We finally got around to setting up a Media Center PC 2005 box and we've got to say, it's a great deal better than the previous version(s) of MCE. Especially with its ability to use Media Extenders. A Media Extender is basically just software or a device used to extend the Media Center PC's interface and content to another PC, or, in this case, an Xbox. So, if you have videos, pictures, recorded TV, podcasts, and downloaded media (like we showed you here and here) on your Media Center PC, you can use the Xbox to access them all just like you would on the Media Center. It was a little more complicated than we think it needs to be for average users, but it's certainly nothing you probably couldn't handle.
Before we get started, if you just want to check out the video to see what this is all about, click here to view (WindowsMedia).Getting Started
To make this happen we're going to need, of course, a Media Center 2005 PC; the previous versions of MCE do not work with the media extender feature. Since no one's really all that sure sure what the upgrade path is for current non-Media Center PC 2005 users, you should check with your manufacturer, or just pick yourself up an OEM copy. In general, 2005 is a huge upgrade in terms of features, speed and stability, and our favorite feature (at least for now): using extenders.
Our hardware is a HP Media Center PC running Media Center 2005; on the Xbox side, an
Xbox Media Center Extender, of course. The
Xbox Media center extender basically turns your Xbox in to a Media Center PC, giving you all the features, applications
and control as you have on your Media Center PC. You can also log in to Xbox live and get messages, game invites, and
Installing the extender software
The first thing you need to do is install the Extender Software on the Media Center PC.
The software comes with a remote for the Xbox, an IR dongle to control the Xbox with the remote a DVD for the Xbox and the software to install on the Media Center PC.
Here are all the installation screens for the Media Center PC.
Pop in DVD in the Xbox.
The TV then displays the key you'll need to enter on the Media Center PC, so you'll need to run back and forth between the rooms to do this.
The Media Center has a new "Resource Monitor" so when the Xbox is accessing the Media Center you can see how much data/CPU is being used.
Now when you crank up the Xbox with the special disc, the Xbox will look for the Media Center, connect and you're now using the Media all through your Xbox.
While using the Xbox in Media Center mode you can also be logged in to your Xbox live account.
A bit about networks
The is the odd part about all this is that the "best" way to send data (according to the documentation) is to have the Xbox on a wired connection, which almost totally defeats the purpose of all this since you'd have to the far reaches of your house wired. The other alternative is, of course, to use 802.11a/g (leave the b out of it, trust us), again according to the documentation. The results may not be perfect; live TV and videos might not play smoothly. We tried wired and wireless (g and b), and as you'd expect, the wired connection performed the best. g worked alright, but b had some issues.
No DVDs, sorta
One thing worth noting, the only thing you can't do is play DVDs from the Media Center PC to the Xbox, in fact you don't even have the option on the Xbox. We suspect this is both technical and due to some weird worries about anti-DRM stuff, since in order to play a DVD the Media Center one would need to stream it over the network to the Xbox. This is, of course, very different from just sending the TV a signal. Besides, if you're going to watch a DVD on an Xbox you'd mostly likely just pop it in the Xbox anyway.
On a more positive note the included remote and IR dongle for the Xbox can make the Xbox into a standalone DVD
player. For the hardcore geek, you've probably already ripped your DVDs to vid files and those will play fine over the
Overall, everything worked as expected and it's pretty convenient to be able to access all your content from the Media Center PC on an Xbox in another room. While we think it's a little too complicated for your average home user to get going (perhaps like Windows MCE itself), that might change in time. This could eventually become the ultimate strategy for PCs and consoles, where the "main" device in your household is a super charged PC that handles all the TV recording, holds all your pictures and media, and the console in the other room plays games as well as accessing all that content.
Here's a quick video we shot that shows all this in action.
Click here to view (Windows Media).
Now that we can control and send media around the house to our Xbox, there are a few hacks and projects that might be interesting to try out. We'll keep you posted what we come up with!
Phillip Torrone can be reached via his personal site: http://www.flashenabled.com