It seems like such a simple problem. I have gobs of video on my computer upstairs. I have gigabit ethernet wired all around the house — including behind my TV. I have various things plugged into both the network and the TV.

But playing videos from the computer to the TV has been nothing but a massive pain in the ass.

I’ll run down the devices first:

All of these are either connected via gigabit ethernet or on WiFi from an Apple Airport.

A couple of these are in fact dedicated video output devices — the Roku and the Blu-ray player.

But — and you know this is coming — playing videos on the TV is a massive pain. They all have some arbitrary limitation that will do nothing but irk me to no end.

I’ll give a pass to the receiver. It’s primarily focused on audio. It switches HDMI and does some video overlays, but I’m OK with it not pumping out 1080p video. The Wii as well has crappy resolution, but that’s not why it’s around. The TiVo is tuned only for the formats that come over the cable so it can’t handle all the funky stuff I can throw at it.

The Roku, on the other hand, is built for streaming video. But it doesn’t handle DLNA at all (more on that later). There’s something out there that can make a channel for it if you want, but if I happen to play an MKV file it hoses up the video playback until I reboot the thing.

The Blu-ray player can play them for the most part — but I can’t fast-forward or jump around. Fail.

The XBox is the closest to playing most things… but sometimes (and I’m not quite sure when — maybe subtitles?) it just does not want to play certain files. At least it can seek around the files.

Let’s move on to the DLNA disaster. Am I the first to ask “why?” Why do we need a streaming system for this anyway? We have file sharing, right? SMB (the standard network protocol that Windows defaults to) is supported by everything. Why do we need yet another crappy protocol that no one can agree on? Stop it already.

My solution: a long HDMI cable from my MacBook air to the receiver. HDMI is a win since it can do video and the audio on the same cable. As an even bigger bonus the MacBook can pump out 1080p without any problems at all! I have another cable, but at least I have all the functionality that I want. VLC can play anything I throw at it so I never have to worry about that. The only real downside is that I have a long cable that I have to deal with. Other than that it solves all of my problems: file format, seeking, playing, and resolution.

Going one better would be to get something like an Mac Mini and have it live under the TV… but I’m not ready to sink that type of dough into this when I have something that does the job well enough at this moment.

Sometimes the clunky solution winds up being the best. Maybe not the most elegant, but it gets the job done.