VOD forays – connecting a DVR to a home network

My wife is a tad obsessive about television, and sank some money into a big flat panel two years ago. With the advice and counsel of Uncle Fester — he-who-knows-all-about-AV — she decked the sucker out with a massive DVR (Tivo to us mortals), HD tuners, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, etc. etc. etc.

The result is a far cry from the black and white Zenith I grew up with, watching one of four channels (NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS), and messing with rooftop antennas, rabbit ears, and then considering things like color and remote controls to be as astonishing as a butane lighter is to a Stone Age cannibal in the forests of New Guinea. We were easily amused in the 1960s.
Unfortunately DirectTV recently dropped Tivo — which seemed to me to be an exemplary great example of user interface design — in favor of its own retarded, brain-dead interface. But, since the wife needs to have the latest HD signals, out went the nice Tivo which she bought hacked and juiced from Weak Knees (one of the best company names ever!), and in came the  stupid DirectTV unit with no capacity and an on screen guide designed by bureaucrats.
A few weeks ago she noticed “VOD” on the menu of options — video on demand — and had to have it. I took a look and sure enough, the DVR has an ethernet jack and wants to be connected to the home network. The simple but ugly solution would have been to run an ethernet cable from the cable modem/wireless router (Westell), but she’s severely allergic to wires so that was the topic of a short but brutal discussion one rainy Sunday back in March.

Then I went to the most brain dead of solutuions — an A/C network extension — which is the networking equivalent of the pink/green/blue transparent acetate filters sold in the back of comic books in the sixties for people too poor to afford a color TV. They just don’t work.

The only solution was to get the DVR — which lives in a closet — to connect wirelessly to the home network. Off to Best Buy I went in search of a Linksys WGA54G — a wireless gaming adapter — a dee-vice for connecting an XBox or Playstation to one’s network. Not in stock. Nor at Radio Shack. So online I go (where I should have gone in the first place) and I order the sucker for $74 from B&H in Brooklyn.

It arrived yesterday. So, while watching the Blue Jays spank the Red Sox last night, I tried to configure the adapter to connect the DVR to the network. Of course the Linksys installation wizard didn’t work. Does it ever work?
Here’s the punchline: all the recurring bullshit we’ve heard from the tech industry about the digital home is going to remain bullshit until our devices connect to each other as easily as kitchen appliances connect to wall sockets.

I am not an engineer. But I did work as a tech reporter for twenty years and I do work for a PC company, and if I need to get on the 800 help line with Linksys, and both me and a tech get completely confounded in IPCONFIG, firewall, 64-bit key encryption … then Aunt Edna in Peoria ain’t gonna be experiencing VOD anytime soon.

I told the Linksys guy no thanks when we started down the command line path. I know how that story ends and it always ends badly. So I dragged the game adapter right up to the router, plugged it in, surfed into it through the browser on a notebook (good old, manually configured it to ignore the neighbor’s WAN (named Corehealth of all things), gave it the hexidecimal so it would get through the WEP security on my WAN, burned the EEPROM with the right info, ran down stairs, plugged it into the DVR, and …. to quote the engineer at McKinsey who insisted I didn’t know how to spell — “Wah-lah” — connected the TV to the network.

Of such small victories is one’s prowess proven in this world.

So, now I can download old South Park episodes at a snail’s pace. And, here’s the killer. The old pay per view model of purchase and view and store ostensibly forever on the DVR’s harddrive? The one I’ve enjoyed for a decade?
Those days are over. Hollywood, those masters of pissing off their customers by being brain dead when it comes to intellectual property, has decided that PPV will become Video on Demand (at a cost of course) but that the video will only be available for a day or two. At which point it goes poof.


Anyway, I sat down at my PC after this scintillating hour of home tech support hell, and saw that Microsoft Media Player had detected a DVR on the network, and wanted to know if I wanted to share my library of PC videos with it.

Sure. Why not? I’m a sucker for a gadget. Except it doesn’t work.