Friday, April 18, 2014

Technical Difficulties Watching General Conference Reruns

For years I have watched LDS general conference reruns during my daily workouts. No serious gym rat would ever be caught watching reruns while working out. Especially if those reruns are talks by church leaders. But I'm no serious gym rat.

I have exercised daily for two and a half decades (quite a feat for a guy that used to be a dedicated couch potato). But I'm a very antisocial exerciser. I work out by myself in our home gym or outside. With the exception of the times I take the dog running, I simply don't care for companionship while working out. I don't need anyone to see me, talk to me, coach me, or cheer me on. No offense to those that feel otherwise. To each his own.

When general conference weekends rolled around during my childhood we used to turn on the old black and white Zenith and watch these ancient men stand at a pulpit and drone on endlessly. Mom and Dad would pay attention — at least during the morning sessions. Drowsiness would sometimes set in during afternoon sessions. Us kids would play quietly (sort of) with puzzles, toy cars, etc.

Every once in a while, Mom and Dad would remark what a wonderful talk they had just heard. I would think, "Huh?" It all sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown to me.

Funny how time changes one's perspective. At some point in my life the things those old men were saying became tremendously interesting to me. So compelling were they that I came to like listening to their talks over and over again. Well, many of them anyway. It is not uncommon for my wife and/or me to remark after watching a general conference talk how wonderful the talk was.

Years ago I started recording general conference using a VHS recorder. In those days the priesthood session was not broadcast, so I could get all of the other four sessions on a single eight-hour VHS tape. Eventually we had lots of those tapes in our library.

Recording general conference has never worked very well for me since the decline of VHS. Yes, we still have a couple of VHS players. But they function poorly. We have never acquired a DVD recorder. I seems that disk media will be relegated to a bygone era before too long anyway.

One day I discovered that you can get a full set of general conference DVDs delivered to your home twice a year for an annual $14 subscription. That's a pretty good deal. So for a long time I have enjoyed getting my conference reruns by this method.

But the lag time between the original broadcast and the delivery of the disks has become grating to me. With today's technology, why should I have to wait five to six weeks? I want to start reviewing conference talks while they are still fresh in my mind.

This past year we acquired a new TV for the workout room. Nice flat screen smart TVs have become cheap enough that we could afford to replace our ancient CRT model. I was excited to install a TV that was designed to stream content from the internet. Many models only stream certain proprietary "channels," so we made sure to get a model that had a full blown web browser.

To my anguish, the streaming turned out to to be incredibly choppy. A wired network connection helped. But unlike a regular PC, our TV has little memory or caching behind its web browser. That means that every time there is a hiccup in the stream the video freezes. The only way I have found to restart the video is to reload the page and then try to navigate to where it froze.

That's frustrating and takes time. Trying to watch conference via this method was extremely unpleasant, especially given that I was being active and didn't want to stop to mess around with the TV for three minutes every time there was a blip in the stream.

One day when I was doing something in the workout room I glanced over at the side of the TV and noticed several electronic ports. I knew those were there, but suddenly it dawned on me that I could easily plug a flash drive into one of the USB ports. I ran to my computer, downloaded a session of general conference to a flash drive, plugged the drive into the TV, and voila! I was watching the most recent general conference in crisp 1080p without having to also manipulate a DVD drive.

A quick calculation revealed that all of the general conference sessions will fit onto a flash drive that costs less than $10. The drive will last years. I can also be watching reruns within minutes after the end of the original broadcast. No more waiting a month and a half for general conference DVDs.

I suspect that as technology continues to improve it will become increasingly easy to watch streaming video content on wall mounted screen devices. But until that blessed day arrives I now have a stopgap measure that works quite elegantly. I won't be renewing my general conference DVD subscription when it comes due.