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HDTV streaming from WMCE to the 360: a two month update

Kevin C. Tofel

It was almost two months ago today that we booted up our HDTV-capable Windows Media Center PC. Since then, we've tested streaming high-def content via 802.11g and 802.11a with moderate success, but we've got some more tricks up our sleeve. We also wanted to give you an update after using the system for 60 days, because we use it every day and figure you would too if it worked well. So does it still tickle our HD-spot? What's next on the agenda for our cobbled-together system?

The short answer is yes, this solution is working very well for us. WMCE has a solid Electronic Programming Guide that allows us to record our DTV and HDTV via an over-the-air ATSC tuner. We can record individual shows or we can record a series of shows, which is quite handy. We still don't get programming recommendations similar to TiVo, but we're waiting in anticipation for a Windows Live software Gadget to add that function.

So we can pull in and record our high-def via ATSC, but what about the streaming? There's absolutely no question in our minds that a 100Mbps direct or hard-wired connection is the way to go. Unfortunately, that's the least desired option for us because we didn't plan ahead when our unofficial "HDBeat Lab" was built; hence the WiFi attempts. The 802.11a is working flawlessly about 95% of the time for us, so we're almost at wireless HD nirvana. Based on a note we got today from Ara Derderian and Braden Russell of the "HDTV and Home Theater Podcast", we might get to 100% without running cable through the walls and floors.

Netgear XE104Ara and Braden indicated that they just tested the new Netgear XE104 Ethernet Switch and it shows some promise for streaming digital audio and video through the home. The XE104 is based upon the HomePlug1.0 specification, which means it pumps network traffic through your existing electrical system. The device is rated for bandwidth throughput up to 85Mbps. We already know that these ratings typically deliver up to half of the advertised rate, so we should still be OK to shoot MPEG-2 high-def at 19.39Mbps.

We're in touch with Netgear on some review units, but we might get itchy trigger fingers and order two of 'em soon. Either way, you can expect a full HD test once we have them. By the way: Ara and Braden already used these to push a ripped DVD over their network with very few issues. It appears that these units require no configuration, since they're simply Ethernet switches.

Even without a 100% solution for our streaming, we can summarize our feelings with one statement: this set-up works good enough for us to cancel our local DTV subscription through DISH Network, saving us $5.99 a month going forward. Yes it's true that DISH will join DIRECTV in beaming locals in high-def, but our location combined with the Windows Media Extender functionality of the Xbox 360 does the trick.

Stay tuned for updates on the XE104 testing as well as future upgrades to the system once we finally get CableCard 2.0 support. We also just received a full HDTV review kit of Beyond TV 4 and tuner from SnapStream, so we'll be yanking some guts out of the WMCE machine to try their HDTV package. Thanks to Ara and Braden for the heads up on the Netgear units as well.

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