A few days ago our portable DVD player (a Panasonic DVD-LS 82) began producing an "Error H03" message to the screen whenever we gave it a known working DVD. Normally, a malfunction like this is a chance for me to dip into the savings for an upgrade, but the error had a hardware fix that I wanted to try out.
First of all, I'm not a hardware guy. It's a refrain that I've often expressed throughout my computer career. I'm a software guy. Bits and bytes. Higher level languages. I didn't take apart a computer until after college (whereas most hardware buffs and DIY PC-people tinker with stuff in high school). It's not that this stuff is alien to me. Since college I've replaced hard drives, memory, and I have installed PC cards. It's just that the assembly of modern PCs and electronics, while fascinating, is not that compelling to me as a day job. I told my wife that I'm the guy who writes the H03 error to the screen, not the guy who produces mechanics/electronics that generate the H03 error.
Note: Clicking on any of the pictures below will pop up another window showing the full resolution (1600x1200) of that same picture.
The error itself is pretty straightforward:
The manual says that any "H" error means you should unplug, then replug the device. This is the moral equivalent of control-alt-delete. But there I was, unplugging and replugging my DVD player, hoping against hope that the message would just "go away." It didn't.
Flustered, I decided to search for the error on the Internet. I got a terrific hit off the AV Science Forum (est. 1995). A poster named "Hossam" wrote (in April 2006) "fixing code H03 is very simple but needs some courage and small phillips screw driver." I had a wee-bit of courage, and I did have a small Phillips screw driver, and instead of trying to decide whether this effort would be worth my time, I took the DVD player to another room so I could "operate" on it.
The first issue I ran into while following Hossam's post is that the tiny screws holding the DVD together were smaller than my eye-glass repair screwdriver. After a few tries, I knew I would be stripping the heads off these screws if I continued. I bounded out the stairs, grabbed my wallet, and went to Radio Shack. As I left the house, my wife reminded me not to get too frustrated: we could always just buy a new one. That wasn't the point anymore.
The new set of Phillips screwdrivers ($6.92 with tax) enabled me to unscrew all 13 of the tiny screws from the back of the DVD player. This was the hardest part of the entire repair. The screws were so tight I thought they were locked in with glue. I had to use a lot of good old fashioned elbow grease to get the screws turning. My hand was slightly damp and I remember grasping the screwdriver through a canvas bag so I could produce the proper torque without slipping. Probably around this time I thought "this is going to take more than 5 minutes" (as another poster suggests).
After removing the screws, peeling the back off the DVD player required a small bit of exertion to pry the form-fitting pieces apart. This was less work than the screws, but I worried whether or not I needed to work the seam with another tool. I didn't.
Once the back came off I took a look at all the electronics. I saw ribbon cable. I saw computer chips. I saw the familiar green of an electronics PCB. I saw the relatively unfamiliar "mechanics" that enabled the laser to move across a disc. Mostly though, what I saw was a lot of hair and dust. I used a pair of tweezers to carefully pick and pull at the hair and dust balls that surely couldn't be good for the device. This took a few minutes.
Hossam's instructions say to locate "three rubber suspensions." Feeling around delicately with my finger, I was able to find these three suspensions (marked in red in the picture below):
Hossam says "remove the whole structure." Surprisingly, this step does not require a screwdriver. The housing of the mechanics is not screwed down, and in fact seems to be "suspended in air" by the three rubber suspension points. (As I kept on going with the repair, it did seem as if I did not need to remove this structure to get at the next step. However, throughout this repair, I was very careful not to touch the laser lens itself.)
The key next step is to manually turn the "small black rotating joints." In the picture, I've labeled this rotating "gear" red. I used the screw driver to gently turn the gear. It caused the servo housing to move to the left (as indicated by the green arrow below). Hossam's instructions say that this step will release the housing from where it got stuck, and then the device "will work perfect after that."
I only turned the gear a few times, enough to get the housing to move maybe a quarter-inch. I then carefully reattached the housing to the suspension points, reattached the DVD "back", plugged it in, and tried to play a DVD. Sure enough, it worked! No more H03 error.
Hossam, wherever you are, thanks very much! And good luck to anyone who decides to try this operation on their own. It's not a five minute job; for me, it was more of a two hour job, but one with a satisfying ending.