Careful when clean-installing TabletPCs

At work, I got my hands on a LS-800 TabletPC by motion computing and after spending a lot of time with it and as I’m very interested in TabletPCs anyways, I finally got myself its bigger brother, the LE-1700

The device is a joy to work with: Relatively small and light, one big display and generally nice to handle.

The tablet came with Windows XP preinstalled and naturally, I wanted to have a look at the new Tablet-centric features in Vista, so I went ahead and upgraded.

Or better: Clean-installed.

The initial XP installation was german and I was installing an english copy of Vista which makes the clean installation mandatory.

The LE-1700 is one of the few devices without official Vista-support, but I guess that’s because of the missing software for the integrated UMTS modem – for all other devices, drivers either come prebundled with Vista, are available on Windows update or you can use the XP drivers provided at the Motion computing support site.

After the clean installation, I noticed that the calibration of the pen was a bit off – depending on the position on the screen, the tablet noticed the pen up to 5mm left or above the actual position of the pen. Unfortunately, using the calibration utility in the control panel didn’t seem to help much.

After some googling, I found out what’s going on:

The end-user accessible calibration tool only calibrates the screen for the tilt of the pen relative to the current position. The calibration of the pens position is done by the device manufacturer and there is no tool available for end-users to do that.

Which, by the way, is understandable considering how the miscalibration showed itself: To the middle of the screen it was perfect and near the sides it got worse and worse. This means that a tool would have to present quite a lot of points for you to hit to actually get a accurately working calibration.

Of course, this was a problem for me – especially when I tried out journal and had to notice that the error was bad enough to take all the fun out of hand-writing (imagine writing on a paper and the text appearing .5cm left of where you put the pen).

I needed to get the calibration data and I needed to put it back after the clean installation.

It turns out that the linear calibration data is stored in the registry under HKLMSYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlTabletPCLinearityData in the form of a (large) binary blob.

Unfortunately, Motion does not provide a tool or even reg-file to quickly re-add the data should you clean-install your device, so I had to do the unthinkable (I probably could have called support, but my method had the side effect of not making me wait forever for a fix):

I restored the device to the factory state (by using the preinstalled Acronis True Image residing on a hidden partition), exported the registry settings, reinstalled Vista (at which time the calibration error resurfaced), imported the .reg-File and rebooted.

This solved the problem – the calibration was as smooth as ever.

Now, I’m not sure if the calibration data is valid for the whole series or even defined per device, but here is my calibration data in case you have the same problem as I had.

If the settings are per device or you have a non-LE-1700, I strongly advise you to export that registry key before clean-installing

Obviously I would have loved to know this beforehand, but… oh well.

Upscaling video

I have an awesome Full-HD projector and I have a lot of non-HD video material, ranging from DVD-rips to speedruns of older consoles and I’m using a Mac Mini running Windows (first Vista RC2, then XP and now Vista again) connected to said projector to access the material.

The question was: How do I get the best picture quality out of this setup.

The answer boils down to the question of what device should do the scaling of the picture:

Without any configuration work, the video is scaled by your graphics card which usually does quite a bad job at it unless it provides some special upscaling support which the intel chip in my Mac Mini seems not to.

Then you could let the projector do the scaling which would require the MCE application to change the screen resolution to the resolution of the file played. It would also mean that the projector has to support the different resolutions the files are stored in which is hardly the case as there are some very strange resolutions here and then (think game boy’s native 140×102 resolution).

The last option is to let your CPU do the scaling – at least to some degree.

This is a very interesting option, especially as my Mac Mini comes with one of these nice dual core CPUs we can try and leverage for this task. Then, there are a lot of algorithms out there that are made exactly for the purpose of scaling video, some of which are very expensive to implement in specialized hardware like GPUs or the firmware of a projector.

So I went around and finally found this post outlining the steps needed to configure ffdshow to do its thing.

I used the basic setting and modified it just a bit to keep the original aspect ratio of the source material and to only do the resizing up to the resolution of 1280×720. If the source is larger than this, there’s no need to shrink the video just to use the graphics chip to upscale it again to the projectors native 1920×1280 resolution (*sigh*).

Also, I didn’t want ffdshow to upscale 1280×720 to the full 1920×1280. At first I tried that, but I failed to see a difference in picture quality, but I had the odd frame drop here and then, so I’m running at the limits of my current setup.

Finally, I compared the picture quality of a Columbo (non-referal link to Amazon – the package arrived last week) DVD rip with and without the resizing enabled.

The difference in quality is immense. The software-enhanced picture looks nearly like a real 720p movie – sure: Some details are washed-up, but the overall quality is worlds better than what I got with plain ffdshow and no scaling.

Sure. The CPU usage is quite a bit higher than before, but that’s what the CPUs are for – to be used.

I highly recommend you taking the 10 minutes needed to set up the ffdshow video decoder to do the scaling. Sure: The UI is awful and I didn’t completely understand many of the settings, but the increased quality more than made up the work it took to configure the thing.

Heck! Even the 240×160 pixel sized Pokémon Sapphire run looked much better after going through ffdshow with software scaling enabled.

Highly recommended!

By the way: This only works in MCE for video files as MCE refuses to use ffdshow for MPEG2 decoding which is needed for DVD or TV playback. But 100% of the video I watch are video files anyways, so this doesn’t bother me at all.

Vista preloaded

Today I had the dubious “pleasure” of setting up a Lenovo Thinkpad R60 with Vista Business Edition preloaded.

We just needed to have a clean Vista machine to test components of our PopScan solution on and I just didn’t have the disk space needed for yet another virtual machine.

I must say that I didn’t look forward to the process. Mainly because I hated the OEM installation process under XP. Basically, you got an installation cluttered with “free” “feature enhancments” which usually were really bad-looking if provided from the hardware manufacturer or nagged the hell out of you if it were trial releases of some anti virus program or something else.

Ever since I’m setting up windows machines for personal use, my policy has been to wipe the things clean and install a clean windows copy on them.

With this background and the knowledge that just for testing purposes the out-of-the-box installation would do the trick, I turned on that R60 machine.

The whole initial setup process was very pleasant: It was just the usual Windows Setup minus the whole copying of files process – the installation started with asking me what language and what regional settings to use and it actually guessed the keyboard settings right after setting the location (a first! Not even apple can do that *sigh*).

Then came the performance testing process as we know it from non-oem-preinstalled installations.

Then it asked me for username and provided a selection of background images.

I really, really liked that because usually the vendor provided images are just crap.

The selection list even contained some Vista-native images and some Lenovo images – clearly separated.

The last question was a small list of “additional value-add products” with “No thank you” preselected.

You can’t imagine how pleased I was.

up until what came after.

The system rebooted and presented me with a login screen to which I gave the credentials I provided during the setup process.

Then the screen turned black and a DOS command prompt opened. And a second, though minimized.

The first two lines in that DOS prompt were

echo "Please wait"
Please wait

I can understand that Lenovo wanted to get their machines out and that they may be willing to sacrifice a bit of Vista’s shinyness. But they obviously even lack the basic batch-knowledge of using “@echo off” as the first command in their setup script thus ruining the unpleasantness of the installation even more.

But wait… it’s getting worse…

The script ran and due to echo being on displayed the horrors to me: ZIP-File after ZIP-File was unpacked into the Application Data folder of the new user. MSI-File after MSI-File was installed. All without meaningful progress report (to a non-techie that is).

Then some Lenovo registration assistant popped up asking me all kinds of personal questions with no way to skip it, but the worst thing about it was the font it used: MS Sans Serif – without any font smoothing. This looked like Windows 98, removing the last bit of WOW from Vista ( :-) ).

Then it nagged me about buying Norton Internet Security.

And finally it let me to the desktop.

And… oh the horror:

  • My earlier choice of background image was ignored. I was seeing a Lenovo-Logo all over the place.
  • On the screen was a Vista-Builtin-Assistant telling me to update the Windows Defender signatures. It looked awful. Jaggyness all over the place: Clear Type was clearly off and the default font of windows looks aful without ClearType.
  • It’s impossible for a non-techie to fix that ClearType thing as it’s buried deep in the Control Panel – it’s supposed to be on and never to be touched by normal users.
  • On the Notification Area were three icons telling me about WLAN connectivity: Windows’ own, the Think Pad driver’s and the one of the ThinkVantage Network Access tool (the last one has a bug, btw, it constantly keeps popping up a balloon telling me that it’s connected. If I close it, it reopens 30 seconds later).

I didn’t do anything to fix this, but quickly joined the machine to the domain in the hope that logging in to that would give me the Vista default profile.

But no: Another MSI-installer and still no ClearType

It’s a shame to see how the OEMs completely destroy everything Microsoft puts into making their OSes look and feel “polished”. Whatever they do, the OEMs succeed at screwing up the installations.

This is precisely where Apple outshines Windows by far. If you buy a computer by apple, you will have software on it that was put there by Apple, made by Apple, running on an OS made by Apple. Everything is shiny and works out of the box.

Microsoft will never be able to provide that experience to their users as long as OEMs think they can just throw in some crappy made installation tools that destroy all the good experience a new user could have with the system. From scary DOS prompts over crappy (and no longer needed) third party applications to completely crappy preconfiguration (I could *maybe* let that ClearType thingie pass IF they’d chosen a system font that was actually readable with ClearType off – this looked worse than a Linux distribution with an unpatched Freetype).

PC OEMs put no love at all into their products.

Just sticking a Windows Vista sticker on it isn’t brining that “WOW” to the customers at all.

Microsoft should go after the OEMs and force them to provide clean installations with only a minimal amount of customization done.

Vista, AC3, S/PDIF

Since around December 31th last year, my home cinema is up and running. That day was the day when I finally had all the equipment needed to mount the screen that has arrived on December 29th.

It was a lot of work, but the installation just rocks. And I’ve already blogged about the main components of the thing: The Gefen HDMI extender and the Denon AVR-4306.

The heart of the system consists of shion serving content (thankfully, the TB harddrive was announced last week – it’s about time) and a brand new 1.8Ghz Mac Mini running Windows Vista (RC2) in BootCamp which is actually displaying the content.

I’ve connected a windows media center remote receiver which Microsoft sells to OEMs to use the old IR remote of my Shuttle MCE machine.

The mac mini is connected to the Denon receiver via a DVI to HDMI adaptor and optical digital cable for the audio.

And that last thing is what I’m talking about now.

The problem is that Microsoft changed a lot about how audio works in Vista and I had to learn it the hard way.

At first, I couldn’t not hear any sound at all. That’s because Vista treats all outputs of your sound card as separate entities and you can configure over which connector you want to hear which sounds.

The fix there was to set the S/PDIF connector as system default (in the sound applet of control panel) which fixed the standard windows sounds and stereo sound for me.

Actually, the properties screen of the S/PDIF connector already contains options for AC3 and DTS, complete with a nice testing feature allowing you to check your receiver’s support for the different formats by actually playing some multichannel test sound.

The problem is that this new framework is mostly unsupported by the various video codecs out there.

This means that even if you get that control panel applet to play the test sound (which is easy enough), you won’t get AC3 sound when you are playing a movie file. You still need to get a codec for that.

But most codecs don’t work right any more in vista as the S/PDIF connector now is a separate entity and seems to be accessed differently than in XP.

Usually, the only thing I install on a new windows machine I need to play video with is ffmpeg which actually has some limited support for Vista’s way of handing S/PDIF: In the audio settings dialog, you can select “Output” and then in the formats list for S/PDIF, you can check AC/3. Unfortunately, this unchecks the PCM formats.

This means that you will get sound in movies with an AC3 track, but no sound at all in every other movie – ffmpeg seems (emphasis on seems – I may just not have found a way yet) unable to either encode stereo to AC3 or output both PCM and AC3 without changing settings (not at the same time of course).

AC3filter works better in that regard.

Depending on hour of the day (…), it’s even able to work with the S/PDIF output without forcing it to encode stereo to AC3 (which AC3filter is capable to do).

So for me the solution to the whole mess was this:

  1. Install the latest build of ffmpeg, but don’t let it handle audio
  2. Install AC3filter
  3. Open the configuration tool and on the first page enable S/PDIF.
  4. On the system tab, enable passthrough for AC3 and DTS.

This did the trick for me.

As time progresses, I’m certain that the various projects will work better and better with the new functionality in Vista which will make hassles like this go away.

Until then, I’m glad I found a workable solution.

Bootcamp, Vista, EFI-Update

Near the end of october I wanted to install Vista on my Mac Pro, using Bootcamp of course. The reason is that I need a Windows machine at home to watch speedruns on it, so it seemed like a nice thing to try.

Back then, I was unable to even get setup going: Whenever you selected a partition that’s not the first partition on the drive (where OS X must be). The installer complained that the BIOS reported the selected partition to be non-bootable and that was it.

Yesterday, Apple has released another EFI update which was said to improve compatibility with Bootcamp and to fix some suspend/resume problems (I never had those)

Naturally, I went ahead and tried again.

The good news: Setup doesn’t complain any more. Vista can be installed to the second (or rather third) partition without complaining.

The bad news: The bootcamp driver installer doesn’t work. It always cancels out with some MSI-error, claims to roll back all changes (which it doesn’t – sound keeps working even after that «rollback» has occurred). This means: No driver support for NVIDIA card of my MacPro.

Even after trying to fetch a vista compliant driver from NVIDIA, I had no luck: The installer claimed the installation to be successful, but resolution stayed at 640x480x16 after a reboot. Device manager complained about the driver not finding certain resources to claim the device and that I was supposed to turn off other devices… whatever.

So in the MacPro case, I guess it’s waiting for updated Bootcamp drivers by Apple. I hear though that the other machines – those with an ATI driver are quite well supported.

All you have to do is to launch the bootcamp driver installer with the /a /v parameters to just extract the drivers and then you use the device manager and point it to that directory to manually install the drivers.