Serial Port Troubleshooting
How to resolve serial connection problems

Olga Weis

The RS-232 communication protocol is one of the most common ways to control professional A/V equipment. Various amplifiers, dimmers, extenders, projectors, and matrix switchers use the RS-232 standard to communicate serial signals.

If you understand the basic technology of RS-232 protocol, you will have no problem troubleshooting RS232 connection issues. It will take less time to fix a COM port error if you know what to look for.

In this article, we’ll tell you about the main characteristics of the RS-232 communication and highlight the most common problems you may face while using your serial A/V equipment.

Contents


  1. About RS-232 protocol
  2. RS232 pinouts
  3. Voltages
  4. Baud rate
  5. RS232 cable lengths
  6. COM port troubleshooting

About RS-232 protocol


EIA/TIA-232 (or RS-232) is an asynchronous serial communication method introduced in 1962 by the Electronic Industries Association (EIA). The standard is more popularly referred to as "RS-232" where "RS" stands for "recommended standard". The word serial means that the information is sent one bit at a time. “Asynchronous” indicates that the data is not sent in predefined time slots.

RS-232 Pinouts


Below you’ll see the typical pinouts of RS232 connectors. The original pinout for RS232 was developed for 25 pins connector. However, since the introduction of the smaller serial port on the IBM-AT, 9 pins RS232 connector has become more widely used.

RS-232 Pinouts

As for 25-pin connector, not all of its pins are used for sending and receiving serial data. Some of them serve for port loopback testing. A/V equipment usually comes with a 9-pin connector. At the same time, the pinouts on your controlling system or computer can differ from those used on the A/V devices. For instance, it may happen that the pins 2 and 3 are reversed which allows the connection to be made with pin-to-pin wiring between a 9-pin connector and a 9-pin cable. Another type of connector, terminal block, is becoming more end more popular as it enables simple installation without soldering.

Voltages


A standard voltage for all RS-232 signal pins ranges from -15V to +15V. The voltage swings, occurring while transporting data, can total 30V. Besides, RS-232 ports can work with voltages as low as -5V to +5V. The wide range of voltages used by the RS-232 port makes possible the compatibility with different types of A/V equipment.

What you should remember is that large voltage fluctuations in RS-232 signal lines can cause substantial electrical noise, so it’s not recommended that you run RS232 signals near a high-impedance microphone or audio lines. In case you can’t avoid running these signals close to each other, you need to make sure that all of your audio wires are properly shielded.

Baud Rate


The rate at which information is transferred over the RS-232 communication channel is known as baud rate. The higher the baud rate, the more bits per second that are transferred. Standard baud rates include 110, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 4800, 9600, 14400, 19200, 38400, 57600, 115200, 128000 and 256000. Typically, baud rates fall into the range of 1200 to 19200.

RS232 cable lengths


With the increase of the baud rate, the length of your RS232 cable linking A/V equipment to the controlling system decreases. For example, a standard 100-foot cable is generally used when baud rate is from 1200 to 2400. If you are transmitting at 9600, your cable should be a maximum length of 50 feet, etc.

Learn more about RS232 serial cable and what is the difference between a null modem and straight through serial cable

Troubleshooting serial port communication


There are two most common serial port problems: software incompatibilities that result in a non-working serial port and faulty wiring that causes connection issues.

Software problems and the optimal solution


If your hardware connection is correct, but the serial communication still cannot be established, the problem may lie in improper software settings.

In order for communication to be efficient, the connection settings for both the controlling system and the connected device must be identical. Such parameters as Baud rate, Data Bits, Parity, and Stop Bits must match on both systems. That means if your computer’s COM port is set to operate at 2400 baud, you need to have your device set to 2400 baud as well. Also, you should properly configure the number of Data Bits - bits transmitted in a single character. This parameter can be set to either 7 or 8.

Parity indicates whether the number of 1s in a single transmission is odd or even. If this is not important for your program, you can set this parameter to None. The end of the transmission session is defined by the Stop Bit which can be set to 0, 1, or 2. The typical configuration for A/V equipment is: Data Bits - 8, Parity - None, Stop Bit - 1.

When troubleshooting COM port issues, make sure that all the aforementioned settings are identical on both ends of your serial connection.

If you want to reduce the time spent on serial port communication troubleshooting, you may try Serial Port Analyzer, a professional app designed for sniffing and recording COM port activity.

The RS232 Port Monitor allows monitoring, logging, and analyzing the behavior of your serial ports in real time. This lets you track down communication problems and resolve them immediately. With the software, you'll be able to capture all data coming in and going out of your COM interfaces and see it displayed in four convenient viewers. In addition, Serial Port Monitor makes it possible to emulate sending data to a serial device and playback sessions so that you can review the reaction of a port to the same serial data being sent again.

Serial Port Monitor

Serial Port Monitor is easy to install and use. The solution can become your indispensable tool for troubleshooting serial communication issues.

Hardware problems


Incorrect wiring is another common issue faced by the installers of A/V equipment. In most cases, control systems require that you connect only two wires to the controlled device. The Transmit (XMT) and Ground (GND) pins on the computer should be connected to the Receive (RCV) and Ground (GND) pins on the controlled A/V device respectively (see Fig. 1)

Hardware problems

If you want to get a response from the controlled device, you should connect the third wire (see Fig. 2). For instance, this is the recommended wiring if you are communicating with a device via your PC’s serial port:

PC’s serial port

Checking the wiring


It’s not easy to tell whether the wiring between your control system port and A/V device port is correct if the pins are not labeled. However, when you use a terminal block connector, you can check the wiring with a voltmeter set to “DC”. In case the reading between the receive pin and the ground pin on the terminal block connector is between -12V and -6V, and your XMT line has the same reading as shown below (Fig. 3), the connection is good.

Checking the wiring

If you have 0 volts on your receive line after you have linked the control system to your A/V equipment, this means that your serial port error is the result of the transmit and receive lines being reversed (see Fig. 4).

Serial port error

Serial Port Monitor

Requirements: Windows (32-bit and 64-bit): XP/2003/2008/Vista/7/8/10, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016 , 9.16MB size
Version 7.0.342 () Release notes