Category Archives: Input devices

Pinnacle TV viewing software

A followup on the Pinnacle 310i tuner I got last year.

Pinnacle TV Center ProIt gets some brilliant results when capturing, especially from digital TV transmissions. Playing back a recording on the MG35 media player is a joy to behold (and that’s off the SD signal… the HD signal, from a true HD programme, is incredibly nice when playing back on the PC, though it appears the MG35 can’t handle that high a data rate very well).

But the software it came with is a steaming pile of crap. When I installed it I noted with caution its use of SQL Server Express Edition and its probable load on the PC, and the clunky interface, but didn’t really mention the response times. It’s slow. Really slow. To start up the app takes what seems like an age (and is probably about a minute). To change the channel or start/stop recording also takes ages. It makes it a poor substitute for a twenty year-old VCR you might have lying around — at least if you see something appear you can get that recording quickly.

Pinnacle have apparently seen the light on this, and launched what they claim is a lightweight “TV Center Pro” with a lot of the fat taken out.

Having zapped the MediaCenter from the box and installed the latest drivers, I can see a clear difference. It’s not superfast, but it’s an improvement. I’m still having issues with capture from analogue though. Okay so I can defrag my drive, but that’s only going to help to a certain extent. And annoyingly, capture inside Pinnacle Studio or MS Movie Maker doesn’t suffer from the same sorts of problems. There’s just something in the overhead of the TV viewer software that slows it all down.

I did try the open-source Media Portal, but couldn’t get it to work. Kept crashing. Windows Media Capture is also worth looking at for just capturing (as an alternative to doing it from within the video editing software).

ArsTechnica has an interesting article that should provide some tips; they use VirtualDub VCR+Sync.

Pinnacle 310i TV tuner first impressions

I picked up a Pinnacle 310i digital/analogue TV tuner card last week. APC had listed it in its top products section, which from what I’ve seen, is usually a reasonable bet. The kids were keen to try out the video editing software (Studio QuickStart), because even though it’s a cut-down version of Pinnacle’s Studio product, they wanted a change from Windows Movie Maker.

Me? I wanted a video capture card that would work in XP. My old FlyVideo card was okay-ish under Win95 (but even then the built-in apps were a bit dodgy; the TV viewing never seemed to work properly), just about bearable under Win2K (I could do captures using the Windows Media Capture utility, but it was pretty ugly setting it up). But it doesn’t work at all under XP.

TV tuning was a bonus, since it would allow recording direct off telly without going via the VCR. The 310i appeared to fit the bill. Retail is A$199, but I found it for A$169 at Landmark Computers in Melbourne, and it’s probably a similar price elsewhere.

Installing the card appeared to be pretty straightforward. Find a spare PCI slot, bung it in, and connect the lead from the card’s Audio Out to something approximating the PC’s internal Audio In. (Okay I admit I couldn’t find anything marked Audio In, and settled for CD in instead. Given that was unoccupied, it’s got me wondering if I can normally play CDs on the box… I’m not sure I’ve ever tried.)

Grabbed the first of the two CDs: MediaManager, and ran the install. The first hurdle was that despite the software claiming the CD key was on the sleeve, it wasn’t, it was on the CD itself.

Now, I don’t splurge a lot on new IT products. Part of being a geek luddite, I suppose. But this is the first mass-market consumer product I’ve come across that is built on the Dot Net Framework (version 1.1) and… wait for it… SQL Server Express Edition. That’s a hefty overhead for any end-user PC, and I’m glad mine has enough headroom that it doesn’t take a disk space (70Mb or so) or seemingly a performance hit, though I’ll be checking if it’s now running by default the service is set to start automatically. Personally I’d stick to an Access/Jet backend for any consumer-level products I was writing. It may be outdated, but it’s super-efficient in comparison.

Fired up the software and after a couple of false starts tuning the channels (one involving cancelling radio tuning, which took ages; one at the end where it appeared to hang, and I ended up rebooting the machine) it seemed to be playing nicely. The digital (and especially the HD) signals are brilliantly clear. Adhoc recording worked okay, too. In due course I’ll try the “burn live programmes” and timed recording functionality.

Mind you, I do wish software manufacturers would stop re-inventing how Windows should look. Dealing with iTunes and its permanently grey title bar is bad enough. Pinnacle’s software goes for all sorts of wacky icons for such basic tasks as minimising and maximising the window — all breaking the user’s colour and size preferences, and probably using way more PC resources than is necessary.

Next I ran the Studio Quickstart install. That took ages — it seemed to take an awfully long time to unpack the sample sounds in particular. When it eventually finished I had a little play with it. Pretty basic stuff. Plenty of transition and sound effects. Maybe the kids will be happy with it, but I couldn’t see any huge advantages over Windows MovieMaker (though outputting something other than WMV is definitely a plus).

All the best stuff (like chroma key/bluescreen, which they’d love to be able to do) seems to be locked away and requires separate payment. I might eventually do the upgrade to the full version, but I really wanted the recording functionality first and foremost.

I’ll keep playing and if I find anything worth mentioning will update later.

2007-07-12: Followup: Pinnacle TV viewing software

Considering graphics tablets

Wacom graphics tabletI’m considering buying a graphics tablet — a Wacom or similar — to stave off any hint of mouse-related RSI. I know I use computers a lot, at work and at home, and recently I have had noticeable wrist pain on occasions. Accordingly my work mouse is now on the left, and my home mouse is on the right, taking advantage of my mouse-ambidexterousnous. (Is that even a word?)

I don’t even know if there are any brands other than Wacom to look at. No others appear to distribute these kinds of products in Australia. (I think I recall Wacom being around in the 80s… they must be doing something right.)

From the looks of it, using the pen/tablet is relatively straightforward, with the only gotcha being that right clicking is marginally more difficult. Left click, double click, drag and drop, all easy. Some of the Wacom packages actually come with a mouse, but I wouldn’t see the point of this; I’d assume I’d keep my old mouse.

They do appear to be primarily aimed at graphics use, which is not my primary concern, though from time to time I do graphics work which would benefit from it. Wacom do have some information on tablets reducing RSI. The smallest size has an A6-sized pad, which on paper provides enough accuracy to handle even big screens.

Two ranges, the Intuos3, which appears to be aimed at professional use, starting at AU$349 ($305 street), or the Graphire4, aimed at domestic use, starting at AU$149 ($139 street). The Intuos does have a number of extra features and better performance.

Will go shopping at some stage and try them out, I think.

I’ve also been told that a few minutes daily squeezing a tennis ball is a good way to help ease any mouse pain. Will try that too. A tennis ball is cheaper than a tablet (though probably less geeky fun).

Browser vs Website

Am I the only person who uses Alt-D to get to the address bar in Firefox? I suppose I could also use Ctrl-L, or F6, but I’ve settled for Alt-D, probably because it can be easily done with one hand — my left hand — and is close to the bottom of the keyboard, making it easy to find.

Problem is some web sites implement access keys that conflict with this. The default setup for MediaWiki sites uses Alt-D as a shortcut for deleting pages! Thankfully it goes to an Are You Sure confirmation before actually doing it. They seem to have disabled it on Wikipedia, but others still have it.

Likewise, Horde (web mail) uses Alt-B to Blacklist mail senders, conflicting with Firefox’s Bookmarks menu.

Firefox doesn’t appear to have an about:config tweak for turning all such keys off, though altering accessibility.accesskeycausesactivation to False will merely put focus on the link with the access key, not “click” on it.

This article discusses access keys in detail, including listing the requirements for access keys on UK government sites. Alt-5 for FAQ… hmmm.

Disable the Insert key for good

I’ve finally got rid of the Insert key once and for all (and not just in MS-Word). Here’s how:

1. Download the Windows Resource kit. It’s the Windows Server 2003 edition, but will also work on XP. (Not supported on others, but hopefully Win2K and maybe some earlier versions?).

2. Run C:\Program Files\Windows Resource Kits\Tools\remapkey.exe

3. On the top keyboard image, drag another key onto Insert. I made it another Shift key.

4. Save, reboot. Voila!

The catch? There had to be one, right? Shift-Insert no longer works for pasting things. You’ll have to Ctrl-V instead.

(Thanks to, of all things, The Washington Monthly).

Disabling the Insert key

MS Office 2003: Customise keyboardI can’t tell you how much I hate Windows’ overtype mode. Accidentally tap the Insert key, and you suddenly find your typing overwriting old text. Who would use such a pointless thing?

And it’s doubly worse in products such as Word, where the only clue that you’re in this stupid mode is the almost-invisible ungreying of the letters “OVR” on the status bar.

Even worse in other apps: Excel has it, invisibly, only when you’re editing cells. Powerpoint doesn’t have it. Thankfully Ultraedit noticably changes the cursor when it’s invoked.

It’s there, but invisible, in Outlook. If you set Outlook to use Word for editing messages, it does it invisibly because the Word email window has no status bar, but if you have a Word window sitting in the background, you can see the OVR status light up on that!

At least it can be disabled in Word:

  • Tools -> Customize -> click Keyboard
  • In the Categories, choose All Commands
  • In the Commands list, scroll down and find Overtype
  • In the Current Keys box, the word “Insert” should appear. Click on this, then click the Remove button. Then close the dialog boxes, and you’re done.

Wouldn’t you know it, this setting isn’t global throughout Office. So the Insert key will still do stupid things in Excel and Outlook. (Using Word for writing Outlook messages will get around it, but that might be too big a price to pay.)

See also: MS KB 198148

Why I need a better keyboard

I need a better keyboard at work ‘cos once I’m in the zone and coding at a rate of knots, no way should I be frustrated and have my train of thought derailed by unresponsive keys. A bit like why they brought back the Sonic Screwdriver (to paraphase Russell T Davies, the story shouldn’t be delayed by a locked door).

Is this a problem? Yup. My keyboard at work noticeably misses me pressing Ctrl-C at times, and other keys seem sluggish too. Has been like that since new, about 6 months ago. Maybe I’ll see if I can swap it for another one from somewhere.

That F’n Key

Microsoft make good keyboards. They also make good mice. My choice of keyboard is the Microsoft Wireless Natural Keyboard, combined with the wireless optical mouse it’s a killer combination – except for one ‘feature’ – the new Enhanced Function keys. The F keys not only now perform their standard F1-12 features they can also perform extended operations by using the new F Lock key.

A great idea but for one thing. They default to the new extended settings, ie the F Lock key is on. So when you press F5 to refresh a screen of directory listing the Open dialogue box appears, F12 in Dreamweaver is supposed to preview your page in a browser, but the extended F key prints out the source code. No problem you say, just change the option so the F key doesn’t come on by default. This is where the stupidity enters – you can’t. It’s a physical switch in the keyboard so you have to remember to disengage the F Lock before you want to use F1 to F12.

This drove me mad, and I have many print outs of page coding to prove this, until I stumbled across this great reg-edit on Bleeding Edge. By installing the F Lock Key Flip your problems are solved. It only works for Windows 2000 and XP and it will save you a lot of aggravation.

Better PC control with anti-tremor mouse

Whilst many computer users take the mouse for granted, anyone who suffers with hand tremors finds it an extremely difficult device to use. Precise movements and static double-clicking are actions that anyone with unsteady hands and fingers can find well-nigh impossible, thus restricting them from the full potential of PCs.

To meet this need, IBM have developed an adapter that sits between a conventional PS2 mouse and the PC. Based on the ‘steadycam’ technology commonly used in video cameras to stabilise a picture, shaky hand movements are filtered out. The sensitivity of the adapter can be adjusted to the needs of the user.

The adapter is manufactured by the British electronics company Motrose Secam. Their products page gives more information about how the system works and how it can be configured.

A USB version of the device is under development, which should mean that it will be compatible with newer Apple Mac models—which have never used the PS2 hardware format—as well as being hot-pluggable. The system does not work well with laptop PCs as it interferes with their built-in tracking hardware.

The Assistive Mouse Adapter retails at UK£65 ($99.00 US/Canada/Rest of the world).

Virtual keyboard

From the way-way-way-too-cool department: the virtual laser keyboard. You press a switch and it laser-projects the image of a keyboard onto any surface, then detects your “key”-presses on it via bluetooth. No stuck keys, no getting food jammed in it, or coffee poured over it. At US$199, it’s not particularly cheap, but for pure cool points, it looks like a winner. There’s a gushing review here. (via David.)


Ever wondered what the SysRq key does? Turns out it’s a kind of convoluted programmable key that hardcore programmers can commandeer. From the sounds of it’s it’s just as “programmable” and useful as the old function keys were on the Commodore 64 and Vic-20… eg not very much at all.

There’s also a less geeky explanation from the Straight Dope people, which goes through some of the other lesser-used keys too, including the mysterious Scroll Lock, which does have a modern use, at least in Excel, and Break, which when pressed with Ctrl will amongst other things stop execution in the VB IDE or batch files in DOS the command prompt.

Me, I wish the Insert key could be abolished. I don’t think I know of a more annoying toggle.