AUTOSTAR SUITE USER FEEDBACK
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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 (rseymour@wolfenet.com)
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

And:

From:	Chris (chrisnlucy@xs4all.nl)
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.

And:

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

And:

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.

And more:

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

And:

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

And:

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. 

And:

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

And:

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 (chrisnlucy@xs4all.nl)
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 (rseymour@wolfenet.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

And:

From:	sales@barnhartprinting.com
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:	sales@barnhartprinting.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, Ohio
Mike here: Try changing the screen resolution.
Subject:	ds-2114
Sent:	Wednesday, October 8, 2008 14:17:01
From:	Jim (roadkilled@verizon.net)
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,

Jim
Mike 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).

And:

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 (ginturrisi@comcast.net)
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 (ginturrisi@comcast.net)
Mike, thanks, I appreciate it.  I downloaded software, will try out on
Friday night.  Thank you!

GIGI

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