Welcome to the World of XBox360

As anyone who works with me on a daily basis can attest, I am a freak when it comes to reformatting my computers.  I custom built a system a little over a year ago that would serve as the ultimate entertainment system machine.  My original intent was to use it for Windows Media Center as well as MAME.  This is much cheaper than dropping $300-$500 on a XBox 360 system.  I have finally relented and reconfigured my environment to incorporate the purchase of a new XBox 360.  Several factors influenced the decision.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Here are the specs for the custom-built Media Center machine.  In order to get access to Media Center Edition, you have to pay for an MSDN license.  But this gives you all sorts of other software that you want as well, so it is well worth the price.

 

 

The system has been installed with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and WinDVD 6.0 on a single partition.  All service packs and updates have been applied plus all drivers were freshly downloaded from the manufacturers and installed.  The system was then defragmented to make it as clean as possible.

There is an initial problem with the installation of the Windows operating system in this configuration.  By default, power saving settings are configured to go to screensaver after 10 minutes and to power off the display after 20 minutes.  This causes the display of the computer to freeze after the initial 10 minute period.  This locked my computer the first couple of times trying to get the TV signal “unstuck,” but I finally found a solution to the problem that did not require a reboot.  Hit the Windows key on the keyboard to switch from the Media Center app, then click on Media Center to re-enter the application.  To hopefully bypass this problem permanently, I have disabled power management settings for the machine.

After everything was working, I restored my backup of every CD I have ever owned.  This took some time as I had collected over 40GB of music.  I allowed Media Center to index all of the tracks.  (Note to self:  I need to clean things up a bit to remove duplicate WMA and MP3 rips of the same CDs and tracks as well as better organize artists and disks.  Too much reliance on inaccurate information from auto-detected CDDB information.)

Now comes the fun part.  Connecting to the XBox 360.  Though I could (and may yet) install a hardwire CAT5 between my router and the XBox, I opted for the less cumbersome XBox Wireless Adapter (B4B-00009) because everything I had read stated that “you'll be able to take advantage of awesome XBox Live gameplay or stream media from your Windows XP system or XP Media Center without the hassle of additional wires or cables.”  It could not be any easier.  There are even little clips on the adapter so that it will snap directly to the case of the game system.  I was able to get the device configured to connect to my Netgear WGT624 using a hidden SSID and WPA passphrase

There are some software downloads that you will need to perform for your Media Center.  I believe that it can be accomplished with one simple download.  You should be able to get the Media Center Extender application configured on your Media Center PC by going to http://www.xbox.com/en-US/pcsetup/ and following the installation instructions.  When the installation is complete, it should test your LAN speed to determine if TV will function properly.  I had to tell it to override and allow TV to broadcast over wireless because the signal was reportedly too weak for broadcast.  There were no other wireless devices present on the network at the time.

I was able to watch live TV without a hitch.  I can also stream my music and use the Online components of Media Center through the XBox.  There was some issue with playing recorded programs, but I think that was more user related than anything else.  Because this particular user had 500GB to play with, he decided to allow the default recording quality of “Best” to be used.  This required much more bandwidth and less interference in order to play smoothly.  I had neither of these commodities unless I ran a hardwire between systems.  My default record mode is now “Good” instead of “Better” or “Best”.  I have it set to record every single World Cup match and aftershow, so we will see how well playback works when I get home this evening.

Another problem that I had was my configuration of the router for use with XBox Live.  I had to turn on the flag on my Netgear for “Allow router to respond to ICMP ping” to get past this failure point in the XBox Live configuration.  Everything tests properly, but I am still not able to connect to XBox Live.  I even set my XBox as the default DMZ so that all traffic would pass to it without filtering.  I think it is more of an account creation error at this point.

I want XBox Live so that I can download demos and trailers of new games.  Nothing more.  Even without the XBox Live, the setup is great.  I have my noisy heat-ridden Media Center in the office where it should be and have a full HDTV-compliant entertainment center add-on for music, video, VCR and gaming for about $500.  That is not much more than I paid for my Toshiba superVHS deck several years ago and around the same price that I paid for the Pioneer DVR whose TV Guide feature is permanently broken.  (Pioneer recalled the devices because of this and have no plans to replace them.  But I still like the fast, easy ability to burn to DVD, so I still use it for some TV recording if I intend to keep the recording permanently.)

All-in-all, I think it is a pretty decent setup.  Let’s see how long we can keep the Media Center running without it crashing which is typical for this buggy OS.