Friday, February 02, 2007

USB Headset and Card Reader On Linux

I used a Christmas gift certificate to pick up a couple of toys at BestBuy today. I bought a Logitech 250 USB Headset and a LaCie imatumi multi-card reader.

The Card Reader:

I needed the card reader since we bought little one a Disney Digital Camera which of course wasn't recognized by Ubuntu, so to get the pictures off of its SD card I figured I'd get a multi-card reader and that way I could also pull pictures from my Rebel XT's CompactFlash card.

There was no installation to speak of really. I plugged my USB cable into the back of the card reader (it didn't come with one) and it was immediately recognized. I tried it with my Canon's CF card and it placed an icon on the desktop labeled "EOS_DIGITAL". Also, the normal Gnome dialog box asking me if I wanted to import the photos appeared immediately. Very slick. I also checked if F-Spot would see the card reader and it did without a hitch as well. I haven't done much with it yet so I can't comment on the speed, but it seemed to work fine.

The USB Headset:

I bought this with the intention of possibly doing some more screencasting. The second Inkscape screencast I posted on YouTube has generated almost 300 views and several positive comments. Quite gratifying actually. ;)

Anyways, based on some prior reading in the ubuntu forums, I didn't set my hopes too high on the Logitech USB Headset being recognized and fully functional. Then again, you are going to find mostly problematic stories on a help forum now aren't you.

I decided to shut the machine down, plug in the headset and restart. Upon login, I checked the device manager and sure enough the headset was there - nice. Next, I double clicked the speaker icon on the Gnome panel to check that the input levels were not muted and set to full. Firing up Audacity, there seemed to be some background sound but not coming from the headset mic. Turns out the old analog mic I had used the last time was still plugged in! Ripped that out and checked again. Still no audio showing up in Audacity... hmmm.

I then checked the Edit->Preferences in Audacity and under the Audio I/O setting, I saw a dropdown list for recording devices showing /dev/dsp and /dev/dsp1. I changed it from the former to the latter and voila! The sound of my silky smooth voice (okay...not so smooth, and more like polyester than silk) showed up on the meter and played back with surprisingly little background noise.

I then tried recording a quick screencast using ffmpeg (see my post about doing that back here) and soon realized it wasn't recording any sound. I checked the ffmpeg documentation and found that there is a switch which you can use to set the audio capture device. So I added "-ad /dev/dsp1" and presto chango I now had a screencast with nice clean audio.

Problems? Yes. I can't seem to get normal audio (mp3 playback etc.) to come through the headphones. While Audacity and ffmpeg will playback my recordings through the headphones, I can't get gxine, xmms, moc, or anything else to play back sound through them. I've posted about it on the ubuntu forums so hopefully this one will be solved soon.

Also, the recording levels in Audacity are set at max but the sound, while clear, is too low. The same thing for ffmpeg. I can't seem to find a setting in ffmpeg where I can set the audio levels. In terms of screencasts, I might be able to amplify the audio track in post processing, but it would be nice to get the levels up from the start.

I'm also interested in capturing my daughter's voice for posterity. Where my uncle used a leather cased cassette recorder 30 odd years ago to capture mine, I'd like to capture some of my daughter as well and getting the recording levels up in Audacity is pretty much required for that.

All in all, I'm very happy with the purchase (after only spending one evening with them) . I was able to set them up easily and they function as expected. Who knows, you might even see another screencast from me in the near future. ;)

Oh, I almost forgot. I was surrounded by Vista boxes while I was in there today. Vista here, Vista there, Vista everywhere! Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a VHS-looking case with a rounded corner! I didn't realize but the (cue monster-truck announcer voice) ULTIMATE edition was $499.00 CAD !! Yikes! I should have went in there and left a dozen Ubuntu CD's lying around on the shelves just for fun. ;)


Brad Kellett said...

You should most definitely leave the Ubuntu CDs, that would be hilarious. Take some photos of it, I would love to see ;)