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The contrast and brightness can be reset --- here is the manual -- how to do this is listed in the manual. If this does not repair the controller then you will need to buy a new hand controller-- the 497 hand controller is available used on Ebay from time to time.
Reset the hand controller, calibrate motors, train drives, calibrate sensors.
Make sure you have either fresh batteries, or better a seperate 12 volt power pack. The above will eleiminate everything except an actual BROKEN electronic part (such as a bad gps board).
If it still will not align using the gps, time to send it back to Meade for repairs. Make sure you have the latest firmware in the hand controller which is 43Eg. You can download the firmware using the UPDATER free software here: http://www.meade.com/support/downloads.html
Your reseller is correct. The wire (Meade cable #505) goes from an RS232 serial port on PC to a 4pin RJ plug. This plugs into the 2nd socket on the bottom of an Autostar 497 handset, the other socket being used for the curly lead to the telescope. So it goes PC to Autostar to telescope.
A common error is to try plugging the serial wire into an "AUX" ort on the telescope control panel - same connector. Not only does this not work, it can cause a lot of damage.
Wired like this you can control the scope from Meade's Autostar Suite (or many other planetarium softwares). You can also update the Autostar software to the latest 2009 version.
What else can go wrong? Well, many people want to control from a laptop, and modern ones don't have RS232 serial ports. Then you need a USB-to-serial convertor dongle, which effectively add a serial port to a laptop. But they often give it a very high port number (eg COM17) that the planetarium software does not find. Use Control Panel to reset the USB-serial-port to COM 1, 2, 3 or 4 and all should be well. But it can be a right fiddle!