XBox 360 Extender
Exactly What You Can and Cannot Do With Win MC
Before entering into a state of entertainment center bliss, let’s look at what you can and cannot do with a Media Center PC. Microsoft is banking on the fact that for some consumers, Xbox360’s extender capabilities will be the deciding factor to buy an Xbox360.
A media hub for your Home Theater system and a great gaming machine to boot, what’s not to love?
Console gamers might be tempted to locate an OEM version of Windows XP Media Center 2005 just out of curiosity about what you can really do with the 360 as an extender. Remember that Windows MC isn’t sold as a standalone product, it’s designed to be the operating system for specialty HTPCs. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find it in a computer shop or in a bundle with a hardware purchase.
- Digital Video Recorder (DVR) --Record TV through Your PC
You won’t be recording through Xbox360, the only way to add media to Xbox360’s hard drive is through Xbox Live. This function can be performed by any PC. A hardware PC / DVR tuner card means you don’t need Windows XP Media Center. Windows XP Media Center is a software solution for Digital Video Recording, but, at present, it won’t support recording in HD. So, even with a Windows XP Media Center PC, your best option is still a tuner card with built in hardware PVR. This will save system resources while recording. This will allow you to do other things on your PC while recording.
- HDTV Recording
As of now, Windows XP Media Center is incapable of recording HD content. The only way you can record HD content is through a hardware Tuner/PVR, such as ATI’s HDTV Wonder card. However, even tuner hardware solutions will only record HDTV from over- the-air broadcasts, not from your local cable company. It’s possible to have the HD version of your local broadcasts streamed from a digital terminal (cable box) that has a Firewire (IEEE 1394) port. Unfortunately, this method will only work in the US where OTA broadcasts are also available (this system is not yet available in Canada). However, even in the US, this technology is limited: it’s not available for premium channels, so you won’t be recording HBO shows in HD.
The networks have the option of adding a digital flag that prevents it from recording in HD. As far as we’ve come with the technology; we’re still in the NTSC era when it comes to HDTV recording.
- Streaming Video
Xbox360 will stream only WMV and MPEG2. It will not stream any other form of video, not even a DVD. With Windows Media Center, you can back up any DVD’s VIDEO_TS folder and play it back as a DVD. However, Windows Media Connect will not stream this to your Xbox360. If you attempt to stream a backed-up DVD, Xbox360 will give you the following error:
Video Not Supported
Video cannot be viewed in media center from a remote desktop connection.
There are workarounds because, as we know, DVDs are just MPEG2 disguised as VOB files. Once you accomplish this, streaming audio/video from a backed-up DVD Mpeg2 file is nearly flawless. In fact, it’s better than playing the DVD in your Xbox360 because the DVD drive stays idle. Media Connect will also stream WMV (Windows Media Video), which includes HD WMV files. These are high definition video files that look and sound amazing. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many HD WMV files out there and no easy way to get your favorite movies in this format.
Speed/Choppy Video: A 10 base 100 router, hard wired to your Xbox360 and your Win MC PC, will provide flawless playback. Using wireless, even 802.11 b, opens your connection up to interference, which can result in stuttering, choppiness, and the occasional error message. Microsoft suggests using 802.11 g wireless connections for uninterrupted video. You can also just use a hard-wired connection. Remember that both your WinMC PC and the Xbox360 must be hard wired to your router in order to receive the benefits.
- What about AVI, QuickTime, MPEG4, DivX, and All My Other Video?
Windows Media Center will only play these video files back through the PC using Windows Media Player 10. However, none of these video formats will be passed on to the Xbox360 through Media Connect. You’ll need to convert these files to one of the two supported formats. This process is called transcoding, and will likely cause some deterioration in audio and video quality. A free transcoder is available that works well: Xbox360 Converter.
Note: The FAQ from Videora might imply that you have to transcode your DVD video to Mpeg2, this is not true. Go here to see how to back up DVDs to your hard drive and stream them to the Xbox360.
- MP3 Music Library
Windows Media Connect will stream your MP3 collection to the Xbox360 from either Windows plain XP or XP Media Center. WinMC isn’t required to perform this, but it works well. Windows Media Player controls the Media Library through Xbox360; therefore, if you have a very large library, be sure to have play lists handy. An album or artist view of your music library is difficult to navigate through in Xbox 360 if your library exceeds approximately 1000 albums. Consequently, it is best to do any file management through the PC. From the PC, you can navigate your library in manageable chunks and create play lists you can access easily through the extender. Once you’re navigating the library through the Xbox360, you can easily select a play list and stream music.