Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How to test and repair your multimedia

Windows uses a system of software for handling multimedia that it calls “DirectX”. DirectX is responsible for how video is displayed, 3D graphics are drawn, and how music is played. Because of this, it is responsible for how your computer games appear on your screen (as well as other things). If you are experiencing sluggish performance, oddly drawn shapes (or bizarre colors), or other ‘glitches’ when using media files, a good place to start troubleshooting is to run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool — a built in feature most folks are not aware of.

Tip of the day: Use the DirectX Diagnostic Tool to optimize your computer’s multimedia functionality. To access the tool, open a Run dialogue window by clicking Start >Run (Vista users may have to click Start >Programs, and scroll down to find Run). Now type in “dxdiag” (no quotes).
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Then click OK. You will next see a dialogue window which asks if you want to allow Windows to go online so it can compare your installed device drivers with Microsoft Labs’ Hardware Quality approval list (known as the WHQL).

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(This screenshot is from a Vista machine, older versions look different.) Unless you have gone out and downloaded special device drivers — that may not be on the WHQL yet — I recommend answering “Yes”.
Click on OK, as necessary, to proceed.

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As you can see, the DirectX Diagnostic tool provides a lot of information and has many sub-areas where you can run tests and apply ‘tweaks’. It lists your hardware configuration, the DirectX files installed, and has separate tabs for Display, Sound, Music, and Input (devices).
Pick the tab appropriate to the area you are experiencing the odd behavior in… for my example, I’m going to test/troubleshoot the 3D rendering ability of my graphics (adapter). I’ve clicked on the Display tab. Now I look in the bottom window, labeled “Notes”. As my screenshot shows, there is no glaring problem the tool has noted (such as a missing file), but to really test the system I need to run a diagnostic — this is done by clicking a “test the xxxx” button.
Since I’m troubleshooting 3D rendering, I click on the “Test Direct3D” button. Now the DirectX Diagnostic Tool will run actual performance tests (on my display, in this case) and ask you about the results after each one.
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In the case of 3D, the display will blink out, and then a green cube will spin around, and afterwards I am asked, “did I see a spinning green cube? Yes / No?” (Your tests may be different, depending on which aspect you are troubleshooting, but the process is the same.)

Hopefully, the tests will run and you will be able to answer “Yes” to each one (though, this may lead to further troubleshooting, using different tools) and you will know that your multimedia foundation — DirectX — is working as it should.

If you answer “No” to any test, make a note of the “Error code” number displayed in the “Notes” window. This error code can be a key for problem resolution. Now click on the “More Help” tab.

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Now click on the button appropriate to your trouble: “Troubleshoot” for graphics, and “Sound” for music and sound-effects.
Now the Windows Help and Support tool will open to the relevant troubleshooting page, and it will walk you through a series of questions that will point you to the proper action to take. {Note: the Help and Support service must be enabled, and “Started” in your Services. For steps on how to enable or disable Services, click here.}
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In my hypothetical 3D graphics scenario, I would select the fifth radio button and click “Next”. Continue answering the H&S questions, and follow its suggestions. You will be surprised how often this will resolve your troubles.

Today’s free link: If you’re like me and have a hard time remembering all the things on your “to do” list, sign up at the online “life organizer” site Remember the Milk and access your to do list from practically anywhere… and never forget the milk again.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 12, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, Gaming, hardware, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to capture screenshots

Today I will answer a reader question whose answer you may find useful, in the (hopefully familiar) Q’s and their A’s format.

Q: What program do you use to get the nice pictures of things on your screen?
A: To “capture” the menus and dialogue windows (etc.) and post them into Tech–for Everyone, I could use any of the many screen capture programs on the market (some are freeware, even), but I don’t. I use a tool that has been a part of Windows for a very long time… and you can too. I refer to the much ignored MS Paint.

It is a very good idea to get into the habit of capturing error messages — granted they often disappear quite quickly — as they will greatly assist a Tech Support person (such as myself) to diagnose and repair your trouble as, believe it or not, those bizarre codes actually do (sometimes) tell us something important. I have yet to encounter a client who could repeat to me, verbatim, the content of the message he saw before his program stopped working and his computer rebooted.

The trick to capturing the things appearing on your screen is a keyboard key in the upper-right (usually on the topmost row) labeled Prnt Scrn. (The Print Screen key seems to me to be a bit mislabeled.. when I see “print”, I think “printer”.) This “captures” an image of your screen which can be pasted into a document.. or graphics application.
I usually don’t want a snapshot of the whole screen, but just an open window (or dialogue), so I hold down the right-hand Alt key in combination with the Prnt Scrn key. This “captures” only the ‘active’ window.

Then I open Paint, which is found in the Accessories folder (Start >Programs >Accessories) and hit Ctrl+V to paste the screenshot.
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If I want only a portion of capture, I use the rectangle tool to draw around the area the area I want, and hit Ctrl+C (Copy), and then open a new instance of Paint and hit Ctrl+V to paste the rectangle’s area. In the example above, I have done this to capture a very small and select area of my Desktop.
Sometimes, hitting the Alt key makes items on my screen go away before I can capture them — such as context menus. In that case, I capture the whole screen with Prnt Scrn and then use the rectangle tool to grab the area I want.

Other times, and this seems to occur quite a bit with pop-open warning dialogues, the capture method described above fails to grab the appropriate window. In these instances, the trick to capturing the pop-open Error Notification is the Copy command— Ctrl+C (not Alt+Prnt Scrn). Then open Paint and hit Ctrl+V to paste.

One last tip: MS Paint, by default Saves the graphics you create in the bitmap format (.bmp). Some programs and some email accounts either don’t recognize or don’t allow .bmp’s (email in particular, because hackers have found ways to use bitmaps for evil purposes), and so instead of using the Save command, I use the Save As command which offers the option to save it as a TIFF, GIF, PNG, or JPEG. All the screenshots you have seen here are JPEGs.

Today’s free link: I have mentioned this program before, but it has been recently updated and enhanced, and fits in nicely with today’s topic. If you would like a much more capable graphics tool than Paint, without paying for Adobe, get the top rated IrfanViewer. It does much more than “view”!

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Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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October 27, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment