Monday, September 20, 2010

Screaming Video

My sister is an electrical engineer.  I am NOT.

When Barry and I originally moved into this house, I spent three days with my head inside the entertainment center connecting the TV, cable box/DVR, tuner/receiver, DVD, VHS, CD jukebox, tape player, and two sets of speakers with an Escheresque cat's cradle of wiring.  Over the years we added an HDMI switcher, TV Ears, and a Wii to the mix.  Everything worked together, and the Wii also talked to the transmitter for our wireless computing network.  We could back up stuff from one medium to another, listen to cable TV music channels without turning on the TV, and stream Netflix movies via our Wii.  I kept a diagram of all the connections stored in a safe place, hoping devoutly that I would never have to use it again.

Then Barry bought the giant new TV.

The plan was to move the old TV and the Wii into the front bedroom, which would be transformed from a haven for guests into a scantily-furnished exercise room.  This meant Barry wouldn't be able to stream video to his new Gigantor, but he was OK with that - at the time.

My heart sank at the thought of disassembling my wiring masterwork, but I carefully labeled both ends of all the cords as I pulled everything apart.  This time, aided by the labels, my diagram, and one angry call to the TV manufacturer's customer service line, I needed only two days to connect the equipment remaining in the living room, and life was good.  For about 15 minutes.

As soon as he was seated in front of his almost-movie-sized plasma screen, however, Barry started lusting for actual movies on it.  He set the DVR to record TCM virtually nonstop for the coming week, and then, with impeccable timing, the marketing geniuses at Netflix sent us a flyer about a (brand name omitted for reasons that will become obvious) box for streaming video that cost roughly half as much as another Wii.  Barry did some quick Internet research, decided The Box was a good deal, and ordered it.  Soon streaming video would again be ours!  Bigger!  Better!  BIGGER!!

The Box came, with one of those pictures-worth-less-than-nothing assembly diagrams.  (NO text.)  Fortunately, an instructional DVD was also included.  Unfortunately, the fine print on the DVD informed us that our new Box was not, as the Netflix literature had implied, wireless - it was wireless-ready.  Which meant it needed a USB wireless adapter.  Not, of course, included.  (Our cable modem and wireless transmitter are in the next room, so physical cabling was not an option.)

At this point Barry was ready to send The Box back, but I convinced him to go online to the manufacturer's website first.  Eventually he located a short list of adapters that would allegedly work with The Box.  I verified that one was available at the largest electronics store in our area and drove 30 miles each way to pick it up.  (Of course, this added $40 plus gas to the amount spent for the video device.)  Triumphantly I connected The Box and the adapter and turned everything on.  And, the TV still couldn't see The Box.

Back to the fine print.  The adapter was actually designed to work with conventional computers and came with a DVD full of drivers, but The Box could not use DVDs.  Because we were outside regular business hours and couldn't call customer service, I sent the manufacturer of The Box an email asking how to install the adapter drivers.  (This was not as easy as it sounds.  Their website is cleverly designed to prevent users from sending emails to customer support.)  Two days later I received a snotty reply saying no drivers were necessary, but that the firmware version for the adapter had to be exactly the same as the firmware version the manufacturer had tested The Box with in order for everything to function correctly.

The adapter I bought was the exact model alleged to work with The Box.  No "firmware" version was listed either on the manufacturer's list of compatible adapters, in the support person's email, or in the documentation for the adapter itself, so how were we supposed to know whether the version we had was the correct one, or fix it if it wasn't??

I'm stubborn but not completely devoid of reason.  Barry mailed The Box back to the manufacturer this weekend and I plan to return the wireless adapter on my way to work tomorrow.  I believe I see a second Wii in our not-too-distant future.

"User, n.  The word computer professionals use when they mean 'idiot.'"  ~Dave Barry

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