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Multimedia issues

Also, the pain of fatal errors. Tech Advisor hed: Multimedia issues dek; also, the pain of fatal errors. by Stephen J. Bigelow

Q: Is it better for me to use an MPEG decoder card with my DVD drive, or should I use a software decoder like SoftDVD?

A: The answer to that question will depend on your particular system. The video data on your DVD videodiscs is encoded into MPEG-2 format. MPEG-2 offers terrific compression, so it’s possible to fit a lot of video data on the disc.

Unfortunately, MPEG-2 uses a fairly complex mathematical algorithm to decode that data back into usable video frames. DVD-ROM drives originally used a separate PCI MPEG-2 decoder card. The MPEG-2 decoder offloads these redundant tasks from the system CPU, which usually results in very uniform video playback quality on a wide range of both older and newer systems.

Since CPUs are much faster now than they were when DVD-ROM drives were first introduced, many PC makers and end-users are foregoing MPEG-2 cards in favor of software-based MPEG-2 decoder utilities.

So long as your PC meets the recommended system requirements for software decoding (processor speed, memory, operating system version, and so on), you should get fine performance from a software decoder, and save the cost (and installation hassle) of an MPEG-2 decoder card.

If your system only barely makes the minimum system requirements for software decoding, or if you have a knack for running other applications in the background, you may want to stick with an MPEG-2 decoder card for the best video playback performance.

If you’re not sure which way to go and you have a free PCI slot in the system, opt for the decoder card.

Q: I installed an HP rewritable drive, but now I get fatal exception errors in VMM.VXD when I launch CD software such as Easy CD Creator on MyCD. What can I do?

A: According to HP, this is a compatibility problem between the CD software and other software on the system. For example, this is known to occur with an ATI Rage 128 video adapter in the system. Check your Device Manager to see if an ATI Rage 128 video card is installed. If so, you can update the video drivers at ATI’s support site support.atitech.ca/drivers.

HP also indicates that the problem can be caused if a SMARTVSD.VXD file is present in the IOSUBSYS folder. Click Start/Find/Files and Folders. Type “smartvsd.vxd” in the Named field, and see that the C: drive is selected. Click Find Now and let the system search. If you find SMARTVSD.VXD, highlight the entry, click File, and then select Rename-rename the file to SMARTVSD.OLD and save your changes. Now reboot the PC and see if that helps to eliminate the errors.

Q: I installed QuickTime (PC) on my Pentium II 64MB, 366MHz Windows 98 PC, but the playback is very jerky. Videos that run fine on other PCs play terribly on mine-even though my system meets all of the recommendations for QuickTime. Any suggestions?

A: It sounds like you have plenty of processing power and memory to run QuickTime and play back most average QuickTime clips. This almost always means that the player (QuickTime, in this case) has been installed improperly.

Uninstall QuickTime completely and make sure that your hard drive is fully defragmented using the Disk Defragmenter utility. Double-check the system requirements for QuickTime 4. If your system meets the system requirements, download and reinstall the latest version of QuickTime 4 for the PC from Apple.

Players are also very sensitive to multimedia drivers and codecs, so check your multimedia drivers. Click Start/Settings/Control Panel, and double-click the Multimedia icon. Click the Devices tab and double-click the Video Compression Codecs entry to expand it. Check for duplicate entries. If you find more than one copy of a video codec on the system, this might cause a driver conflict that impairs playback performance. Select one of the duplicate entries, click the Properties button, then click Remove. Repeat this process for Audio Compression Codecs. You may need to reboot the computer after clearing duplicate drivers.

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