Sony DCR-HC26 Firewire Port Problem: An Update

Some time ago now, I wrote a post about some problems I was experiencing with the transfer of Mini-DV video from my Sony Handycam through a Firewire cable to my computer.

sony_dcr_hc26_camcorder

The offending device

I had no idea how common a problem this seems to be.  Since posting about my struggles with the camera, that post and posts about my adventures with a Craftsman Lawn Tractor seem to have generated an awful lot of traffic to the site.  My camera still isn’t working, but I now think I know why.  It occurred to me that an update might help someone else with similar technical problems teetering on the precipice of a murderous rage.

It would appear that the problem in my particular case is the Firewire (IEEE 1394) port on the side of the camera.  A close examination of the pins inside the port suggests that somehow one or more of the pins that are supposed to make contact with the IEEE 1394 cable have come off.  The port needs to be replaced.

Since the camera warranty is long expired, and I didn’t purchase the extended warranty offered by the retailer, I’m on my own.  When I spoke with folks at the Future Shop about getting repairs done, they suggested that it would make more sense to buy a new camera.  I’m not ready to go that route just yet, partly because this is already my second Mini-DV camera – the first was a JVC model (GL something or other, I think) that stopped functioning consistently just shortly before Spouse and I were married – it has developed the dreaded E04 Safeguard Mode error, which (according to teh Intarwebs) is a common and apparently lethal affliction for JVC camcorders.

The thing is I have a LOT of material on a number of Mini-DV tapes that I need to be able to access.

The immediate solution I’m going to attempt is to replace the port – or the circuit board on which it’s mounted – myself.  Madness, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not – I found the service manual for the camera at servicemanuals.net and – for a fee of about $15 – downloaded a copy.   Now I have a schematic of how the camera comes apart, and (more importantly) how it goes back together.  I plan to study it carefully before attempting the dissassembly. I also need to do a little research to find out how much the replacement part or parts will cost, but I don’t expect to be spending more than fifty or sixty bucks.

I will try to remember to post an update on what’s going on with the repair.

In the meantime, if you are experiencing the same sort of problem, my research on the Net suggests that you should:

  • test the Firewire cable by connecting another camcorder to it (borrow one from a friend if you have to)- if your operating system immediately detects a camcorder, the problem is with your camcorder, not the cable or computer;
  • only connect the camera to the computer when the AC power supply – not the battery – is powering the camcorder.  There is some evidence out the problem may occur more frequently when transferring when the camera is powered by battery alone;
  • make sure that the “USB streaming” option (in the camera menu) is turned OFF – if this setting is turned on, the camera will not send video through the Firewire port, even when a Firewire cable is attached.  Remember, the camera will transfere data either by USB or by Firewire, but not both.   I strongly recommend that you choose to use Firewire for all video transfer anyway because the USB transfer is lower resolution video;  it has fewer pixels and a lower frame rate, and looks kind of like a crappy webcam. Also, the audio transferred is mono instead of stereo;
  • be sure that your camera is set to the “playback”, rather than “camera” mode (though really, it should work in both configurations.  Mine used to work regardless of which mode the camera was in);
  • if none of the above suggestions fixes the problem, try experimenting with the order in which you are connecting the camera, firing up your software, etc.  Try commencing playback on the camera first, then connecting the Firewire cable, then starting your software, then beginning the video capture.  If that sequence doesn’t work, try connecting the cable first, then powering up the software and THEN commencing playback, etc.

One more thing – several of the various video forums I combed looking for solutions to the problem had threads in which people were complaining that their camera wasn’t functioning because it didn’t display a “DV Out” message when the Firewire cable was plugged in.   Be aware that the camera does NOT and shouldnot display this message.  If you’re waiting for those words to appear on your little LCD screen, you’ll be waiting a long time because they don’t appear when the camera is functioning properly.  The “DV In” message is simply meant to convey to the user that the camera is receiving DV-related information from the computer to which its attached;  all camcorders with Firewire ports are “DV Out” enabled – that’s what the port is for. Not all cameras, however, are designed to receive control signals from the computer (mostly tape transport instructions like fast forward, rewind etc.)   If you’re seeing the “DV In” message and your camcorder isn’t transferring video over the IEEE 1394 cable you’ve got connected to it, there is nothing wrong with the cable – the camera is receiving information from the computer.  My immediate suspicion is that you need to disable the USB streaming feature in order to START streaming via Firewire.

Wish me luck, I’ll keep y’all posted.

13 comments to Sony DCR-HC26 Firewire Port Problem: An Update

  • mom

    umm…reminds me of a typewritter that you left fully unasembled. Leaving someone to pick it up and move it from the top of the garbage pail. Good luck

  • I KNEW someone was going to mention the typewriter incident! For the record, the typewriter was ON TOP OF the garbage pail (announcing, to all the world, that it was in fact garbage – at least the way I saw it) when I decided to take it apart to see how it worked. I never had any intention of putting it back together, which would explain the use of the hammer during dis-assembly.

  • If your repairs are not fruitful, but I have every bit of faith they will be, you can certainly always borrow my camera. I believe you are familiar with it. 🙂

  • Steve

    I have the same exact problem with the same exact camera! It used to capture through Firewire and then it stopped! Please let me know if you find a solution!

  • @Steve:

    Thanks for stopping by the site. I haven’t yet attempted the repair – need to make sure I do it when there’s a generous block of time available – but I will definitely post an update to the site when I give it a whirl.

    In the meantime, if you’ve gone through the list in the above post, check the port to see whether you can see any damage to the contacts.

    Be sure to let ME know if you find a solution! 😉

  • Joe

    My daughter recorded over a tape that I had copied to a DVD using a Sony DVDirect(VRD-MC5).
    I have a firewire card in my computer and wanted to try to record it back to a tape on the camcorder by playing it on the DVR on my computer. I have a 4-6 pin firewire cable. Will it work?
    I bought the VRC because I just wanted what was on the tape, not doing any editing. It works great, faster and easier than copying to the pc.

    Appreciate any help.

  • John

    Oh please post an update. I was stupid enough to jam the cable into the port on my camcorder and basically destroy pins 3 and 4. I have been contemplating an attempt at repairing the camcorder myself (the wife isn’t too enthusiastic with this possible endeavor as I was the one that broke it in the first place). Would love to hear what you find out. Thanks.

  • @John:

    First, thanks for stopping by.

    Second, I will definitely post an update once I give this a shot – but it’s going to be a couple of weeks at least before I’m going to have the block of time necessary to attempt this repair (which I am quite frankly prepared to admit well exceeds my technical capacity to achieve). I will post pictures and words about it when it happens, though. In the meantime, if you find a solution or attempt the repair, please let ME know what you find out. Also, you know that you can get video out of the camera using the USB port, right? It’s just not as high quality (either video or audio). In a pinch, though, it will do.

  • John

    You gotta love Vista…Vista doesn’t support streaming USB video. I have contacted Sony and they also confirmed that the only way to get the video off is to use Firewire. I did stream USB at one time on an XP machine and it was terrible. At this point I’m going to borrow a buddy’s camcorder (I’ll be a little more careful this time) and try to pull the video off. Hope all goes well for you when you do make the attempt at the repair.

  • Muthu

    Hi,

    I do have the same problem, let me know if you had any luck in fixing the problem.

    Thanks,
    Muthu

  • Kewl

    I have the same problem, any upates on your experiments yet ?
    Thanks 🙂

  • wilmon

    I have panasonic mini DV camera that used to communicate
    with PC thru firewire then stopped. I bought another camera.
    It communicated by firewire for 5 minutes then never since.

    What the hell is going on? I have tried everything !!!

  • @Kewl:

    Sorry, I haven’t had the chance to get the camera pulled apart just yet, I’ve been too busy with other projects. I expect to get started on this sometime in late July or early August. In the meantime, good luck with your own camera and please – let me know if you find a solution!

    @Wilmon: Your problem sounds to me like it’s on the computer end of the connection; all I can say is make sure you’ve got all the current drivers and be sure to experiment with the order of powering things up/connecting cables etc. That does sometimes make a difference, believe it or not.