Wednesday, 7 January 2015

UM Museum of Natural History Display Repair

I got a call from Matt Linke, our friend at the Museum, asking if I could take a look at a display that stopped working.  It had some kind of media player and played some video loops when a visitor pushed a button.

The problem was that the "attract loop" would play fine, but the 3 buttons meant to trigger 3 different video clips were not triggering the clips: it just kept playing the attract loop.  The buttons would light up while the button was pushed, but that was it.

Well, that sounded like a job for me!  I've been doing a lot with media players recently, with or without triggered playback.  And I figured that if I could not get it working, I could likely swap his box out for one of my AKMAN 1080HD media players until they decided what to do.

Here's what was on Matt's bench when I arrived:

Matt Linke at his bench with the exhibit housing
You see the box on the right for containing everything, with the front panel that holds the video display and a speaker leaning up against it.  The small TV was just used for troubleshooting.

Imagine my surprise to see that the media player was an AKMAN product: the Flash A/V media player.   We have a handful of their more current models of HD video players and I like this company's products.

The AKMAN media player
This discontinued model plays MPEG2 files out as standard definition composite or s-video, and has both audio line outputs and speaker outputs.  It has 3 sets of "Input" contacts that are connected to the external buttons.  They were using one set with three inputs it's that sliver of green block connector with 4 wires coming out at the top of the unit.  That toggle switch adhered to the top is for changing the audio output level.  It connects to a couple of contacts on the back for VOL+ and VOL-.  This setting is intended to be done once, and then left alone.  This device resets to FULL LOUD at every restart, which is why one needs some sort of control like this.

The Button - Relay - AKMAN controller
This Direct Logic 05 controller senses button closures and then sends out appropriate control signals to the AKMAN player.  A pressed button would light up and stay lit for the duration of the video clip triggered.  This unit also prevented any other button pushes from registering during playback of a clip (except the attract loop).  It's a pretty nice little box. 

Lighting the buttons can not be done by the AKMAN units, but the other logic parts of what it does can be done by our current AKMAN units without an external controller.

So it turned out that the main reason it had not been playing back any files for a while is because the relay controller wires were plugged into the wrong block.  Took a while for us to get there, because that connector block had been clearly labeled to go into the *wrong* spot.  Go figure.  But we didn't get there right away.  We did some investigating on whether the files on the card were set up properly, etc.  We renamed some folders to match what was given in the manual for this device (found on the AKMAN web site) but still didn't have a fix.

I called my friend Jason Akman, son of the founder of the company, to ask if he knew anything about these units.  He was surprised - in a good way - to hear that one of these old units was still out there and sort of working.  He didn't have any ideas we had not thought of yet, so we did the last thing that might make a difference: go to a Windows machine and delete all the invisible files that a Mac writes on the storage card.

That worked, and everything was working as intended once again.  Below is a shot of the thing looping the silent "attract loop", waiting for button input.

It's turned sideways so I could show you how it would look to a visitor, but here's a photo once it was all working.  A satisfying task for the morning!

Oh yes - the video clips are about ants!

-t








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