Monday, November 28, 2005

To quote Donald Trump, "You're Firewired!"

It is now Monday morning after a long Thanksgiving weekend. There are many things I am thankful for, but my ordeal with my Firewire ports is not one of them.

For the past year or so, I've been heavily into capturing video and editing it on the computer to make fun, watchable videos for friends and family. This has been a passion of mine, and I've gotten relatively good at it. I enjoy the process and the creativity it allows... except for this weekend.

It all started the day after Thanksgiving. I had planned to take some of our recent footage and make a short movie that I could show on Saturday afternoon. We were all set to go to my parents and see some of my cousins that have been away in Spain for several years. Mum asked if I would bring some of our recent camping video to show them. It should have been an easy enough task.

I've been able to capture video without problem in the past. On this day I went to capture a new set of video using Firewire and it gave the following error:
"A video capture device was not detected. Verify that a device is turned on and connected properly, and then try again."
I first suspected hardware settings, but my IEEE1394 ports showed they were acting okay. Next I suspected some conflicting software/codec/whatever, so I tried a System Restore to a point where I know capture was help. I uninstalled the drivers, reinstalled, same symptoms.

Next I thought it might be the cable, so I took the camcorder and cable down to the computer store and asked them to try them. If it worked it would point to my computer. If it didn't it would point to the cable or camcorder. Well, the guy testing said it didn't work. And he then tried another Firewire cable and he said it still didn't work...

So that told me it was the camcorder, right? I went out and bought a whole new camcorder, took it home and you know what? It still gives the same error, after all that.

Consequently, I go back to thinking it is the configuration of the ports, and I get this great idea to use the recovery CDs to reload the OS, but keep the data. Well, that just led me to a whole new problem where it said that it could no longer log me on... It keeps giving an error that it has "detected a problem where the license key cannot be accurately verified (80004005)" or something like that. This is a valid copy of Windows XP so I shouldn't be getting this error, but apparently the hardware/software looks different to Windows and it won't let me in. When I do, it immediately logs me out.

After hours of searching the web (obviously on another PC), and trying several suggestions such as checking boot partitions, etc. I tried Safe Mode again. Finally on one try I can at least log on and see my data, but I can't do anything with it. I'm stimied at this point. I go to bed and decide to work on it again in the morning.

I call the computer manufacturer's toll free number. After wading through the menu options, and after listening to over-amplified (bad) hold music for about 15-20 minutes, I get a technician...who tells me his department's system for checking serial numbers is down and he can't help me. He suggests calling back to see if I'll get routed to a different location. Again the 15-20 minute wait, and the voice call system finally clicks and says it is routing my call... then dial tone.

The third call only takes 10-15 minutes to get to a human, who tells me that I can't call their toll free number because I purchased the computer at a retail store. I'm given a toll number and told to try that. The technician on the fourth calls says my only option is to lose all my data and do a destructive restore. Wonderful.

So I'm back to the electronics store to buy an additional internal harddisk to hopefully backup my data, and a second firewire cable, just to eliminate one more variable.

I manage to get the new 300GB SATA drive installed and get all my documents, pictures, fonts, captured video, etc. moved to the new drive. I've also gotten the computer restored back to its original state (did a destructive install using the System Recovery CDs). I'm feeling pretty good!

Now I go back to trying my two camcorders, the two cables, the firewire ports that show as 'working', etc. And not a single combination works. I try the front ports, the back port, the old cable, new cable, old camcorder, new camcorder, etc. All the same error! Ack! Still no capture device detected!

I finally bundle up both camcorders and both cables and head down to the local electronics store once again. I have several people in several departments scratching their heads also. We try several of their computers, with both cables, and both camcorders. No luck!

So at this point we have a couple possibilities, both cables are bad, or both camcorders are bad. The repair group couldn't find an extra firewire cable to try, so there was no easy way to test that. Finally, I went to the camcorder department and told them my dilemma. I told them I was willing to buy a 3rd camcorder, if they could prove to me that it had a functioning DV-out port that would work. The manager of the department finally got one of the technicians from the computer department to take one of their camcorders over to the computer department and try it out. With my cable, their PC and their camcorder, it worked!

Okay, so I've now proven that the cables are okay and the problem is both camcorders. What are the odds of that? So I return the "new" camcorder with the non-functioning port, and buy the one that is shown to be working, and take it home...

But does the story end here? Unfortunately not. With my 3rd camcorder in hand and my cables that are proven to be functioning, I take everything home. I spend some time reorganizing the PC, reinstalling fonts from the extra hard drive, moving projects, copying previously captured video, resetting configurations, doing updates, etc. What I haven't done is actually try the camcorder but I'm confident it will work.

So I am all ready to do the capture that I first started 4 days prior and what do I get? The same darn "video capture device was not detected" error!

And then I smell something funny... like the smell of burning electronics! I immediately disconnect everything, turn off the computer, etc.

Now when I muster up the courage to restart the computer, it shows no firewire ports active. I try a redetect of the IEEE1394 ports from device manager and nothing! It's as if they have been removed from the PC! And finally it dawns on me that the root problem had to be the ports all along!

I now theorize that one of the ports developed some sort of electrical short. They all showed as functioning to the system, but one port was waiting to wreak havoc. When I plugged in my original camcorder, I suspect that the electrical issue caused it to fry my camcorder DV-out port. This matches with my symptoms, since the tech at the store suspected it was the camcorder port.

Now when I bring home the 2nd camcorder and connect it, I'm sure it was immediately disabled by the same process. Again, tests at the store confirmed that this camcorder had a non-functioning Firewire port also.

So here I stand, probably having fried the DV-out port on the 3rd camcorder, with a service call into the computer manufacturer. It appears the electrical problem has finally done the firewire ports in so they aren't even visible to the system, but not before having fried the ports on two, more likely three devices. You can bet, I'm not plugging anything else into them right now...

I got confirmation that the computer manufacturer will be sending out a postage paid box for me to ship back the computer (under warranty) so they can repair the ports. Of course, I'm going to be a little wary of doing anything after this, even when they return it.

I'm not happy and just hope no one else ever has this level of frustration with their firewire ports. Donations for a fourth camcorder or a new computer are genuinely welcome. :-)