Last updated: 23 October 2008
This page is for user comments and information specific to the Meade AutoStar Suite. If you have any comments, suggestions, questions or answers to questions posed here, e-mail them to me and I'll post them. Please use an appropriate Subject Line on your message. Thanks. (The Lunar Planetary Imager, LPI, and Deep Sky Imager, DSI, are covered in the Helpful Information - Astrophotography area.)
Subject: re: ETX125AT Computer Control Problems Sent: Monday, October 20, 2008 09:24:29 From: richard seymour (firstname.lastname@example.org) You didn't -specifically- say which "Handbox 'equivalent'" you are using, but i'll assume it's Meade's AutostarSuite Remote Handbox application (with the menu tree in the left pane). That is the version i will be talking about later as RemHbx. If you have updated to v5 of Autostar Suite, there is now -also- a remote handbox as an integral part of the StarMap program (but without a menu tree display). I have not fully investigated the command stream that that program uses (yet). If you wish to compare that to another program, Andrew Johansen's PEC Editor also has a remote handbox. Fetch the Beta from: http://members.optusnet.com.au/johansea Things to try: first, Meade's RemHbx uses -different- protocol for the slew keys than all of the rest of the keys. For everything -but- the slew keys, they send a command to the Autostar that says "the XX key was pressed", and (for some) "the XX key was released". But for the slew keys, they use the "old" serial commands for "slew E/W/N/S at the current speed". And the telescope starts moving. When you release the "slew key", the RemHbx sends a "stop!" command. If that -stop- command is lost, the scope keeps moving. The way to stop it is to tap the slew key -again-. That sends a "slew", but then it sends another -stop-. For the entire problem, get into the Windows ControlPanel System/Hardware/DeviceMAnager/COM Port and change the FIFO buffering to "off". That frequently helps with the short (one to 4 characters) bursts used by RemHbx. The USB adapter i recommend is the Keyspan USA-19HS (think "high speed" as a memory helper). The "adapter doesn't work" syndrome is highly variable. For some, serial commands like you are using work, but downloads of firmware invariably fail. For some, they never make a connection. For some, turning off the FIFO (as above) solves it. If the wire to the telescope is over 25 feet (8 meters) long, then you want to make sure it is using thick enough conductors for the purpose, and that there is not too much voltage drop (although rs232 is particularly good at -not- being sensitive to reasonable drop). good luck --dick
From: Chris (email@example.com) Thank you both (Mike and Dick) for your very prompt response to my control problem enquiry. Dick, your more detailed explanation and help is very informative and useful. The "Handbox Equivalent" is indeed that from Meade's Autostar Suite which is still Version 3.23 though the Envisage.exe programme is Version 7.03 which came on the CD with my recently purchased DSI Pro. I tried switching the FIFO buffering on the COM port (incidentally I had to select port 9 before I could get any useful communication and I'm sure this shouldn't be so but I am practically totally ignorant of the detailed workings of serial ports among many other PC functions to know why!!) and this did appear to improve slewing operation significantly but control still did occasionally "stick" and most of the other button clicks via the software handbox remained stubbornly intermittent. One other feature which makes this situation hazardous for remote (and 'blind') operation is that the Alt-Az angle displays on the software handbox do not keep adequate pace with actual motion. One consequence of this is that if a slew operation 'sticks' this cannot be seen from the angular displays so there is no guide to indicate the need for a 'double' click though for centring, aligning and fine adjustments I favour the "tapping" approach to slewing - even with the physical handbox. I plan to check Andrew Johansen's PEC Editor remote handbox to see if that might meet my needs but perhaps the bottom line is that I should buy the Keyspan USA-19HS adapter! I assume from all that has been said and written about this particular problem and the use of different makes of USB-Serial adapters is that the Keyspan model works while many others don't to a variety of different degrees. If, in a properly working set-up, none of the difficulties I have experienced, in particular those I have mentioned in my set-up, occur with the Keyspan adapter it would seem the obvious next step for me is to buy one! Incidentally, the length of the RS232 cable is just that of the 1 or 1.5 meter cable supplied with the telescope. The leads from this, the USB leads from LPI and DSI to the Trust 4-port powered hub (I described it as a 'splitter' in my original E-mail) are reasonably short (the USB leads are in fact 3 meters long as I found the 1.5 meter versions were a bit too short to allow adequate "wrap around" as the telescope is slewed). This is that part of my set-up, outside close to the telescope. From there (i.e. my balcony at the rear of my house) to the shed below where I plan to do most of my observing, I need a further 8 meters of USB lead. This is where I use the Aten 5 M extender, which incorporates an amplifier, with a further 3 M passive USB lead at the PC end in the shed to reach the PC USB port. The Aten specs claim that up to 4 of the 5 M extensions can be connected in series, providing 'full' speed operations over the 20 M total length. I hope my 'reduced' set provides adequate performance. When I was exploring the problem of the USB 5 volt level at the outputs of the Trust hub, I made a few measurements on the data rate by transferring a large file of about 500 MBytes from a USB memory stick to and from the Dell Notebook PC via the Trust hub 5 M + 3 M extensions. The rate was about 20 MBytes/second, probably limited by the USB memory rather than the extensions. This was a simple check but the data was a single large file of video and the transferred files all 'worked' when played, suggesting non-corrupted transfers and maybe no errors! I believe only the picture files from the DSI may need this kind of rate and that the control signals needed will be executed OK so long as the correct priorities and protocols are used and work properly. I hope some of the above is of interest and use to others and once again thank you for your much appreciated assistance, Dick. Mike, I don't know how you can manage such a super site and still have the time to live and enjoy life! It has taken me several ours just to put this E-mail together! Kind regards, Chris Connor.
Given that length of cable and associated hardware, have you tried connecting the USB-to-serial adapter -directly- to your PC and testing scope control? (bring the scope indoors). Does -that- (short, direct) hookup -also- lose control? USB is not a guaranteed error-free system. When a camera is sending a raster line, it grabs the USB system and synchronously sends bytes. If other devices are trying to get the bus, they can't. If an image loses a bit, it only "appears" as a slight change in grey levels. I would assume (but don't know) that the USB memory stick many send error messages and checksums back and forth to guarantee data quality. But a serial port is a one-shot.. if it drops or mangles the character heading towards the scope, you'll never know (without monitoring the scope-end messages). And it will not retry the transmission, because receiving -two- characters at the far end, when you only sent one, would also be very very wrong/bad. So it may -not- be the USB-to-serial adapter's fault, it could be the environment it's being asked to operate in. Also, the Meade cables (and RJ-to-DB9 adapter) are sometimes flakey. I'm still not fully clear on which "handbox equivalent" you are using. Is it "Remote Handbox" with the menu tree displayed on the left side of the screen? have fun --dick
Thank you again, Mike and Dick for such prompt responses! I will certainly keep you informed of my progress, hopefully positive, as I pursue my objectives and I am already checking how best I can buy the Keyspan adapter. The "Handbox Equivalent" I referred to is the programme "AutoStarCtrl.exe" in the CDRom Autostar Suite which came with my recently purchased DSI Pro III and bears the same name and looks and behaves just the same as that in the Autostar Suite which came more than 2 years ago with my LPI. The Autostar Suite is still version 3.23 in both CDRoms though Envisage is Version 7.03 on the DSI 2008 CDRom but Version 5.85 on the LPI CDRom from 2005-2006. I am not aware of any other Meade "Handbox" pieces of software though I believe there are several 3rd party pieces of software which do provide varying degrees of telescope control. Both versions of Envisage provide, in addition, limited slew and focus capabilities though the later version offers further slew rates by 'sliding' the pointer over the button - a feature so far I was unable to get to work very well! Dick, I will check the system without the USB extensions. Most of my checks are indoors in my attic with the telescope on its tripod in Alt-Az terrestrial target mode. There is a convenient church spire about 350 M distant which provides a reasonable target for aligning viewfinder to main optics, calibrating motors, training drives etc. and I duplicated the USB extension cable set-up indoors to make these checks and adjustments much more comfortable! However, while I have read several times on the ETX site the multitude of problems many users have experienced there must be some (including yourself, Dick) who have succeeded in doing what I am trying to do. If the RS 232 serial interface is so "fragile" how do those who have succeeded arrange their set-ups? I will try to verify that the RJ-to-DB9 and serial interface cables are not to blame e.g. by substitution and continuity checks but I am more inclined to the belief the problem lies with the USB-serial adapter based on all the correspondence on the ETX site so I believe purchasing the Keyspan should be done as quickly as possible in addition to any of the other checks and trials. My problems can only get worse if the Keyspan does NOT resolve, at least largely, the present difficulties. I don't give up easily so I'll just have to try something else and with the help of your good selves I am confident success will eventually be achieved. I am already aware that I should not expect too much from my system though I would like to reach a level of success which will result in photographs comparable to those on the site and elsewhere on the internet taken using the same or similar and often even 'lesser' equipment than I have! I will certainly keep you informed of both successes and failures while I hope you will not object to further questions as needed as I believe my problems are not unique and hopefully others will benefit from the discussions as well as the successes and failures revealed. Thank you again and Kind regards, Chris Connor.Mike here: There are indeed many applications (Mac, Windows) that can control an AutoStar controlled telescope. Checkout ScopeDriver and Astroplanner for a couple of low-cost but excellent ones. See the Accessory Reviews: Software page.
Chris wrote: >... The "Handbox Equivalent" I referred to is the programme > "AutoStarCtrl.exe" That is the program i refer to as "Remote Handbox" If you visit -this- page: http://www.meade.com/support/downloads.html The version 5 update of Autostar Suite is on the right. From that package, Envisage identifies itself as v5.85 My AutostarSuite star map identifies itself as version 5.0 From that top menu, you have -two- "remote handboxes" accessible. One is under the Telescope/Protocol/Remote Handbox (and is AutoStarCtrl.exe) The -new- "handbox" is under Telescope/Hand Control Panel In previous versions, that was a simple slew control, without the display of the Autostar. Now it's a simplified "remote". Perhaps -it- won't "run away" like the full RemoteHandbox. I haven't tried to operate RemoteHandbox through a USB hub, or at the end of a long repeated USB system. I run the camera and USB/serial through two distinct ports on my laptop. have fun --dick
Oh, good grief... i just connected "PortMon" to the "new" handbox ... and they have the "stop slewing" -backwards- (although it doesn't matter). If you press the "slew left" key, it sends :Me# (Move East). But when you -release- it, it sends :Qw# (Quit Westward motion) Likewise, a west slew is "stopped" with :Qe# At least the North/South keys match their :Mn# with :Qn# and :Ms# with :Qs# (as they should) Also of note is that, when you dismiss the handbox, it sends a full set of Quits: :Q#:Qn#:Qs#:Qw#:Qe#:FQ# (that's Quit all directions, quit each direction, quit the focuser). have fun --dick
Hi, Dick, Thank you once more for your input. I had thought the 'new' CD-ROM which came with the DSI Pro would have the latest software - wrong! I've downloaded Autostar Suite Version 5.00 and see that the AutoStarCtrl.exe programme has been significantly changed, with more control buttons added for speed selection and a Bk & Fwd control added but I haven't tried it with my scope yet. I note your point about the slewing quit command- I assume that bug should be corrected in the next update! Oddly, though, the version of Envisage which came (this morning) with the downloaded Autostar Suite V 5.00 is only version 4.0! On the same Meade page you pointed me to the latest Envisage version is available, version 7.05 (compared to the version 7.03 on my 'new' DSI Pro III CD-ROM which has only version 3.23 of the Autostar Suite!). I can see the problems excalating and the need for action with them but in time we'll see what emerges - and I am having fun, Dick! Kind regards, Chris.
I should expand on "doesn't matter": If the scope is slewing -either- east or west, then -either- Quit command will stop it. So an eastward slew -will- be stopped by a "Quit West" command. This is true for both ETX (497) Autostars and Autostar II's on the big scopes. have fun --dick
I just tried the updated to version 5.0 of the Autostar Suite with the new Handbox (AutoStarCtrl.exe) from both the Telescope Protocol route and directly from the programme list in the suite (I believe they are the same just linked differently). The performance with my ETX 125 set-up, including the long USB with both DSI Pro III and the LPI through the Trust hub along with the Sweex USB-serial adapter to the telescope and I found control much better though not flawless. Using the Mode command I could cycle through the menu options practically at will, the scroll keys also worked better and all 9 speeds to slew the telescope worked OK. The residual flaws are that the angle readouts did not always follow fast enough and occasionally using the Mode control resulted in continuous scrolling which was difficult to stop even using the physical hand controller. Also a slew keypress sometimes still resulted in continuous motion when released until a second keypress and release was made but in all, much less than with the earlier version of AutoSuiteCtrl.exe. It's almost good enough to tempt me outside for a remote operational test! Kind regards, Chris C.
Subject: ETX125AT Computer Control Problems Sent: Sunday, October 19, 2008 11:13:25 From: Chris (firstname.lastname@example.org) This is the first time I have submitted a question to your site - a truly informative source for ETX and many other telescope users for which you deserve the maximum commendations! Now to my problem; I have been struggling for more than 2 years now to set up remote PC operation of my ETX 125AT. The main problem I encounter now (there are several others but I'll leave these out for now) is that while the #497 controller works fine the Handbox "equivalent" on the PC does not, in the following respects: - Clicking on a button does NOT always work properly e.g. clicking Mode often appears to do nothing, setting the slew speed seems to work OK but clicking a slew direction button may not do anything or it may work apparently properly but worst of all it may "stick" so when released the telescope continues slewing - extremely hazardous for remote operation. This same characteristic applies to most of the button clicks so I wonder if this indicates a USB-Serial adapter problem. I have tried 2 models (a Sitecom model CN-104 V2 and a Sweex CD 003) both of which appeared to work but both suffer from the above problems. I know for years now you have indicated that not all adapters work, while indicating the Keyspan (model USA-19HC or similar?) does do the job. I initially interpreted this as meaning other makes simply fail to communicate at all but perhaps the "failures" are more subtle leading to problems like mine! Perhaps you or Dick Seymour could comment. I have invested quite some time, money and effort over the years to complete my set-up. I wish to operate the telescope from a mount I constructed in the corner of an outside balcony of my house from which Polaris can be viewed for Polar aligning but which makes it impractical to use for eye viewing, so I have recently interfaced an LPI to a viewfinder objective and coupled the output to a line-powered USB splitter (recently found to require 6 volt DC regulated input to ensure the near 5 volt switching level, at the required current drawn, for the LPI, DSI and 5-meter USB amplifier buffered extension I need). My recently purchased DSI Pro III output is, as stated, also connected to the USB splitter so I can select LPI for remote wide field viewing and the DSI for astrophotography and remote viewing in general, using Autostar suite with Envisage and the remote Handbox software, from the comfort of a heated shed! The success of all of this is jeopardised, of course, by the "intermittent" behaviour of the computer control of the telescope. Do think these problems can be resolved if I purchase and use a Keyspan adapter and is there a specific model recommended for the purpose? In case it useful or relevant to a response, I will list the appropriate parts of my set-up: ETX 125 AT (line powered via a 13.7v "car battery eliminator"). Meade LPI connected as viewfinder scope DSI Pro III as main telescope output Trust USB 4-port powered splitter (the USB-Serial adapter, LPI and DSI are coupled to this via 1.5 meter USB cables) Sweex CD 003 USB-Serial adapter Aten Model UE-250, buffer-amplifier, USB 5-meter extender (whose input is the Trust USB splitter). I also need a 3-meter additional passive USB extension cable, from the 5-M extender output in my shed, to reach the PC USB port. The PC is a Dell Inspiron Notebook 6400 (1.6 MHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD) running MS Windows XP with SP 2. I have not yet upgraded the Autostar as delivered (August 2006) which runs Version 3.4Ed of the software (I hope that is not contributing to the "intermittent" computer control!). Comments are very welcome from anyone, particularly if they help in resolving this specific difficulty. I am only too well aware of many other "difficulties" that have yet to be resolved before I can achieve one of my 'retirement' dreams of studying our universe! I'm sure further questions will follow! Kind regards to all, Chris Connor (Resident in The Netherlands)Mike here: First, not all USB-serial adapters work reliably with the AutoStar. I've found that Keyspan is the best; others are discussed in the article "AutoStar and USB" on the Helpful Information: AutoStar Info page. Whether that or some serial port conflict (typically fax or model software) is the problem, hard to say. Second, for reliable USB communications you may need to use a powered USB 2.0 hub as part of your USB extension.
Subject: re: Autostar - PC connection Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 22:01:58 From: richard seymour (email@example.com) Another thing to try (at least if it was Windows XP) would be to change the "theme" of the desktop to the Windows standard. One cause of the "black menu" screen is the font being black characters on a black background. (re)setting the Theme back to normal (even though i was -running- the normal theme) corrected that symptom on my laptop. good luck --dick
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Changing the Windows display theme back to "Windows Classic" did the trick. All is working well now. Thanks a lot for the help. John
Subject: Autostar - PC connection Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 06:07:26 From: email@example.com When I connect my ETX-125 to a PC using Autostar suite and control the scope with the "handbox" feature, the information display window on the PC is blank (black). It is supposed to display the same data that shows in the Auostar display window. I'm running Windows Vista on my notebook, using a Belkin Serial to USB connection device. I have the latest update on the Autostar and version 5 Autostar Suite. Has anyone run into this? Can you help me correct it.? Thanks, John Waechter Canton, OhioMike here: Try changing the screen resolution.
Subject: ds-2114 Sent: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 14:17:01 From: Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org) Hi. I just purchased the DS-2114 (at Sam's). I seem to have it set up to look at moon, manually. I have the AutoStar Suite Software and Installation Disk It came with the cable to connect from the telescope to the pc. Instructions are not here to use this software/computer. Can you help me? Thank you, JimMike here: Check the CD-ROM. I thought the manual was there. If not, check the Meade manuals page (http://www.meade.com/manuals/index.html).
Thank you very much Jim
Subject: RE: meade autostar suite astronomers edition not Vista compatible Sent: Sunday, October 5, 2008 06:01:19 From: Gigi (email@example.com) Mike - You're the greatest. It works, and I thank you very much for all your help. GIGI
Subject: RE: meade autostar suite astronomers edition not Vista compatible Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 22:53:36 From: Gigi (firstname.lastname@example.org) Mike, thanks, I appreciate it. I downloaded software, will try out on Friday night. Thank you! GIGI
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