Xbox media center

by Marc

Forget the usual “Media boxes” made by the likes of Pinnacle, D-link, Linksys etc. They’re not that cheap, they have a very restricted set of connection options (who, in this day and age, connects a TV up with the composite video cable?) and most importantly they don’t play back half the file formats that I have lying around on my system.

No, what you need to do is pick up an Xbox, then get a mod chip installed which enables it to execute arbitrary code (i.e not games).

Then you need to find a copy of the Xbox media center, which can be found from what is euphemistically termed “the usual places” (Microsoft’s licensing terms make it technically illegal to distibute binaries)

Why do I recommend a vanilla xbox when the 360 is just around the corner? Read on…

If you just want a games console, skip this post. Buy a 360, or a PS3 and be happy.

I on the other hand wanted a device that I could hook up to my TV which would play back the several hundred gigabytes of programs I’ve archived from my PVR over the last few years. A device that would natively handle several different varieties of MPEG, AVI and quicktime encoding. A device which could play back my CD archive (stored losslessly as FLAC files).

Guess what: the Xbox is perfect for this task! It has inbuilt ethernet to talk to my media share. It has a high definition connection pack that gives excellent quality output. It will happily talk to my Dolby Digital decoder for surround sound. And it’s about the same price as one of the aforementioned media boxes.

With the XBMC you can still play games if you need a bit of diversion, but you can do so much more… It will talk to IMDB for details of the movie you’re watching, it will display those impossible to comprehend song lyrics and as of 2 days ago it also gets a long awaited multi region DVD player than can display disk menus correctly, rounding off the package nicely!

(Oh, and for those of you hiding in a basement with the PC it also connects to the weather channel to tell you what’s happening outside)

If ever there was a device that deserved to be at the center of a digital media hub this was it.

“But the 360 will do all these things” I hear you cry… Well yes…. and no. The rumours I’m hearing are that it will be able to talk to a Media Center PC and play back files stored therein (Microsoft of course are welcome to send me a free 360 to prove me wrong 😉 ). Thing is – I don’t want a media center PC, I just want something to play back arbitrary files stored on my LAN. I’ve tried the MPC concept and right now it just doesn’t work in the UK (for reasons I’ll go into another time)

I’ll take a wild bet that the 360, if it has any of this capability, won’t be as flexible as my XBMC. It probably won’t handle all the formats of AVI I can play back today and it almost certainly won’t cope with FLAC audio. Connecting to the Apple movie trailer site to watch the latest previews? I’d like to see it but I’m not holding my breath.

Downsides? The xbox is noisy, and ugly. So stick it in a cupboard out of the way.

I bought mine from AdvancedXbox in the UK, doubtless there are many other resellers around the world offering similar services.

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