Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fixing my Sony HC3: I love technology, I hate technology

This experience last night at 2am had me both extremely pleased and somewhat profoundly depressed.

I dusted off my Sony HC3 HD camcorder. It had been retired because it--gasp!--shoots on magnetic DV tapes. Yecchh. Tapes. What a pain. I had moved on to a snazzy Canon HF100 that writes to SDHC cards. Pop the SDHC card into a card reader and, voila, video files are ready to go.

But this seemingly ancient Sony HC3 actually records to tapes. Okay, it records 1080i HD to tapes (so it's not a total dinosaur), but still: tapes! Which means: mechanical problems!

The first tape that I wanted to pull the data off of worked just fine. The second one, not so much. The tape loader refused to latch shut and pull the tape in. And if you can't load the tape, you can't access your video files!!

The HC3 reported a cryptic error: C:32:11

Thank you Google - I found a lengthy discussion board topic about this very problem. Ironically enough, a cryptic error message actually makes it very easy to find exact search hits. Not many things on the World Wide Web reference the string "C:32:11".

The solutions offered on the discussion board ranged from "whack it" (which actually met with a lot of reported success!) to frustrated surrender: "I'll never buy Sony again!"

But then there was this bit of reverse-engineering brilliance: a poster named "Dave" found the electrical leads that power the motor that retracts the cassette tape into the camera. He writes: "I took an adjustable lab power supply (since I didn't know what voltage I would need), turned it to 1.5V and touched the two little solder joints on the retracting motor with the positive and negative cables. Viola!!! The carriage retracted and everything is good with the world again."

Here's his pic of the two contact points he identified:

The theory goes that the retractor motor will sometimes overshoot or undershoot its mark when raising the cassette carriage. And if it's off its mark, the ejection mechanism won't latch back into place when you insert a new tape. Forcing the motor to move a bit up or down will put it back into the proper travel range so that it can work again.

Dave goes on to note that "Since I used 1.5V to do this, you may be able to actuate the motor with a AA or C battery."

So, faced with the same problem, I dug out some spare wire, my head-mounted LED work light, my wire strippers, a AA battery, and electrical tape. Here we go:

And then all I had to do was maneuver the wires through the cassette chassis and touch the retractor motor's two contact points.

Not the easiest thing to do. Guiding those thin wires a couple inches into the guts of the video camera wasn't quite neurosurgery, but it wasn't a piece of cake either.

After a few attempts I did succeed. I made contact with the motor leads and the cassette loader started to move and pull the cassette loading carriage down into the camera body. After it traveled about a millimeter I pulled back the wires. When I tried to push the cassette carriage closed, it stayed latched! I put the battery back in the camera and turned it on... and it worked! It pulled the cassette all the way in and was able to play back the video just fine.

I've since tried to load a handful of other tapes. So far I've had to use the AA battery leads each time to load the next tape. Pain in the butt.

But at least I know the workaround and I can load new tapes. The camera is not worthless.

I love that the Web gave me access to Dave's solution--a solution which goes far above and beyond my abilities to figure out on my own. I know enough bare basics about electronics to be able to connect a AA battery to a motor's contact points, but there's no way I'd ever have been able to figure out that this is what I needed to do to load a damn tape. Thank you Dave. Thank you World Wide Web. Thank you Google. Thank you technology.

But on the flipside, how absurd is all this?! How completely beyond the abilities of the average Joe is even Dave's AA battery solution?

As much as it amazes me that someone was able to find a solution, it equally stuns me that people have to deal with these problems in the first place. And it's not just that we get these damn technology problems dumped on us all the time, it's the impossibility of them!

Thanks to massive amounts of technology and interconnectedness, I was just barely capable of resolving this problem. But the average person is so dependent on technology and all while being essentially helpless when that technology fails him/her. And it fails so often!

Ultimately we are empowered by technology, but it's amazing the extent to which we are prisoners of technology as well. Technology is too often as infuriating as it is inspiring.