How-To: Transcode & stream videos on Xbox 360

WMV on Xbox 360Last week's Xbox 360 Fall Dashboard update added support for the Windows Media Video (WMV) video codec. The feature was a welcomed gain for non-Media Center users who have been limited to photo and music sharing between their Windows PCs and Xbox 360s -- and to anyone who's longed to watch video files on 360 via a thumb drive or CD/DVD.

Unfortunately, licensing fees and digital rights concerns have limited the patch to WMV-support only. Being Microsoft's proprietary format, WMV is neither popular or oft-used, taking a backseat to preferred codecs like DivX and XviD. And so, we're still left scrambling for a solution to getting our video content onto Xbox 360.

Windows Media Center users have enjoyed on-the-fly transcoding for some time, courtesy of Transcode 360. While the developer says he expects "someone to knock up a transcoding solution not too far down the line" for Windows Media Player 11 and Windows Media Connect (read: not Windows Media Center), he suggests that it won't be him doing it.

So, until Microsoft adds support for more codecs or offers up an application capable of transcoding (to WMV) and streaming on-the-fly (okay, that will never happen), we're forced to manually transcode our non-WMV files into WMVs and then, if we wish to stream, point our 360s at the WMV files (on our PCs). That's the solution. Now, we're gonna show you how it's done:

Luckily, Happy Beggar has already taken care of most of the legwork. The site recently compared three (WMV-capable) transcoding applications: VLC, WinAvi 7.7, and Windows Media Encoder. The clear winner, in both speed and quality, was VLC, an open source media player that has a history of proven functionality. VLC is what we'll use for this guide.

Step One: Download VLC (official website). Exctract the folder to the root of your hard disc drive (usually "C:\"):
Step One

For clarity, rename folder as "vlc":
Step One (b)

Step Two: To make things even easier, Happy Beggar provides us with a supplemental batch file that optimizes transcoding (download here).

Step Three: Move/copy batch file into the folder where the videos you wish to transcode are contained:
Step Three

Step Four: Drag and drop a video file onto the batch file:
Step Four (a)

Command Prompt will automatically launch (and execute batch script), followed by VLC; transcoding begins:

Step Four (b)
(Arrow: WMV is automatically added to the oringal file's folder)

[Note: Transcoding times will vary. Happy Beggar was able to convert a typical 42-minute TV show (hour-long program with commercials removed) from XviD to WMV in 13 minutes; it took us just over twenty minutes for the same size file.]

Step Five: At this point, you can transer the newly created WMV file(s) to a thumbdrive or burn them onto a CD/DVD; or better, stream them from your PC (Windows XP required) to your Xbox 360. [For help establishing a connection between your PC and Xbox 360, see here.]

You could use Windows Media Player 11 (guide here) or TVersity (guide here) to tag your videos for sharing, but we've found the simpliest approach is to add your WMV files (as they're created) to a folder (example: "My Videos") that has been set up to share with the Xbox 360.

To set up a folder for sharing, launch the Windows Media Connect application (under Network and Internet Connections) from the Control Panel:
Step Five (a)

Select the "Sharing" tab and add the folder you keep your WMV videos in:
Step Five (b)
  • 1. Select "Sharing"
  • 2. Click "Add..."
  • 3. Locate folder (and rename, if desired)
  • 4. Allow folder to be shared with Xbox 360
  • 5. Click "OK" to add

Step Six:
Now it's time to fire up your Xbox 360 (first: make sure your PC is on and Windows Media Connect is enabled). Navigate to the Media Blade and select "Videos," and then (1) select "Computer"; (2) select the video you wish to stream; (3) Select "Play":
Step Six (a)

(on HD monitor):
Step Six (b)

On standard-def TV:
Step Six (c)

On 57-inch Projection HDTV:
Strep Six (c)

[Note: video quality will vary and is dependant on several key factors: (1) quality of original video file; (2) transcoding settings (Happy Beggar batch file is designed to use optimal settings); (3) the display -- we found that videos looked best on a 25-inch standard-def TV because the lower resolution muted most of the WMV's imperfections (due to compression).]

While tedious, transcoding your video files to WMV is simple -- and free. If you're the type to catch up on TV's latest hunched over your computer screen -- or perhaps delve into other, more sordid, types of video -- now you can consider moving that experience onto your Xbox 360. Enjoy.

[Thanks to Happy Beggar for its good work!]

This article was originally published on Joystiq.