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When troubleshooting makes you want to drink

I normally enjoy troubleshooting computer problems; getting to the root of a problem and fixing it is normally a pretty good feeling. However, there are times when a problem hits that makes no logical sense that it makes you want to take up drinking to forget about it. Such is a problem that has hit me at work.

One of our teachers has some videos clips that were taken while she and some pupils were over in China attending a music festival. The clips are in MPG format, nothing fancy. Windows XP’s Media Player cannot play the file without a codec pack. VLC happens to be installed on all the computers, and staff know to use it to play back any media files or DVD’s. The teacher complained that VLC kept freezing when she tried to play the clips.

Originally, I went to the class and just upgraded VLC, which didn’t help. Then I tried clean install, removal of profile and hidden configuration files and so forth, none of which helped. The first clip would play, but when trying to open the next file, it wouldn’t open and the computer would enter a weird hanging state. The computer was usable, but you couldn’t log off, shut down or restart. Checking Task Manager revealed that the vlc.exe process was still running, but it couldn’t be killed. The SYSTEM process was running at a flat out 50% due to the crash.

Yesterday, I replaced the computer with an identical model, freshly imaged and patched, latest VLC as well. VLC will play any other video format fine, but the moment I started testing the MPG clips, the freezing behaviour returned. Based on this, I’ve narrowed the problem down to some sort of compatibility issue between Windows XP, VLC, the NVIDIA graphics drivers and that particular motherboard series. I’ve downloaded the latest NVIDIA drivers, which I will try updating to see if it helps. If not, I can try a codec pack, which is really my last port of call.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that when I asked my colleague to test the files, he was able to run them in VLC on his PC without issue.

Throughout this, I’ve become more annoyed with VLC than ever before. While I do appreciate it for what it is and what it does, I do wish the software was more stable. I prefer to use Windows Media Player 12 and a codec pack, it has given me less hassles over the years than one would expect from such a combination.

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