Monday, April 16, 2012

Sony Blu-Ray video input troubleshooting

I bought a Sony Blu-Ray player (model BDP-S580) for the family for Christmas.  Amidst the flurry of crumpled paper, ribbons, and half-open kids toys, I hooked it up, played a few movies on it, and aside from treating it like a regular old DVD player I hadn't thought about it a whole lot since then. The thing is, there's a whole lot you can do on a modern Blu-Ray player that makes it more like a media center computer than just some standalone appliance limited to making movies play on your TV.

Finally having gotten to poking around at some of the cooler features of the unit, I was disappointed to find myself unable to access the on-screen menu, despite being able to play a disk like an old-style DVD player using the front panel controls or the included remote control.  Beyond that, any attempt to get it to do anything else generated the following cryptic error message:

Video cannot be output from this jack.  View/listen using HDMI-connected device

The Joy of Troubleshooting Consumer Electronics
If you read that heading and say "there's no joy in that!" then save yourself the hassle and jump down to the "Solution" at the bottom of the page.

If, instead, you get some sick joy in living vicariously through my frustruating slog through bad internet advice and ham-handed attempts to strong-arm my BluRay player to life, then read on.

First step in troubleshooting was to verify that there were no glaring deficiencies in my setup.  According to the manual, it was clear that I had it set up correctly considering that my television, despite being hi-def (it's an old 720p projection model) does not have a HDMI input.  So I have it hooked up via the composite video cables (red & white for the audio, yellow for the video signal).  According to the instructions this is just fine.  Keep in mind that I could play BluRay and DVD disks just fine, so I knew I was getting a signal from the unit to the TV.  Heck, if I didn't have that level of connectivity I wouldn't be seeing the error message.

Distressingly, a web-based answer to my problem was not forthcoming from Sony (at least not easily, as in showing up in the first hundred pages of search results). But there were pages and pages of links to the same garbage websites; answer farms existing solely to draw pay-per-click ad revenue.

So here's the point at which I'd like to share a couple observations regarding online troubleshooting of consumer electronics.  It's times like this when one realizes that, for all the faith we put in the internet and it's associated search and "answer" forums, I have come to the realization that these communities are mostly populated by people even more clueless than I about consumer electronics.  Following a search result to one of these online "help" forums was like taking a number and taking my place at the end of a long line of skeletonized corpses, each of whom holding a number lower than mine.  I was the Ancient Mariner, mocked by echoes of my own question, left by others who had each in turn succumbed to plentiful but useless advice.  Did any of these who came before me find their solution?  For it was not to be found on those forums.

Anyway, those offering "solutions" invariably suggested one of the following things:

  1. Unplug, wait, and replug.  The logic being (and there is some truth to this based on the Sony BDP-S580's setup regimen) that the unit will reestablish it's "default" video settings based on whatever video sources are used to connect the Blu-Ray player to the TV upon such a "cold start".  Despite being a logical suggestion, I had already tried it and it didn't fix the problem.
  2. Adjust the Video Settings from the menu.  Dude, the guy that asked the question said he couldn't access the menu, and your advice is to go adjust the settings from the menu?  Seriously?
  3. Get an HDMI cable.  Perhaps the most grating of all the useless advice spewed by the minions of Cap'n Obvious, the "just get an HDMI cable" advice usually came with a condescending, pedantic, and overwrought introduction to the wonders of HDMI and HDMI cables, what HDMI sockets look like, the relative cost benefits of different brands of HDMI cables ... never mind that none of this is relevant to someone that doesn't have an HDMI-compatible television.
  4. Re-flash the firmware, or variations on the theme.  Again, there's some truth to this one but (a) you can't update the software on the Blu-Ray player without access to the menu and (b) regarding some of the more extreme approaches suggested to do an end-run around a supposedly corrupted files hard-coded into player memory ... sorry, but when your avatar is some manga chick you're not going to convince me to void my warranty by hot-flashing the CMOS on my Blu-Ray player.

So I had Googled, troubleshooted, and Googled again, to no avail.  Finally, caving to the bane of all men who purchase consumer electronics, I was forced to face the possibility that finding the answer to my question required a slightly more arcane approach...

RTFM.  Read The Furry Manual.  Lo and behold, there was the answer, simple as could be:

The Solution - Just Push Stop

Press and hold the "STOP" button (little square) on the player itself for more than 10 seconds.  If you cannot count to 10 (or are real bad at estimating seconds) just keep holding it - evenually the screen will "reset" and that's when you know you're done holding the button.

That's it.  A marathon "press-and-hold" does the trick.  My only question becomes why I didn't figure this out from the manual before wasting all my time searching out an answer on the internet.  Let's Google that....

Air mattress

From the "got to laugh to keep from crying" files... something to add to the list of universal truths along with "water flows...