Media Center Networking

Besides giving away an Xbox 360, I’m also tinkering around with the integration between the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender solution and its integration with the Media Center Edition of Windows XP. Before you tune out because you don’t game or because you don’t currently have a Media Center, keep in mind this is the future of Windows. When Windows Vista rolls around at the end of this year, one major focus of will be on integrating your whole entertainment experience with your computer. In general, home entertainment means something to do with television. In my estimation, Microsoft comes as close to getting it right this time as is conceivable.
I had some headaches with my home network security, because I have MAC address filtering turned on to only allow specific machine IDs to connect to the network and I have a ridiculously long password for my network. My biggest gripe with the current Xbox setup is having to type in passwords and configuration details using a game controller (yes, you can use a USB keyboard, but that’s not a realistic scenario for everyone). After getting the Xbox side of the equation sorted out by adding network connectivity, I went to work on configuring Windows Media Center. Even for someone with limited computing experience, the Media Center config is a piece of cake. You download an app from Microsoft to update Media Center, the app installs, you enter a code to connect to your Xbox and it just works. I walked upstairs after the install and the Media Center guide was on the screen where the Xbox 360 is plugged in.
If you don’t game, the $299 base price point for an Xbox looks a little expensive as a solution to connect your PC to your home entertainment center. Hopefully that will drop, but if it doesn’t the experience is well worth the price. You can delete channels from the cable guide you don’t subscribe to (or eliminate the ones you don’t want the kids to watch). You can scroll the guide quickly. You can skip commercials after installing Tweak MCE. Browse your photo library from your television (which is far superior to crowding around the computer screen). You have instant access to every song and video on your computer’s hard drive. The television picture on the Xbox even seems better than pushing it out directly to television via a tuner card.
I know a few people have connectivity issues in syncing the Xbox 360 to a Media Center, but overall I’m amazed at the experience. I haven’t tested an HD stream on my home network yet. HD is supposed to work with the Windows Vista version of Media Center. The one thing that really gets me is how bad some portions of the games look in standard definition. There are a few sections in the Project Gotham Racing 3 game where shadows make your car practically indistinguishable from the shading onscreen (which is only a problem with in standard definition). Apparently King Kong has a similar issue. Fortunately my experience with watching recorded television and videos proved much better.