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Date: 25/11/07

One Of Those Weeks

It's been a particularly frustrating week.

The main annoyance, of course, is my inability to comment on The Big Story (see the previous item). It's not that I don't want to: believe me, I do. It's just that it simply isn't safe for me to do so. If it were, I could many a tale unfold. Besides which, I'm in a situation whereby my current job could be taken off me at any time, and where I don't seem to have any protection against their doing so, so I have to hold my fire, at least for now.

The other bugbears of the week have been entirely technological, and once again centre around my new PC. Or rather, around one of its peripherals.

My idea for getting an analog video capture card was that I have so much stuff on VHS tapes, and now no longer have a television to play them on, that it would be a good idea to get them onto CD or DVD before either the tapes crumble to dust or my old Sony VCR decides that it's time to die.

So, I included one in the spec for my new PC - a Pinnacle Dazzle.

Trouble was, I had no cables to connect my VCR to it. So, I examined the options in my usual over-thorough way. First off, the only outputs on the VCR were the standard aerial coax, two RCA-type audio sockets and a SCART connector. So, first off, I would need a SCART adapter.

Taking my lunchtime constitutional on Wednesday, I decided to pop into our nearest hardware store. This usually means that I end up buying something (it's those and stationers I can't resist). I knew that they'd had some video accessories in there from time to time, so it was worth checking out.

Of course, once I got in there, finding anything was a problem because they, like the rest of the retail sector, are suffering from Premature Jollification. I wandered around for a good fifteen minutes before I found what I was looking for. I also found something else I'd been looking for. The capture card has four input sockets: two for audio, one for composite video, and one for S-Video. As S-video is supposedly better than composite, I bought a cable to connect the S-Video output from the VCR to the card.

When I got the stuff home that evening, I found that the SCART adapter was fine, and the audio leads I'd had for some years (to play the VCR's sound through my hi-fi - a bit daft when the hi-fi's speakers were over on one side of the room: it was slightly disturbing to be watching, say, a car hurtle across the screen with the noise of its engines going by over to my left); these leads, too, were OK. Then I hit the snag.

On the capture card, the S-Video input socket is slightly recessed. The main body of the plug was too wide to fit in the recess, which meant that the pins of the plug (a four-pin mini-DIN) couldn't reach the corresponding holes in the socket.

Well, I swore a little. Then I checked the online catalogue of a well-known electrical chain. There I saw an S-Video cable which had plugs which tapered somewhat behind the metal bit. They looked to be just the thing.

Thursday lunchtime found me in the town centre branch of this firm, where I bought the cable. On getting it home, I found that the plugs on this cable were identical to the one I'd already bought, and not tapered at all.

Well, this time I swore a lot.

Friday lunchtime found me back in town to take this second cable back to the shop. There was no problem with a refund, which was just as well, seeing as they said they didn't sell any of that type of cable with a tapered plug, despite what was shown on their website.

I then dashed around town to try to find a cable that would work. One shop (the local franchise of a multinational company) suggested I take the capture card in so that they could find something that would fit. The second place I tried (a subsidiary of perhaps the biggest electrical retailers in the UK) didn't have anything suitable either.

I was in peril of being very late back for work by this time. Walking away from the second shop, I realised that I was going to have to go with composite video instead, reasoning that if it was only a case of transferring stuff off old VHS tapes, quality was not going to be the over-riding consideration. So I went back to my original port of call and bought the cables appropriate to that method instead.

Friday evening saw me installing the capture card and Pinnacle Studio software. Here's where I had the next problem. The security software which gave me such grief the week before when I was trying to sort out a home network (see here for more details) also has a feature which blocks any program it decides is dubious from writing to the system. I hadn't fully realised this until I started to install Studio. Suddenly it was raining pop-ups, all of them telling me that various parts of the installation program had been blocked. I continued with the install, but then found after all had been done that Windows Media Player now wouldn't work: clicking on 'File' and 'Open' just froze it completely.

After searching for advice, which conincidentally led me to removing Internet Explorer 7 altogether, so it wasn't all bad news, I decided to do a System Restore and return things to how they were before the installation problem. Once I'd done that, I reinstalled Studio (disabling the security program first), and all seemed OK.

I hit the next snag on Saturday. My first attempt at creating a video file went fine (although I had to experiment with which format worked best), but the second one proved tricky. It wasn't that I was combining a number of clips which was the issue, although I had to seek advice once more on how best to do this: the problem was that, when I saved the output file, none of the transitions between clips (simple fades up and down) showed on the file when I played it, irrespective of which player I used and which format I saved the file as. The screen just went to black instead.

I could find nothing online which suggested that anyone else had ever had the same problem, but I did notice that Pinnacle had an update file for download. So I downloaded the 'patch' (their word: I don't call a 126MB file a patch; more like a goodly proportion of Madonna's wardrobe) and installed it. Finally, it worked as it should.

(I'd tried the built-in Windows Movie Maker, but that doesn't even recognise the capture card, so that was a fat lot of use.)

So I can now start on this winter's Big Project of transferring what I want off the VHS tapes to disk. That will run alongside my ongoing work to transfer stuff off audio tapes to disk, which will be done on my old machine. Then, in time, I'll have to try to get hold of an old reel-to-reel tape machine, because I've got stuff on those reels going back thirty years or more. Hell, I don't even know if the tapes are in any fit state to play anymore.