Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick

Time for new hardware and you know what that means? Yep, that's right - time to rant. The hardware in this case is a Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick. My hope was to be able to get it working with my Windows laptop so that I could have some background noise while I'm working in my office. I would especially like to be able to tune in CNBC during the day and maybe some sports at night when I'm working.

Anyway, I picked up the unit yesterday and today (Saturday) I decided to try to install it starting at about 11:00 a.m. As you have surely detected by now, things did not go so well. First up was to plug it into the USB port on the laptop. Windows immediately detected the stick and started up the hardware wizard. However, the manual that came in the package clearly says in step 2:
If the Windows hardware wizard appears, cancel out of this screen and continue to the next step.

Did that and hooked up the provided antenna. Next up was the software install from the provided CD. This seemed to go ok, albeit it was quite slow and required a reboot to complete. The install process then launches a wizard to configure the MediaCenter software. The first step of that is for the software to check for updates. Interestingly enough, it gives you the option of specifying how often to check for updates. This seems to be a rather useless option though as it tries to check every time. Anyway, the first time it recognized that it needed an update from 4.5.* to 4.5.53 (or something like that). Took a good 10 minutes to download and then the install process for the upgrade seemed longer than the original install. I think maybe it uninstalled the original program and reinstalled.

Well, after another reboot, it was time to try again. Ooops, not so fast. This time it wanted to do another upgrade to 4.5.54. At least this one seemed to be incremental and did not ask for a reboot.

On to the second step - Hardware Verification. I suppose at this step it is supposed to let you know that you have a Pinnacle PCTV 800e (or whatever you may have purchased). Unfortunately, I got the following great bit of news:

No TV Tuner

Yes, even though Windows was able to detect the stick just fine, Pinnacle's own software could not find it and thus, did not think a TV tuner was connected. This was after about 45 minutes of install and reboot work just to get to this point.

Off to the Internet and Pinnacle support to see what I could find. And find something I did. I found this entry in the knowledgebase. If you bother to go look at it, you will find that this was a jollywhopper of a fix. First, you have to uninstall the MediaCenter software. This involves more than just using the Uninstall program. You have to do that, go into the Add/Remove Programs part of the Control Panel and search for some entries to remove, edit the registry to remove entries made there, manually find folders created on the hard drive, and perform a search and delete. I can only guess Pinnacle's software developers don't know how to program if that much is involved in a basic uninstall operation.

Once you do all that, you go back and manually install Microsoft's .NET 1.1 Framework from the Pinnacle CD along with a hotfix that is provided. Nevermind that the original install did all this in the first place. As expected, this resulted in the same thing as before - No TV Tuner hardware could be found.

Next up was an attempt at using Pinnacle's on-line chat support. You gotta love it when one of the questions asked (actually the third question after "how may I help you?" and "what happens?") is "is it hooked up properly?" Hello!!!!! Anyway, the suggestion was to either upgrade to 4.54 or try the "new" TVCenter Pro 4.7. I obviously decided on the second option.

The first go round resulted in some funky errors and the program would not run. So, went through the whole thorough cleaning, registry-editing bit and yet another reinstall. Guess what? I'm sure you got it right. Off to tech support for another chat.

This time, they started right out pointing me to the knowledgebase entry I linked to earlier. Let them know that I had already tried that. After some questions about whether other USB devices were plugged in (what?), they recommended uninstalling the software and reinstalling in SAFE MODE. Yes, that's right - boot into SAFE MODE and try to install the software. Things can't be going well when you are trying to install software in SAFE MODE.

Try it I did though. Once completed and back into regular ol' Windows, I fired up the wizard and got...

But you knew that didn't you. Well, it was time for a break and a different tack. First I tried plugging the USB stick into an older laptop I have here that I recently loaded PCLinuxOS onto. I did that as I recalled seeing some TV tuner apps when I was poking around. It didn't take me long to decided I didn't want to proceed with that though as it is a Mandriva based distro and I'm not familiar with Mandriva.

Next I decided to plug it into my main desktop running OpenSuSE 10.2. Unlike my searches for help on the Windows platform, a quick Google helped me locate this page by Marcus Hellberg on getting TV running in Linux. I was particularly pleased to see my hardware listed, so it seemed promising.

For the most part it was. Some downloads of some packages using YaST and a quick make/make install and a SINGLE reboot for the new kernel module, and my system was recognizing the TV Tuner. Well, sort of.

When I try to use Kaffeine, it refuses to load a channels.conf file so that I can scan for channels. I've been searching for a US based file to download, but no luck so far and I haven't figured out the structure of the sample files yet. So, I have not yet been able to get it to scan for channels yet.

I did try the application kdetv and got my most promising results. After searching for some frequencies, I was able to get a signal using both the antenna and the cable to pick up the local FOX station. A little bit. And no sound yet. Frankly, after the experience with Windows, just seeing static felt like an accomplishment.

I have also tried a program called Zapping and xawtv and Klear. I continue to run into a problem with not being able to scan for channels. Using the xawtv, I noted that it was recognizing two different TV Tuners. Some LG model (which is what all the others were seeing) and the Pinnacle HDTV Pro. Anyway, at this point I am getting ready to try out MythTV, but I'm not holding my breath.

In the interim, I did go back and plug the stick into the Windows laptop. I tried to delete the listing for it in the Device Manager to try to trick Windows into wanting to reinstall it. I was hoping to trigger the Windows hardware wizard. Obviously Pinnacle does not know how to write their software to properly detect the stick, so I thought I might let Microsoft's wizard have a shot at it. Unfortunately, that did not work - it just reinstalled the drivers.

At this point, I think I have racked up about 5 hours and an untold number of reboots on the Windows laptop trying to get this thing working. But I am no closer than I was after the initial attempt.

Meanwhile, on my Linux PC, I have probably racked up about 2 hours of time. Most of that has been spent trying to figure out how to get it to tune in a TV frequency or perform a scan. Interestingly enough, I think I am much closer to getting it to work on the Linux PC than I am on the Windows PC - I can at least get a signal and the software recognizes there is a TV Tuner hooked up. I find that rather ironic given the listed requirements and the obvious intent that this be used as a piece of Windows hardware.

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