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Originally encoded on March 22nd, 2016 and published on March 24th
Ramping It Up, Finally
By 2016, it became clear that future presentations delivered through MiniDV and S-Video were a dead end. The low resolution and high fuzziness was interfering with the viewability of the videos. It's not so much of a big deal if you're just showing off a game or doing some other really basic thing with a computer, but when demonstrating some very niche, complex routines in a high resolution GUI, crispiness is everything.
My last "serious" video to use a MiniDV camcorder was a quick demo of a Palm Vx syncing with an iMac G3 through its IrDA port. It was recorded on January 26, 2016 and published the following day, marking the end of a longstanding era. Another video was intentionally recorded with a Video8 camcorder on March 19th, but any real videos after that would finally jump on the high definition bandwagon for good.
No more cheats with virtual machines, VNC, and plain old screenshots, gotta get the real deal now. The first step was getting another VGA capture solution in place, this time one that I could run with. I always knew I needed something that could capture text mode output, and some testimonies from others led me to getting a used AverMedia Game Broadcaster HD. I got it on February 17th and first gave it a spin with their own capture software specifically designed for the device.
The hardware was great! It got me roughly the same level of crispiness as the last StarTech capture card, at the same matching 800x600 resolution no less. But the software was total ass, felt like it was more a narcissistic display of AverMedia than a program to get the job done. I previously used a trial of XSplit, but thankfully a free and reliable alternative called OBS Studio existed. Immediately, that became my permanent solution for VGA captures and other such things.
There was still one other problem, though... how was I going to capture text mode output? The Game Broadcaster HD was still finicky with it much like all my other solutions up to that point. Often, it would just complain that my input is "out of range", but I found a different kind of cheat... one that would fool the capture card into accepting 70Hz text mode output!
It's actually really simple - all you have to do is feed the card some input at 640x480 at 60Hz. This could come from anything like a Windows GUI or just some program that's briefly loaded to set the video card to that mode for anything. I find that the easiest way to pull this off without anything on the hard disk is to boot to SYSLINUX with a simple VESA menu loaded. I used a leftover Debian setup CD here, but if you need something that'll work with a lot more systems, I recommend downloading a SliTaz boot floppy image and putting that on a floppy disk with RawWriteWin or dd.
I ran some test recordings on February 18th with the cheat in place, and BOOM! I had to cut out excess output in editing and there wasn't much I could do about the 640x350 POST screens, but 640x400 at 70Hz could now be captured dead center in the frame with the perfect resolution I needed! Surely at that point I was ready to press onward; I ran an installation of Windows NT Server the same day.
Around the same time, I got a MUCH better camera... well, it was actually a refurbished Galaxy S5, but I didn't use it for phone calls. I didn't need it for that, as I already had a super cheap, no bullshit VoIP plan tied to another telephone. I mainly got this in the hopes of circumventing those fucking phone verification things, but more importantly, to use as a high resolution video camera temporarily. The Galaxy S5's camera is great; it captures sharp images and has a built-in flashlight that can be activated to compensate for the low lighting in my bedroom.
Was the camera going to have much use in the way of VGA captures? Yes and no... it was very much a necessity for specific things, but mostly it provided eye candy as it recorded the front of the chassis to be synchronized with the VGA capture to amplify the immersiveness factor. A loud clap of the hands is all you need to create a solid point for aligning the two clips to perfect timing. Wow, it's actually a valid justification for vertical recording!
I still think it's a cool idea and I thought I would be running with it for a lot longer, but some time after this series completed, I abandoned this technique because I couldn't justify continuing to record a mostly stationary object for hours and racking up wasted gigabytes of precious storage in the process.
New Server Gear
...but I wasn't really satisfied with what I had for a server. IDE is a perfectly acceptable option for low-cost servers, and is much more approachable for novice users. The high end ones from back then used SCSI, though! Luckily, I had another great thrift run in the time between the first recording and the following one. I picked up three 68-pin SCSI hard drives from 2002 and another Adaptec 29160 PCI SCSI controller, as well as a number of other things I don't quite recall.
Of course I also wanted more "fast" computers to connect to the server, which is why I also picked up a 430HX motherboard online around the same time. It took me a while to get that fully usable as I had to replace the dead Odin (Dallas-like) RTC, which thankfully was socketed already. Once I got the replacement, I was ready to go on the client side of things.
Having accumulated sufficient hardware to really bring out the server in Windows NT, I made an attempt to reinstall this operating system, this time on the new 36GB SCSI drive. It's super loud, which may have to do with the bearings as well as it just being a 10,000 RPM hard drive, but it's fast. I already had some background knowledge of SCSI from the used tape drives I had, so what could go wrong?
The Installation Begins
Many Ultra160 SCSI controllers should be supported by Windows NT 4.0. If you're installing Windows NT to a SCSI hard drive, you absolutely must supply a driver for the controller, or it cannot install. Windows NT does not have a generic fallback 16-bit disk driver that goes through the BIOS like Windows 95 does. There is another gotcha to this: you have to press F6 right before Windows NT Setup starts loading drivers if you want to actually install Windows NT to the boot drive. Specifying "Other" after Setup detects known controllers will NOT let you install to a device on the newer controller when you load the driver; the driver loading only takes effect in the GUI portion of Setup.
Prior to Windows 2000, this critical information has never been provided upfront in the program. It's not an issue if you're using a standard onboard IDE controller or a known SCSI controller from 1996 or earlier, but not knowing ahead of time that you're supposed to do this is a great waste of five minutes at least!
When it comes to hard disk partition sizes, Windows NT 4.0 and earlier are horribly picky. Sure, half of that can be blamed on the inherent limitations of FAT16, but when it comes to NTFS, you're not much better off, either. The normal setup program limits NTFS partitions to 4GB in size, as it first has to create a FAT partition which is later converted to NTFS. The only official way to get Windows NT to create a larger NTFS partition is to run an unattended installation with a certain option defined in an answer file; basically, the FAT partition is created, converted to NTFS, and extended as far as possible... but even then, it's still only limited to something like 10GB or so.
FAT32 was introduced with support for much, much larger partitions for Windows 95 OSR2 right around the same time NT4 released. Why didn't NT4 get FAT32? I don't know, maybe they initially projected Windows NT 5.0 to release much sooner, or it was too cutting edge and not reliable enough... then again, so was NTFS at this point.
Unlike with Windows 9x, the graphical portion of Windows NT Setup doesn't kick in until the second boot. While still fundamentally different, this program does try to better resemble the Windows 95 installation process. There's not too much different between the installations of Windows NT Server and Workstation, only that the former asks for more information like if you want to set up a domain controller and how many client access licenses you have. (JUST SET IT TO 9999 LOL)
Installing a domain controller really isn't so difficult, especially with Windows NT 4.0 being much simpler than anything Active Directory-based. Although Hardcore Windows NT never covered this, domain controllers can come in handy even on a single user network where you're surrounded by so many computers. You can create a logon script, usually located at C:\WINNT\SYSTEM32\REPL\IMPORT, that automatically maps all the network drives you need and synchronizes the client's clock with the server's. This becomes especially rewarding in situations where a good chunk of your computers don't have working CMOS batteries. All Microsoft networking clients from MS-DOS (with the full redirector), Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95, and onward, automatically know how to execute these logon scripts.
Installing drivers for Windows NT 4.0 tends to be a real pain in the ass because of the lack of a proper device manager. Instead of having it all made upfront what drivers you're gonna need to install, you have to pay attention to all of that yourself. You're lucky if any drivers for your devices are automatically loaded, and Windows NT appears to have no mechanism for automatically detecting multimedia devices at all - at least, unless you first load the device in the Multimedia control panel (or applicable setup program), or you manually install the PnP ISA program located somewhere on the Windows NT CD-ROM. Unless the PnP ISA loader can be leveraged more effectively, I doubt Windows NT 4.0 will ever get the 95D Lite/Redtoast treatment.
Also, if you are trying to load a driver for an AGP video card, it's not going to work until you install Service Pack 3 or later. Installing Service Pack 6a straight away (preferrably after loading some other drivers) is usually the solution to getting a lot of things to work in Windows NT correctly. Unlike with installing service packs on later versions of Windows, you really won't notice much of a difference at all.
In the next segment, we'll look at Windows NT actually doing some things that make it useful!
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