "external" modem. Some newer models offer you a different choice in this SETUP control panel, namely either "compatible" or "normal." The "normal" option is for using an external modem or other serial device (such as the videodisc player). For DUO 230 and PowerBook 160 models, remove the MODEM TOOL EXTENSION. Also the COMMTOOLBOX can sometimes conflict with the serial port communications with the videodisc.

  • QUICKDRAW GX ADVISORY:
    QuickDraw GX was part of System 7.5; it handled output through the Printer Port differently than in the good old days. We strongly advise System 7.5 users to connect their videodisc players through their modem port if they have installed QuickDraw GX. If you haven't installed QuickDraw GX...no problem. If you have, you can temporarily disable it by using the Extension Manager Control Panel and deselecting the GX extension. Be sure to save this setting. You won't be able to use any QuickDraw GX features until you turn the extension back on again. However, your serial port will be able to control an external serial device, such as the videodisc player. The other option is to drag the QuickDraw GX extension to some obscure folder outside of the System Folder and Restart the computer.

  • ADVISORY ON CONFLICTS:
    Scour your Control Panels and Extensions folders for anything related to modems and faxes (even EtherTalk in some cases). Drag these offending items to another obscure folder somewhere out of the System folder. Basically, anything present in your computer system which competes for control of the serial ports can be a source of trouble. We found this to be true for newer G3 computers with System 8. A lot of fax and modem extensions come preloaded. Purge them from the System and reboot. This proved to be the magic pill for one of our users.

  • CORRUPTED PREFERENCES FILE:
    Previous unsuccessful attempts to load and use the Slice of Life FileMaker Pro Index with the videodisc may have corrupted the Preferences file. In the System Folder, find the Preferences Folder. In that folder will be a Voyager Videodisc Drivers Preferences document. Drag it to the trash. A new one will be created for you automatically later on.

  • ZAP THE PRAM:
    Restart your computer...but ZAP THE PRAM in the process. The Parameter RAM or PRAM in a Macintosh remembers control panel settings and what is connected to the modem and printer ports. By zapping the PRAM, you purge any old incompatible settings. On restart, hold down the Option, Command (Apple Key), P and R keys all together. Get a friend to help if you run out of fingers. Let your computer go through its restart cycle about 3 times (that's 3 musical start up chimes).

  • REBUILD THE DESKTOP:
    It never hurts to rebuild your Macintosh Desktop. On bootup, hold down the Command and Option Keys down until a dialog box asks if you wish to rebuild your hard drive's desktop. Say YES.

  • DEACTIVATE APPLETALK:
    Once the computer is restarted, open the Chooser and make sure that AppleTalk is INACTIVE. Even if the radio button for this selection is already selected, select it once again just to be sure. Deactivating AppleTalk, and thus any chatter with networks or other computers, has often solved communication problems.

  • PIONEER 4400 PLAYERS WITH BAD VOLTAGE:
    There are some Pioneer 4400 model videodisc players that were unfortunately manufactured with a slightly different voltage applied to one of the pins on the deck's serial control port that connects to your computer. The problem you will experience is a total shutdown of your computer when you try to engage communication between the computer and the videodisc player. Specifically, in troubleshooting this problem it was discovered that a Pioneer 4400 player put out 7.5 volts on the RXD line to a Power Macintosh 8500 instead of the 5 volts as it should. Inserting a 1K ohm resistor in the RXD line of the Pioneer CC-04 cable fixed this issue. Pioneer was aware that certain Pioneer 4400 players put out too much voltage. This was fixed in a revision to the player after 1994. The Pioneer player we investigated was manufactured in August of 1992, with a serial number starting with MH390. Thanks to Peter Durnin of The Voyager Company (212.219.2522 ) for supplying us with this solution.

  • INVOKE THE POWER OF THE UTAH RUBBER CHICKEN:
    If all else fails, wave one of the Utah Rubber Chicken over your computer setup. It just may purge the demons of stupidity from your system.

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Bullet

WINDOWS COMPUTER: Advisories & Peculiarities

  1. THE OEMSETUP.INF FILE:
    When installing a videodisc driver on your Windows computer, be sure you have on hand the OEMSETUP.INF file which we have supplied with your FileMaker Pro Index to the Slice of Life or Slice of Brain. Without this file, you cannot successfully install a new videodisc driver and communicate with your player. The file called OEMSETUP.INF should never be deleted.

  2. FMLASER.EXE:
    When using our FileMaker Pro Indexes with a videodisc player, the FMLASER.EXE file must be present and preferably at the same directory level as the Index file. Without FMLASER.EXE, the videodisc cannot communicate properly with your computer.

  3. ONE VIDEODISC DRIVER AT A TIME PLEASE:
    Our tryouts of the videodisc drivers show that only one driver can be installed and setup in your Windows operating system at any one time. If you need to change the driver for your system because you have changed the videodisc player type/model, please follow the RULE OF THE THREE R'S, that is, (1) REMOVE, (2) RESTART, (3) REINSTALL. You will need to Remove the original driver, Restart Windows (not your computer), and then Reinstall the appropriate new driver. If you don't follow the RULE OF THE THREE R'S, you'll be running in needless circles.

  4. COM PORT SETTINGS:
    When setting the Communication Port Properties for either COM1/3 or COM2/4 on your computer, you will be asked to confirm 5 variables. The first one, BITS PER SECOND, refers to the baud rate setting or the speed of communication between your computer and the videodisc player. From the pull down list, select whichever baud rate matches that set for your particular model of videodisc player. The speed of 4800 and 9600 are very common, but be sure to confirm what your disc player is set at. Don't guess, because it likely is incorrect.
    The other four settings must be set as follows: DATA BITS = 8, PARITY = none, STOP BITS = 1, and FLOW CONTROL = Xon/Xoff. Note that you may also want to confirm that the videodisc player's PARITY setting is also set to NONE. Some players, particularly the Pioneer models with "on screen" menu adjustments, give you this option. The producers spent several hours trouble shooting a stubborn videodisc-PC connection at one conference only to finally discover that someone had reset the laserdisc's PARITY setting to something non-standard. Be vigilant and thorough.

  5. PIONEER 4400 PLAYERS WITH BAD VOLTAGE:
    There are some Pioneer 4400 model videodisc players that were unfortunately manufactured with a slightly different voltage applied to one of the pins on the deck's serial control port that connects to your computer. The problem you will experience is a total shutdown of your computer when you try to engage communication between the computer and the videodisc player. Specifically, in troubleshooting this problem it was discovered that a Pioneer 4400 player put out 7.5 volts on the RXD line to a commputer instead of the 5 volts as it should. Inserting a 1K ohm resistor in the RXD line of the Pioneer CC-04 cable fixed this issue. Pioneer was aware that certain Pioneer 4400 players put out too much voltage. This was fixed in a revision to the player after 1994. The Pioneer player we investigated was manufactured in August of 1992, with a serial number starting with MH390. Thanks to Peter Durnin of The Voyager Company (212.219.2522 ) for supplying us with this solution.

  6. INVOKE THE POWER OF THE UTAH RUBBER CHICKEN:
    If all else fails, wave one of the Utah Rubber Chicken over your computer setup. It just may purge the demons of stupidity from your system.

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Bullet

INFO ABOUT RS-232 SERIAL PORTS:

The following is taken from the University of Utah Computer Center Newsletter article by Keith Chojnacki:

"RS-232, the Non-Standard"

There are many "standards" in the world of electronics. Some are used as defined, some are confused as defined, and some are confused as used. The famed RS-232-C Serial standard is confused as used. The problem starts with the fact that the standard defined for RS-232-C is a pin usage outline and voltage level reference for transmit and receive conditions. This leaves the user to determine how the pinouts are to be used at the connector or in the software. Even if the defined pinouts are used, the software driving the hardware might not use the pins as defined. Results are usually cabling and software incompatibilities.

No matter what computers or configurations are used, someone will have to struggle setting up cables between the two machines and make them behave long enough to talk to each other intelligently. There are several pinouts and plug sizes to choose from. The 25 pin "D-shell" plug is the defacto standard for most current connections. The small 9 pin "D-shell" plug used on newer machines is a better use of space with fewer lines. The newest plug is the tiny "DIN-8" found on most Macintosh computers. The tiny DIN-8 leaves no room for easy cable making. The plugs are hard to find and harder still to solder up. Sometimes an adapter cable is easier to purchase than make. This leads to checking the adapter to make sure the wires connect to the proper pins. To do this, get a beeping continuity meter and "ohm out" the cable pin for pin, at each end, to check compatibility for your needs.

Adapters are, at best, a stop gap tool to help make a good cable; but, if you plug one device into many other computers you may as well get a stock of different types, you'll need them. A recent cabling problem comes to mind as an example. The cable pinouts for the two computers were found and a cable was assembled. The first attempts to communicate between machines were partially successful. After some pin swapping, data was going full bore one way only. Maybe the software needed changing! Two or three telecom programs later, software was found that allowed the right kinds of settings to be made. Next, the trans-computer cabling was attached to a break-out box where the signal lines could be seen as the data went from machine to machine. Now data could be shipped both ways, but not in proper order. Finally, the two computers were tamed down and began talking like old friends with a minimum of ground rules for trading data.

The short point of this story is that RS-232-C connection didn't appear to be the major problem. The software, along with a minor cable change, and many trials at understanding the software operations, were the main problem. But, the software used it's own definition of the control lines, a non-standard!

If you need to have two computers communicate for uploading/downloading of data, the following pinout definitions will help get the cables made. Also, check out the ANSI standard on RS-232-C or read one of many good serial books for programmers or hardware designers.

To summarize: The novice should purchase a commercially available cable! The cable problems that you will have are part of the nature of the RS-232 connection. ALERT! Such serial cables are difficult to find these days. Please refer to the next section: Pin-Out Configurations for Serial Cables: The Cable Jungle.

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Bullet

PIN-OUT CONFIGURATIONS FOR SERIAL CABLES:
The Cable Jungle

The Slice of Life Producers oftened referred to the challenge of matching the right serial control cable from a Macintosh or Windows-based computer to various models of videodisc players as THE CABLE JUNGLE. Each computer and each videodisc player model required a different cable. These cables were not just your run-of-the-mill serial cables with MINI-DIN 8, DB-15, and DB-25 connectors and pin configurations. Each cable was unique. When demonstrating Slice of Life videodiscs, the producers always traveled with a satchel full of different cables to satisfy any scenario or situation.

Most of the information contained in this section is historical in nature. Good luck trying to find a serial port on a contemporary computer! Good luck trying to locate a videodisc player with a serial port!

Because we were interested in preserving the legacy of information about videodiscs and their interactive environments, we decided to pull from our library of documentation everything we could find about the pin-out configurations for serial cables that would control videodisc playback. The documentation is provided in Adobe PDF files, created from hard copy originals of materials archived in our offices. We apologize if the quality of the documents may be lacking; many pages were faxes and photocopies of photocopies.

The list below identifies each document and includes a brief paragraph about its contents. Sorry if it appears as a hodgepodge of data...but some information is better than none at all.

Document 1 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 2 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 3 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 4 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 5 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 6 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 7 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

 

Document 8 [soon to be posted]

[Description]

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