Showing posts with label Computer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Computer. Show all posts

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Used Laptop for the Hammer-88: USB Problems

     Just an update based on a simple fix for a long-standing problem.  Going way back, I originally had one very good desktop to do everything.  It's 6 or 7 years old now, and still good, but no longer great.  Over the years, some things started conflicting with others.  The usual victim was system audio.  

    This caused the biggest problem with Ableton Live Lite and M-Audio's Hammer-88 keyboard.  Sometimes the audio drivers would quit working randomly.  The  most consistent and annoying villain was when Microsoft did a Windows "update/upgrade."  EVERY SINGLE TIME.  I only know a couple of swear words, but I've used them many many times at Windows updates.

(Warning - Upcoming Rant)
    The problem could sometimes be fixed easily (usually the random occurences.)  Other times (looking at YOU, Microsoft...) it could take days or weeks to get the audio to working reliably.  Sometimes it took so long, another update would come out just days later and we'd start all over again.
    Helpful Hint:  This website provides a link to a trouble-shooter that could fix most of the audio problems in moments:
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/fix-sound-or-audio-problems-in-windows-73025246-b61c-40fb-671a-2535c7cd56c8
    Yes, I'm aware it's a microsoft link.  That doesn't make me like them any better, since it was nearly always their OS updates that triggered the problem.  Just the same, this is the first thing I try when the audio stops working.  Click the link on the page and allow the app to test for problems.
    The weird thing is, it always reports "no problem found", and starts suggesting random things to try... but actually fixes the issue, at least most of the time.  So I click the "Open Get Help" button, let it do it's thing, then close the window after it reports failure.  And that's usually all it takes.
    Other times, it's as simple as checking "Sounds", going to the PlayBack Tab, and finding that the update has totally played havoc with speaker output assignments.  For some reason, it would reassign a new random output as the default.  Sometimes it would go to a legitimate speaker, like the one built-in to the monitor.  Other times it would choose options that had no output at all.  Re-setting the correct speakers as the default option will typically fix the audio, but sometimes it has to be reassigned as the default with every reboot.  Eventually it sticks, until the next system update.
    The worst ones... the mystery issues with no reliable fix... were the worst. This is part of the reason I quit playing.  It was so consistent, there were so many times I just wanted to 'play the piano' but couldn't, I gave up for a while.
(Rant Over)

A Dedicated Laptop
    In a final attempt to solve the problem, Monique found a used laptop on an Amazon lightning sale.  It's an older HP EliteBook.  Old enough it was originally sold with Windows 7 installed.  It's running Windows 10 now, but that's pushing things.  I don't install extraneous software.  Primarily Ableton, plus CCleaner and Irfanview.  And my favorite browser, Vivaldi. 
    Ableton 10 Live Lite - dedicated to the Hammer 88.
    CCleaner for it's utility toolkit and easy system cleaning. 
    Irfanview for the times I need a screenshot. 
    Vivaldi mainly because I used to use Google Drive to swap files.
    Our working space is tight, so the keyboard is on a wall-mounted shelving system, right beside the door.  It's easy to bump the keyboard while walking past it, and I thought maybe too many impacts caused the issue.


The Ultimate Fix: A USB Hub
    Eventually I realized the problem was the USB port the keyboard was attached to.  The laptop only has 3 USB ports, one to an external audio driver (the Air/Hub, by M-Audio), one to the keyboard, and one for the mouse. Not enough to go around with one having intermittent problems.  We had a 7-port powered hub.  I tried it, but for some reason when the laptop is powered down the hub still provides power to the Hammer 88 and to the mouse.  I didn't want the keyboard to be powered up non-stop all day long.  Seems like that would wear the electronics out faster.
    For about $15.00, we found a great USB hub on Amazon, by Sabrent.  It's powered, has 4 ports, and each port has a dedicated on/off switch, with a light so you know which ones are on.
    Now the keyboard and mouse are connected through the hub.  I also keep a USB memory stick on one port, for trading files between computers.  And the fourth port, just because it was available, provides power to a VCR-to-Computer converter.  Only the ports in use are powered up.  And when the laptop is turned off, I turn off the hub ports as well.  
    Now it works great.  I can play the keyboard reliably, at any time.  And turn the peripherals on/off as needed.  It's amazing when things function like you need them to!!

    With this setup it worked most of the time, but frustratingly there were still days it didn't.  Sometimes on a reboot, the laptop would not communicate with the keyboard.  Occasionally reconnecting the cable between them, but not always.  I started worrying that after all these years of not getting to use it, maybe the keyboard was aging, connections failing, who knows. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Goodbye World Goodbye: Getting VHS Video Transferred to the Computer

    Last night's post was all about the end result.  Getting to play a duet with my uncle, and sharing it with the world.  Today's going to be the "prequel."  The story of how it got from a 2-decade-old videotape, to the state it's in now, and how I hope to get the real video uploaded eventually.

    To begin with... that photo was taken in 1962.  Freil was the youngest of my aunts and uncles, the baby of the family.  I was two at the time.  Mom's always said Nanny (her Mom) didn't get to see me until I was two, because of Dad's Navy career.  Nanny said I was walking already the first time she saw me.  So, just guessing, this photo might have been during that first visit.

    Fast forward to 1996, there was a family reunion.  We have a huge family, reunions were a big thing.  Freil was there, and of course everybody begged him to play.  I got a pretty long video of him playing.  At one point, he tried to 'escape', and asked me to play.  I've never been as good, but what I know, I learned by watching and listening to him.  Instead of letting us switch, someone asked us to play a song together, and Goodbye World Goodbye was the result.  It was one of those perfect moments, where everything goes absolutely right.  

    The rest of the video was mainly reunion events.  Later, I edited the raw footage, using his music as background track for the scenes.  By the early 2000's I'd sold or worn out most of my equipment, including the Hi-8 Camera.  The original tape is (I hope) somewhere in a box in our shed.  About 2016, Mom brought out one of the edited vhs reunion tapes.  It would have been a third-generation copy- raw Hi-8 to SVHS Master Edit, to regular VHS done using a 6-deck setup for small production duplication.  Better than home quality, way below broadcast quality.  And regardless, it's not optimal to have a final product at 3 generations. Back in the days of analog video, each generation lost significant quality.  

EZCap Video Grabber... not as good as it used to be 

  I bought a cheap transfer device from Amazon - EZCap Video Grabber.  It wasn't great, but it got the job done.  I borrowed Mom's VHS tape, and used an old VCR we still had.  It didn't come with software, but provided a link to free software.  It was already old when I ordered it, but with some tinkering and some online guides, I got it to work on Windows 10, on a computer I no longer have.     
    Now, that one video is on a file on my computer.  It's a poor scan, made from a 3rd-generation copied vhs tape. The video quality is not good enough to rescue, and the footage of Freil was mostly edited out anyway.  All I could save was audio of some of his playing, and that was muddied by background crowd noises.  That was the intent way back then... to use his piano playing as background audio for the reunion.  The conversations, the meal, the prayers, the announcements... I never thought it would be used to rescue Freil's music from.

    I'd forgotten the file existed.  Even that computer is gone, but I always save the internal hard drives from my old computers and add them to the new one.  Recently I was trying to make the EZCap work again.  Some programs acknowledged it's existence (VLC), but none of the ones I tried were compatible with it, including the original software.  It was while trying to run the old software, I found that old family reunion video.  Pure luck and coincidence, but I'll take it.  Sometimes you have to work with what you've got.

Serendipity plus hard work

    Even though the quality was bad, the audio was recognizable.  Hoping for an easy solution, I tried loading the file on Audacity, but Audacity can't load video files.  I tried using HitFilm Express (a free video editor) to separate the audio, but couldn't find an option to save the audio without the video.  There's a lot of results when you google the question, but I wound up using VLC, a free video player with a lot of options.  THIS SITE has a slightly outdated guide, but it was close enough to get me there.
    By the way, Audacity is free too... and a fantastic audio editor.

    With a 33-minute mp3 audio file, I used Audacity to convert it to a WAV file.  WAV is uncompressed, and will always play the audio at a consistent bitrate.  Mp3 is compressed, making it hard to match video clips with perfect timing.  When the whole video is just a single photo it doesn't really matter, but old habits die hard.
    From the Wav file, I edited it down to "Goodbye World Goodbye", equalized the audio trying to highlight the piano and de-emphasize the crowd noises, and exported it as a 32-bit Wav.

    Then back to HitFilm.  Create a project, import the Wav file, drag it into the timeline.  Import the photo, drag into the timeline, stretch the photo duration until it's equal to the audio track.  (It will snap in place when it gets close enough to the audio duration.)  Export the video to hard drive, upload to Youtube, and done.

    I'm still searching for the original raw footage of Freil playing on Hi-8 tape.  Once it's found, I'll have to obtain a Hi-8 player.  My plan is to buy an old one for $200-$250 from eBay, use it for any Hi-8 tapes I have (Not just Freil's, but any I may still find in all those old boxes.)  Then re-sell it on eBay.  It may not break even but at least I won't be out a couple of hundred dollars!

EZCap is outdated, but there's a better way to transfer video to computer

    Though I was able to transfer video using EZCap, I can't recommend it.  It was a pain to get working years ago, and now it's not working for me at all.
    The best way I've found to transfer that footage into computer (meaning "effective, yet cheap") costs about $50 from things easily found on Amazon, plus some free software, all of it compatible with an ordinary computer running current Windows.  You'll notice I'm fond of free.  In this case, the list of items, along with a video explaining how to do it, was created by a YouTuber named "JUMBLE."

    There's not much sense in me duplicating his work.  And I don't want to divert his Amazon links for the items you'll need, that's very likely a source of income for him.  So, go watch his short, interesting, and truly informative video, "VCR to Computer - How to connect, watch and record old VHS tapes."  It's well worth the few minutes.  He doesn't add "fluff" to his videos.  It's all solid info.  He provides links to all the hardware, making it very easy to follow his instructions.

    

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