If you read my blog and are a Media Center enthusiast you've no doubt read the comments attached to And It Has Media Center Extender Built In. I'm going to head up an effort here at Microsoft between the Media Center, XBox and Zune teams to give you a set of resources which help you put our products together and begin to realize the 'Connected Home' dream. It will probably start out as a whitepaper -- it *might* include things like scripts or tools -- but don't hold me to the latter. Along the way I'm almost sure we will find areas of improvement, and you have my word we will file bugs or feature requests to consider what we can do in future versions to make life better.

But first, I need your help to make sure we cover the scenarios. Here is what we have so far -- would you add any others...?

1) Standalone Windows Media Center machine.
2) Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Experiences.
3) Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
4) Windows Media Center + Windows Home Server + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
5) Multiple Windows Media Center machines + Windows Home Server + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
6) Zune added to any of the above.



Categories: Media Center Extender | Windows Home Server | Windows Media Center | XBox 360 | Zune | Connected Home | Comments [50] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2007 6:08:43 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I can't believe Chris posted the press release but didn't go nuts around the fact the new XBox 360 Arcade has the same great Media Center Extender built in as all of its predecessors. I was happily surprised to note these have HDMI on board -- there is a LOT of bang for buck this Christmas in this new arcade SKU for consumers. Kudos to the XBox team for making it happen!



Categories: Media Center Extender | Windows Media Center | XBox 360 | Comments [65] | # | Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 9:28:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Apple is a huge competitor in the space Windows Media Center seeks to inhabit. Evidence?

Front Row and Windows Media Center

Apple TV and Media Center Extender

But even though I want to compare and contrast these products I find myself always holding back.

Why?

Because of the signal to noise ratio. On the somewhat rare instance I do post something related to Apple it almost never fails that folks show up bringing nothing to the conversation of value. Case in point, go read the two comments on Thoughts on iPod Amnesty Bin. After reading those I again had to ask myself 'why bother'.

Mary Jo and Long are beginning to understand the pitfalls of writing anything other than high praises of Apple.

So, I ask myself would it be worth the time and effort to give my perspective of MacOS, iPod and AppleTV or will I be labeled as just another Apple hater who works for Microsoft. Can I count on the community (both PC and Mac) to engage in the conversation?



Categories: Apple | AppleTV | Media Center Extender | Microsoft | Windows Media Center | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 7:10:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

In an email conversation with Seth Jayson (see this post) he mentioned one of the 'flies in the ointment' of the XBox 360 media capabilities (including Media Center Extender) compared to the announced Apple iTV was the 'sometimes loud fan in the XBox'.

I've been using the XBox 360 Media Center Extender for a couple of months now and the fan noise has never seemed overbearing to me or my family. I can see where an audiophile who wants absolute silence would not be overjoyed by the fan noise, but then again those folks will spend a lot more than $299 to fuel their quest for sonic perfection.

Curious, I borrowed a decibel meter this evening to see how loud the XBox 360 fans would become during normal use of the XBox 360 as a Media Center Extender. Unfortunately, the lowest measurement of the unit was 50db, making it less than ideal to measure the sound generated at a reasonable, normal distance from the unit (like 10'). According to this Wikipedia entry 50db is the equivalent of a 'quiet restaurant inside'.

Still, I thought the test would be interesting -- so I launched the Media Center Extender on the XBox 360 and kicked off a high definition recorded TV show (Law & Order, a favorite) and let it play for 30 minutes before taking measurements.

Anyone care to guess how close to the XBox 360 and where I had to put the meter to get it to register a continuous 50db...?

I guess you could say this is the audio equivalent of guessing how many M&Ms are in the jar. :-) Leave a comment with your guess.

Meanwhile, I'm going to track down a more sensitive decibel meter.



Categories: Media Center | Media Center Extender | XBox 360 | Comments [31] | # | Posted on Tuesday, September 19, 2006 5:19:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Update: After some email exchanges between the two of us Seth slightly clarified his article by adding 'The video is' to the paragraph I excerpt below (change is shown in italics). He still does a fairly poor job of telling the overall story here -- but I'm still working on him. :-)

I'm a big fan of The Motley Fool, so it pains me to some extent to write this, but someone has to, so guess it will be me.

In Apple's Latest Victims, Seth writes the following, speaking of the media playback capabilities of the XBox 360...

"It's capable of streaming media directly from a PC, with one big hitch. The video is only supposed to work with the Media Center OS. This was a ridiculous mistake, in my opinion, because so few Media Center OSes exist out there. It not only should have supported streaming from plain vanilla Windows XP, it should have run more file types."

Wrong. In two places.

First, the XBox 360 works out of the box with any version of Windows XP to Play music and manage playlists and view pictures. In addition, it supports playback of content from portable media player devices (compatible device list here) *including* the Apple iPod (but not FairPlay tracks -- talk to Apple about that :-) ). Seth has a good point about compatibility with more file types, but support for [insert codec here] is largely a matter of return on investment. We also stream more media types with the Media Center Extender features of XBox 360 when you have a Windows Media Center enabled SKU of Windows. In addition to audio and pictures, we have video (WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2) and Recorded TV. Plus all of the media available from partners in Online Spotlight (MTV, NPR, Akimbo to name a few).

Second, there are more than a few Media Center PCs out there: 16 million according to the last group of public numbers. In addition, greater than 50% of the personal computers being sold today come with Windows Media Center. With Windows Vista, we expect the percentage to increase with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate (the two SKUs with Windows Media Center included).

So, Seth, you could actually forego the iTV even before it ships with a trip to your local retailer. Tonight.

P.S. Isn't it odd Seth owns Microsoft stock and The Motley Fool has it listed as an Inside Value recommendation, but managed to publish this article without basic fact checking? See the links above to the public XBox.com site above which clearly enumerate these features.

P.S. Even more interesting to me is they offer RSS feeds for stories, but no way for me to leave comments about them. That might be because they are offering financial advice, perhaps...?



Categories: Apple | iPod | Media Center | Media Center Extender | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 16, 2006 3:00:04 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

There have been quite a few interesting posts and articles on the web regarding Media Center Extender feature of the XBox 360 (see CNet, Slashdot, CVG and GA Forum for a sampling).  I have decided to port this FAQ to it's own post and will update regularly to help clear up some of the confusion. Put any additional questions you might have in the comments and I will track down the answer.

1) Does every XBox 360 come with the Media Center Extender software built in?

Yes.

2) How does that work with the XBox 360 Core System which doesn't have a hard drive?

The Media Center Extender software for XBox 360 is sent over the wire each time you launch Media Center on the XBox 360.

3) If you are sending the bits over the wire each time, doesn't the MCX boot time really suffer?

Not enough for most folks to notice. We have spent a lot of time optimizing the code sent over the wire to make sure it's fast.

4) Is the Media Center Extender software cached on the XBox 360 hard drive, if present?

Yes.

5) Is the Media Center user interface on XBox 360 the same GDI version (sans animations) as the version 1 Media Center Extenders?

No. We ported the Media Center renderer over to the XBox 360 so the Media Center user interface renders in full fidelity on the XBox 360 just as it does on the Media Center PC itself. For the most part, consumers won't be able to tell a difference between the two.

6) Will high definition content play on the XBox 360, and if so, what formats?

Yes, high definition content will play on the XBox 360 via the Media Center user interface using the DVR-MS (Recorded TV) and WMV format (up to 1080p). This will include high definition digital cable content using the recently announced CableCard module. It will decode and display 1080p WMVHD using any output, including 480i/480p/720p/1080i over component.  It will also output up to 1366x768 over VGA.

7) Will Online Spotlight experiences (and those available via Marketplace or other third parties for Media Center) work on the XBox 360 Media Center Extender?

Yes.

8) Can I create my own apps to run in Media Center Extender for XBox 360.

Yes, using the Media Center SDK located at http://msdn.microsoft.com/mce.

9) Do applications in Media Center run on the XBox 360 or on the Media Center PC?

Applications run on the Media Center PC and have their UI remoted to the XBox 360 via technology similar to a Remote Desktop Connection / Terminal Server. No code from the application actually runs on the XBox 360, therefore the XBox 360 is safe and secure from a malware / virus perspective.

10) Is the audio / video content sent over the same remote desktop like session?

No. Audio and video streams are sent out of band and decoded locally on the XBox 360.

11) Is the XBox 360 as loud as my old XBox when running Media Center Extender?

No. In fact, when running the Media Center Extender software, it's virtually silent with the fans at their lowest setting. From my experience, it's quieter than the VCR in my kids playroom when running MCX.

12) Will the XBox360 will have other codecs available for it (e.g. Xvid, Divx).

Yes and no. The Media Center Extender for XBox 360 can support uncompressed PCM audio when a custom DirectShow filter is installed and registered, meaning you can use [insert audio codec name here] as long as it uses this approach. See Registering a Custom File Type for more information. Video codecs natively on the XBox 360 are currently limited to MPEG1, MPEG2, DVR-MS and WMV.

[The custom DirectShow filter solution works for audio since the PCM audio is uncompressed, but still within limits of typical network bandwidth. Any video solution using the same approach would involve real time transcoding (seriously CPU intensive) or sending uncompressed video over the wire (net bandwidth becomes an issue). Just FYI.]

13) If the Media Center Extender software is sent to the XBox 360 each time you launch the Media Center, does that mean that the XBox 360 will automagically inherit the new Vista MCE interface when used with a Vista MCE?

The plans for Media Center Extender for XBox 360 in the Windows Vista timeframe haven't yet been announced. [Sort of a lame answer, I know -- sorry -- there are some things they won't let me talk about yet.]

14) Will my first generation Media Center Extender (hardware or XBox MCX) continue to work when I use the new Media Center Extender for XBox 360?

Yes

15) Can you fast-forward and rewind music stored on the host MCE computer using the Xbox 360 Extender.

No

16) Can you play back AVI files in Media Center Extender for XBox 360?

No

17) Will the Xbox 360 be able to play DRM-protected video that has been recorded on your Media Center PC?

Yes, as long as the DRM applied or specified by the content owner allows (which is the case for the vast majority of all content today).

18) Can you rip music CDs to the host MCE computer from the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender?

No. However, you can rip music CDs to the XBox 360 hard drive, if present, using the XBox 360 music feature on the Media blade.

19) Does Media Center Extender for XBox 360 support keyboards and mice?

Not at this time.

20) Do I have to insert a Media Center Extender game title like for my XBox?

No. You can keep a game title in the drive while using the Media Center Extender functionality.

21) Do I need a Media Center PC to use Media Center Extender on XBox 360?

Yes.

22) Can I get to other digital media content on XBox 360 without a Media Center PC?

Yes. XBox 360 has several built in digital media features accessible from the Media blade: Music, Pictures and Videos. Music can be locally ripped music (see Question 18) or music streamed from any Windows XP computer using Windows Media Connect. Pictures can be streamed from any Windows XP computer using Windows Media Connect. Videos are downloadable from XBox Live and can be cached locally on the XBox 360 hard drive (if present).

23) Will WMVHD discs play on the XBox 360?

No. These discs are designed to play on Windows XP machines. See http://www.wmvhd.com/ for system requirements to play these titles.



Categories: Media Center | Media Center Extender | XBox 360 | Comments [10] | # | Posted on Friday, December 2, 2005 7:17:17 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
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