XBOX 360 & XP Media Center FAQPosted: August 15, 2006
I’ve recently spent a fair amount of time setting up my XBOX360 to work with my home office desktop running Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). Along the way I’ve had to make some discoveries for myself so here I’ve compiled my lessons learnt into a series of guidelines and FAQs that will hopefully help others.
Q. Can I have my MCE PC be a member of a Windows domain and connect my XBOX360 as an extender device at the same time?
A. No. Even though there are techniques for joining a Windows XP MCE PC to a Windows domain and they do work, doing so will disable Fast User Switching which is required by the XBOX360 (or any other MCE extender) to access the Media Center application on the PC. It may initially work immediately after you have run the XBOX360 setup software on your PC but once the PC has been rebooted your XBOX360 will fail to connect. You can have one or the other, but not both.
Q. How do I get Windows XP Media Center Edition?
A. MCE is only available as an OEM operating system and so can usually only be acquired by purchasing a PC with MCE pre-installed by the vendor. However those with an MSDN subscription will find that MCE is included with the other OS variants such as Tablet PC and x64 edition.
Q. Do I need special hardware to run Windows XP Media Center Edition?
A. No, although it can be fussy about the drivers you use for certain components. Your video card will generally require an MCE specific version of the driver in order to function correctly and you may find the same applies for your soundcard. TV tuners require BDA drivers to work with MCE and you can find numerous models that have been specifically designed for use in MCE. I am using a Hauppage Nova-T-500 MCE Dual-digital PCI tuner.
Q. How does the XBOX360 connect to my PC running MCE?
A. Firstly your XBOX360 must be connected to the same network segment as your MCE PC. There have been reports by some users that you can get them to connect over bridged or even routed networks but results vary. If you can, use a wired network connection. Wireless tends to be problematic when streaming video unless your signal strength is consistently excellent. Microsoft recommends using 802.11a wireless gear instead of 802.11g due to problems with interference in the band that 802.11g uses from common household appliances, etc. The actual interface you see on you TV is streamed from the MCE PC via the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) just like terminal services or Remote Desktop. The video and TV is streamed over a different dedicated port to the MCE interface.
Q. Does the XBOX360 support MCE plug-ins and add-in applications?
Q. What video formats can I stream to playback via my XBOX360?
A. All video is streamed from your MCE PC to the XBOX360 and is then decoded by the XBOX360. This means only a set list of video formats can be showed by your XBOX360. Installing new codecs on your MCE PC will not help. The XBOX360 will support MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video as well as Windows Media Video (WMV). High definition in both formats is also supported. It will not support .VOB files ripped from DVDs. Trying to rename them to .MPG files and playing them back can cause the XBOX360 to crash, badly, so don’t try it. See below for details on how to playback ripped DVD files.
Q. I have lots of DivX/XviD files I won’t to be able to playback via my XBXO360. What can I do?
A. There are two solutions to this problem, both with their pros and cons. Firstly, you can use a program called Transcode360 to automatically transcode non-supported video formats into a format the XBOX360 can playback (MPEG-2) on the fly. It installs as a Windows Service and some extensions to the MCE interface. It allows you to select a video file from the MCE interface and then via the “Info” button on the remote choose a menu option that will be begin transcoding the file for playback on the XBOX360. The second option is to re-encode all of your video files into a format that the XBOX360 can playback, such as MPEG-2 or WMV. There are numerous tools available to do this, some free, others not. My personal preference is the second option as the resultant files are natively supported by the XBOX360 and result in a much better user experience for the rest of your family.
Q. Can I rip my DVDs to my MCE computer so that I can play them back on my XBOX360?
A. Yes. I won’t go into the legal issues surrounding the copying of DVDs so for this example let’s assume you have a non-protected DVD such as a home video from a DVD camcorder. I use a tool called DVD-WMW that provides a front end to various other tools that are needed to complete the process successfully. This program will extract the video and audio information from the DVD and encode it to WMV and WMAPro with full 5.1 surround sound support if desired. It provides plenty of options for fine-tuning the output and can even encode 2 different versions at the same time, perhaps one for the XBOX360 and another for your smartphone. I find that encoding with WMV at around 2Mbps produces a file of excellent quality at around ¼ the size of the original DVD file. You can then use the excellent and free My Movies plug-in to create a browseable library of your collection, complete with cover images, descriptions, actor information and more.
Q. Why does some of my music not display its album cover picture in My Music?
A. I’ve found that MP3 files aren’t as well supported by the Media Center library as WMA files. Try re-encoding your files as WMA (from the source if you can) for better results.
Q. Can I use Messenger on my XBOX360?
A. Yes. You need to make sure that Windows Messenger is enabled on your MCE PC (in Add/Remove Programs, Windows Components). You probably use MSN Messenger or Windows Live Messenger when on your MCE PC but Media Center only supports Windows Messenger so it must be enabled (although you can set it to not start automatically). To enter text into messenger use the XBOX360 on-screen keyboard or connect a keyboard to one of the USB ports. Most wireless keyboards will work as long as they don’t usually require software installation.