The Serviceman

Today I had the opportunity to work on an LG DVD/VCD/DivX player. You see, my little nephew Eric had somehow managed to get two discs into it, and it would no longer display anything. Plugging it in would just make some motors whir. Now you’re probably thinking that this is one of those stories where a guy takes a look at a broken piece of consumer electronics for a family member and then regrets it. But it isn’t. I wasn’t too keen on looking at it because of how wrong these things can go, but I was surprised.

Getting the top off the case was easy: just three screws on the back and one on each side. And then came the first surprise: the thing was actually designed to be easy to service! There in front of me were the four circuit boards and drive mechanism. The boards all had component overlays with marked values. The connections between boards were all labelled. The mechanism was plainly exposed. Now this shouldn’t be a surprise – it would be nice if all DVD players were made like this. But in this age of disposable everything, a lot of equipment isn’t made to be fixed (Sony and Pioneer, I’m looking at you).

The first job was to get the two discs out. I removed the four screws holding the mechanism in place, but it was still being held in by the front panel. I didn’t want to unplug any cables or take the front panel off if I could avoid it, having had bad experiences in the past. But there was enough play in it to tilt the mechanism up, so I could push the tray out and slide the discs out. With the discs out, I was pleased to see that the lens didn’t appear to be scratched.

With the discs out, I crossed my fingers and powered it up (these DVD players have a guard over the laser, so there’s no interlock to defeat before you can get it to power up with the case off). But no joy. Still no video out, no display on the front panel and the motors just kept whirring.

This didn’t look good. I’d have to get the mechanism out to take a closer look, and that meant removing the front panel. There was one cable from the front panel to the display controller board. That was easy. The panel was held on with seven clips (three underneath, one on each side, and two on top holding it to the mechanism). I kept waiting for that sickening breaking sound as I removed each clip, but it never came. I had the front panel in my hand and nothing was broken! Now I could easily disconnect the two cables that go to the mechanism (one to the laser assembly and one to the loading mechanism), and lift the mechanism out.

Now I could see what had happened clearly: the tray was in the closed position (pushed in), but the rest of the mechanism was in the open position (laser head and drive motor dropped, tray cam out). This meant that the tray motor could spin all it liked, but the tray wasn’t going to move because the rack wasn’t contacting the sprocket. I could pull the tray out and push the actuator so that it could pull the tray in when I powered it up again.

So I screwed the mechanism back in, clipped the front panel back on, connected the three cables and held my breath as I powered it up. Yes! It pulled the tray in, the mechanism moved to the closed position, and it started spinning and focusing! Victory was mine! To make sure there wasn’t another problem lurking, I connected it to a TV and played a disc. Everything was fine, so I put the top case on, and congratulated myself on a job well done.

At the end of it, I had a sense of satisfaction, and my sister-in-law had a working DVD player instead of a lounge room decoration. But I couldn’t have helped thinking about what could have happened if I didn’t fix it. She could have taken it to the service centre; that would have cost her $45 for establishing the job and $45 for an hour (or part thereof) of the serviceman’s time – a total of $90. Considering that minimum cost (not to mention the possibility that it could cost a lot more), she probably would’ve just gone and spent $120 or so on a new one and thrown that one in the bin.

It’s sad that we’ve come to the point where people really are often better off throwing things out than getting them fixed. It’s just so wasteful. It’s also ironic that this cheap DVD player that’s often more cost-effective to replace seemed to be designed to be as easy on the serviceman as possible, especially when some far more expensive ones seem to be designed to make the serviceman’s hair turn grey.

This entry was posted on Friday, 16 November, 2007 at 9:30 pm and is filed under Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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