Monday, December 13, 2010

Game room revival

With the dog and cats living together (mass hysteria!) I've finally been able to unwrap, clean up, and reclaim the game room, which I spent most of Sunday doing. Results were mixed.

The room itself is now clean and presentable and welcoming again. I love the look of the various posters and decorations on the walls. The music system I cobbled together works pretty well in the space. The only real problem with the room itself is that I still have an unassembled "cubbie cabinet" there, because it's too darned heavy to move and I don't know where I'd move it even if I did. They were at a fantastic price at Big Lots so we got two; one is Siobhan's knit stash, and the other's just waiting for us to need it. I think I'll try to move it into the closet. It'll be a pain since it's so heavy I can only move one or two pieces at a time, plus I'll have to clean out the closet to make room.

As for the games, results are mixed. The electronic dart board works fine. The laser tag guns hanging on the wall look great. And to my surprise, the air hockey table seems to have recovered from the abuse the cats gave it with little additional damage.

The jury is still out about the Asteroids Deluxe game, though. When I first took it out of its sheathing tarp and fired it up, the screen looked wasted: only the left half showed, and the right half was all squeezed into one line down the middle. This is the kind of failure that kills a machine like this: replacing monitors in a vector graphics coin-op is crazy hard since they don't make that kind of monitor anymore and it has to fit precisely. After a couple of hours, it snapped back to a normal display. Maybe there was just some moisture trapped inside the tarp and the system needed to warm up and dry off, and now that that's happened, it'll be fine. This seems a bit dewy-eyed but it's possible. The screen stayed good after turning it off and on, so it might be.

The bad news, though, is that the MAME system is down. The damage to the cabinet was readily repaired with a glue gun, but for some reason, the system itself won't boot up. Actually, I don't know if the system won't boot up. This is an Asus EeeBox Nettop PC, very compact, energy-efficient, and ideal for this kind of embedded system, but there's one problem. The only video output is an HDMI port, and HDMI is prone to subtle handshaking problems. There's no onboard audio, either. So when you have no video... there's no way to tell if there's a problem with the video, or a problem with the system. There's no POST beeps to listen for (even if I plug speakers into the audio output), so all I have is... a blank screen. Not really anything to try from that.

I know that it's not the monitor, because I have the same result in the living room on the TV there (which is working fine). I also noted there that something is going on in the HDMI: when nothing is plugged into the HDMI or the computer has no power, the screen is the blue screen that the receiver shows when it's getting no input at all. But when the HDMI is plugged in and the computer turned on, I get a blank, black screen. That goes back to blue when either is disconnected. So the computer is doing something on the HDMI port, but no idea what.

I've tried different power outlets, different cables, even different keyboards. I've tried hitting the keys that switch video around, that go into BIOS setup, and then just tried hitting all kinds of keys. I've tried leaving power off for a while, and repeated power-ons. I've searched high and low for a "reset" pin (there isn't one). I've tried booting with nothing in USB or many things. I've tried power on and off in different combinations and sequences. But nothing changes anything.

The thing is, I can't tell if it's not booting at all -- is it just getting stuck before BIOS even starts to start? -- or if it is, but I'm not seeing anything. So it's a total dead end so far. I'm going to sleep on it to see if I can think of something else to try; I've also posted a tech support inquiry to Asus, but I am not too hopeful there. I'll throw my question at a few other people. And hopefully anyone who's reading this will try to think of other things for me to try.

Unfortunately this means most of what I planned to do -- load updates to Windows and MAME, and start getting all the games installed and configured -- I didn't even get to start. Seems unlikely that, even if I'm able to get this problem remedied, I'll be able to get more than a few games up and running in time for the Christmas guests. But at least the rest of the room should be ready.

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