Wednesday, May 5, 2010

DVD troubleshooting

A few months ago we got a new DVD player for the library, courtesy of the Friends. New, not refurbished. Good brand. Blu-ray, although we don't carry any Blu-ray DVDs at present, as far as I know. I was at my desk, working on tomorrow's class on Windows Files & Folders, when a little after 1 PM one of my co-workers came in, obviously frantic. She had been trying to get the Wednesday afternoon movie started, and it refused to play. It played all the previews and other preliminary material, but when it got to the Play, Scene Select, etc., menu, it simply would not continue. The remote wasn't working, and apparently the controls on the player didn't work, either.

First I satisfied myself that all the connectors were still connecting, and the DVD was seated properly and not jammed, and didn't have any scratches. It's a brand new DVD, hardly been out yet except to staff, and we hold back any movies that are going to be shown at the Wednesday matinee for about 2 weeks beforehand, just to make sure we have it when the time comes. Everything looked okay. Why can't we get beyond the menu screen?

Next I tried playing it from our staff laptop. That should work, right? But it didn't. Windows Media Player complained about not having the rights to play it (? didn't write the error message down--no time--do it later) and threw the ball over to another DVD player application. That program complained, too, and exited. So I tried WMP again, which played after I acknowledged about half a dozen error messages as before.

Except there was no audio output. I think that something about the DVD was signaling Windows that maybe perhaps possibly the user was trying to copy this DVD, and a copy with a picture but no audio is pretty useless, so that's the defense against copying. Or maybe it was because I was using both the VGA output and the audio output on the computer? But I wasn't trying to copy it--I was just trying to play it. And there are a lot of people out there who are watching DVDs on their computers--either feeding the a/v out to a flat panel television, or just watching from the screen on the computer, with a couple of external speakers for better audio. I'm not quite there yet, but I moved in January and still haven't set up my little bookshelf stereo. I listen to radio via streaming audio--and am able to listen to stations that would be impossible to hear otherwise. And I listen to music CDs or download music from Amazon in the form of MP3 files. It's all converging, which is a story for another time.

By this time my co-worker who runs the Wednesday matinee had apologized, turned up the lights, and put the chairs back where they were. Most of the patrons had left. I took another look at the DVD--a closer look this time--and clearly saw a fingerprint on the outer edge. I took it over to the sink, moistened a paper towel, put a drop of dishwashing liquid on the towel, and carefully wiped the DVD from the center to the edge, all around, twice. Then I rinsed it off and blotted it dry with another paper towel, popped it into the DVD player, used the Play button on the player to advance it, and it went right into play mode. I ran upstairs and caught three of the matinee people who were still hanging around, and they were able to come back and enjoy the movie after all.

The remote control undoubtedly needs fresh batteries--I think it was sill running on the original batteries from when we got it, and it's been noticeably losing range the last few weeks. Unfortunately we didn't have any fresh AAAs handy--we will from now on. But I'm pretty sure that wasn't the only problem, because two other people before me had tried to operate the DVD player from the on-board controls. With two points of failure--the dying batteries and the dirty DVD--it took longer to isolate the real problem because there were more factors that had to be methodically eliminated. But, as Bill Landesberg, my boss at T-bar, used to say, "Science is once again vindicated!"

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