Microsoft XBox360 and Windows Media Center

Xbox 360

Beyond the Gaming Machine

Once you’ve had a chance to kick the tires on the new Xbox360 and play a few games, you might be curious as to how it performs as a media center extender. The Xbox360 is capable of high-definition video and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Therefore, these attributes have provided the Xbox360 with the ability to act as a Windows Media Center Extender.

Windows Media Center is Microsoft’s ready-made HTPC operating system that allows you to stream all sorts of media content from a PC to your home theater system and HDTV. Microsoft was counting on its Xbox360 as being the obvious choice for gaming enthusiasts who may also own a PC and have some use for its extender capabilities. In this section, we’ll delve into exactly what to expect from Xbox360 as a Media Center Extender. Only Windows XP Media Center Edition is compatible to work with your Xbox 360 as a full extender. Plain XP, XP Pro or Windows 2003 aren't compatible as full Media Center Extenders.

To send images or MP3 to the 360 through your network, all you need is a computer running Windows XP attached to your router or hub. Media Connect is the software you download from www.Xbox.com to establish a connection between the two boxes. Media Connect is a service that must be running on your XP computer. However, you may soon get bored looking at slideshows and listening to MP3s through the Xbox360. After all, you can simply attach an MP3 player to your Xbox360’s USB port and listen to MP3s through it anyway. If you are interested in taking your entertainment experience to the next level, you’ll need Windows XP Media Center 2005.

Media Center 2005 is usually sold with a new HTPC you’d get at a retail store. Some PC suppliers might be able to sell an OEM version of the operating system separately. Provided you can obtain the operating system you’re close to HTPC. Windows XP Media Center is really just Windows XP with an extra layer added to it called "Media Center." You can run Win XP in its usual form or literally switch on Media Center. If you’re accustomed to XP, there is no reason not to run XP Media Center. You will not sacrifice any of the original operating system’s performance.

Welcome to Gizmo Cafe’s guide to using Xbox360 as an extender with Windows XP Media Center 2005.

  • What can Media Center do for me?
  • Video and Windows Media Center
  • Stream DVD Movies to Xbox360 Part 1
  • Streaming DVD Movies to Xbox360 Part 2
  • Wireless Networking Media Extender

The Media Center layer is designed for easy use via remote control. The operating system becomes an extension of Windows Media player and lets you take control of the system from the comfort of your couch. You can use WinXP Media Centers menu features to control, setup and repair your Window XP Media Center experience. What follows is the lazy man’s (Gizmo Guy’s) HTPC, which is to be used with Xbox360 as its extender.

A real HTPC connects directly to your Home Theater system forcing you to consider purchasing a lot of specialized equipment. You would need a DVI or Component video card or adaptor (non-HDCP of course), a tuner card, and a high end soundcard that will allow the outputting of Dolby Digital 5.1. To house your HTPC, you’ll need an ultra quiet box so your computer’s operation doesn’t disturb your entertainment.

Gizmo Guy believes that consumers do not require all of this extra equipment and can receive all the functionality of Media Center through the Xbox360 as an extender. Since media will stream through to the extender as network traffic using the Windows Media Connect service, you don’t need to worry about the HTPC being located close to your HT system. This scenario imagined by Gizmo Guy is definitely attainable, but there are a few twists and workarounds.

PC Hardware Requirements

Specific hardware requirements are posted on Microsoft’s support site for Windows Media Center. A system with 512 Megs of Ram, a P4 or Athlon equivalent processor should be able to stream video through any Media Center Extender. To run or install Media Center a tuner card is not required, nor are any of the other things one might expect you would need for a proper HTPC. A pure VGA video card with only monitor outputs will suffice, as will an old 16bit sound card.

The bottleneck for using an extender can be the network itself. If you’re using wireless with your Xbox360, you’ll want to make sure your router is at least capable of 802.11 g, 802.11 b. Otherwise you run the risk of compromised performance when you start streaming video. Moreover, in certain instances, 802.11 g won’t be sufficient. The easy way to end your wireless woes is to use an old fashioned cable. Both your Xbox360 and your Media Center PC must be hard wired to your router to take advantage of the unparalleled performance wired networks offer. The new and quite expensive 802.11 is not required.