Media Center’s Newest Enemy

With the new Dashboard update offering a host of new video
codecs and fixes, the Xbox 360 Dashboard has essentially become Media Center’s
number one enemy.   More and more I’m
reading comments online from would-be Media Center users and “more average”
consumers who are basically content with video playback via the Dashboard
instead of the Media Center Extender functions of the Xbox 360.  This is Microsoft’s latest issue, and the
problem is yet again Microsoft not understanding the market.

Those who really want a Media Center based solution can’t
because Microsoft doesn’t understand what features to include, what formats
should be supported where, etc.  
Everyone else who would consider accessing their media in the living
room is happy with being able to playback content using the Dashboard.  The market for a Media Center based solution
is shrinking fast.

In addition to the Xbox 360 actually supporting the formats
people want to play, the Dashboard boasts HD DVD playback and even HD downloads
(IPTV too, but that’s not as big of a deal as people make it).

Microsoft needs to hit a run home with the next Media Center
release, along with advertising it the slightest bit in order for Media Center
to stay at all relevant.

23 thoughts on “Media Center’s Newest Enemy

  1. Completely agree. We have several 360’s around the house we use to get our media. Really the only reason we connect via MCE vs. Dashboard is get watch TV. For movies, music, and pictures my wife is connent using Dashboard. In her eyes its also faster than booting the 360 then having to wait a min or so for it to connect.

    On the movies front, MCE Vista has an issue with playing back VBR .wmvs. This use to work in MCE 2005, but they broke something. So movies created using only play correctly from the Dashboard now.

  2. What makes it worse for me Chis is when Microsoft posts over on their blog titled ‘Try Windows Media Center – you may already have it!’ see here –

    I came to this same realization over the weekend as I was reading it. I esentially don’t need the extender portion anymore. I wanted it so bad to be integrated, but MS just is totally against working together as one group.

    I’m bummed out more and more with all this ‘cool technology’ but then no one harnesses the power all in one. I just can’t afford the whole OCUS route. I’m middle class for petes sake! 🙂

  3. This is exactly what I have done while I “realign” my Media Center goals. My original intention was to use the 360 as an extender in combination with CableCard, to replace both my DVD player and my cable box. I thought the initial codec problem would be remedied short after launch, as there was no way the extender could be successful in the long run without them. Then CableCard came and fizzled due to the “buy an overpriced OEM box and $400 tuners (limited to 2)” requirement. Then, of course, I actually started playing DVDs with the 360. They look pretty bad as most now know. Then my Videos were lumped in with Photos in Vista. And the cover art displaying as a16x9 cropped thumbnail. Don’t they realize that cover art is not 16×9. And then the codecs I actually want (h264, xvid) started coming to the dashboard but not the extender.

    When that happened, what did I lose by going to the dashboard? Acceptably high quality TV was out of the picture, video organization and cover art via folder.jpg no longer worked properly … the uPNP client on the dashboard actually supported MORE codecs and supported cover art PER file. Why would I stay with the extender? I miss navigating to an album artist by letter … but that’s about it.

    A sorry state of affairs. The only reason that I can think of is that M$ is doing only what it has to, to keep up with Sony. Sony has no “extender” just a uPNP client. So as Sony brought codecs to its client, M$ did as well. There is no competitive need to bring codecs to the extender, in terms of CONSOLE competition. I suppose that is a very cynical way of looking at things, but it is the only explanation I can come up with.

  4. While i can agree that the 360 itself is a great media thing does not lend itself well to a bedroom or quieter location due to the fans. That is why the new extenders would be great. That is if they ever are actually released.

    On that note have a look at internet tv in the MCE, Joe B. from MS has a video up there showing off new extenders and promising them this holiday!LOL! May want to take that down.

    We have all been trying to tell MS what the MCE needs to be successful, but they apparently know more than the people actually using it day to day. I mean have they acually looked at the green button?(<--Sarcastic)

  5. Perhaps MS are gradually aligning all of their entertainment devices, and by Fall 08 they will all be in synch. Zune has now moved up a gear, extender V2’s are just around the corner – they just all need to catch up with Xbox Fall Update.

    Or am I just being overly kind, as it is the season of good will :o)

  6. agree with wormhoudt, its just a copy of the sony functionality

    lame (though I still will be using it since my vista mce cant connect to shares with the xbox 360 extender… nice going microsoft)

  7. AMEN.

    I wish we could get a straight answer from MS why the codecs weren’t added to Media Center Extender functionality. This essentially ruined my XBox/MCE investment. If it’s a business decision, fine. Tell us. If it’s just development time, please let us know!

    They are neglecting their core Media Center user base and shooting themselves in the foot for future growth in this market.

    It’s a great product. They need to give themselves a chance by providing the BASIC features/support the product deserves!

    Please please please? Where can we beg?

  8. I’m finally coming to the conclusion that Microsoft really don’t have any idea what their end-plan is for the “digital home”, let alone how to get there.

    Lets look at a few things:

    Extenders – Aside from constantly pushed-back dates there’s still no sign of V2 extenders, and it’s now been about a year since Vista was released. I thought about using the 360 as an extender until I realized how crippled it is compared to the dashboard.

    HDTV – I realize that this isn’t all due to Microsoft, but as of today if I want to use Media Center for non-OTA HD I have to spend several thousand dollars on a new PC, one that is (IMO) vastly overspecced for the job.

    Windows Home Server – I love my WHS, but at least in this iteration it’s the unloved step-child of digital entertainment. Despite only just shipping it still uses Media Connect 1.0, which is now legacy and unsupported on Media Center.

    Despite having been a Media Center enthusiast for around three years I’m about ready to abandon ship. For $800 I can buy a Series 3 HD Tivo and a life-time subscription, then look at alternative solutions for music & photos.

    All that’s missing is a way to stream that content to other rooms in the house.

  9. Media Center has exactly one use for me: TV.

    TV is the only reason I ever started using Media Center and I don’t understand people that use Media Center *without* TV. I have a Sonos system for my household music and I don’t watch as many video clips or pictures via my plasma so I don’t care about codecs. I could care less about playing divx since I’m not a bit bittorrent user (really, when people say divx do they mean anything besides what they’ve pulled down from bittorrent?). The times I’ve needed to play an .avi I simply convert it to wmv.

    That said the MC extender experience on the 360 should be *the* ultimate extender, not play second fiddle to the 360 itself when it comes to media playback. I can only hope that given J Allard’s desire for a more connected experience we’ll start to see a more holistic media approach with Marketplace, Zune, MC, MC Extenders, 360, etc. all converging.

    I just discovered that if you download something from Amazon Unbox to a PC sharing it’s video then you can watch it directly via the dashboard instead of having to go through the 360 MC extender.

    @Chris: how come the msmvps server is such a dog? Often it takes between 40 and 60 seconds for your page to appear.

  10. It doesn’t look like Microsoft is the confused party here. It’s the Media Center users.

    Microsoft is still trialling and erroring its way into the livingroom, Media Center was just one of the trials.

    Let’s face it: You can choose to sell software for the livingroom. Or you can sell software AND hardware for it. What would you pick if you can have both? 🙂

  11. I don’t see how the XBOX 360 having an additional feature (codecs in this case) can ruin a completely separate product (Windows Media Center).

    For me, the only bad thing about the XBOX 360 Dashboard becoming the center of my media consumption is that it doesn’t offer anything in terms of standard TV. Where is the Directv integration that we were promised. Moreover, the 360 would have no means of sharing TV shows even if it did have some sort of tuner attached. So, you’d have to download each television show to each 360 console that you own. Right now, it’s one big convoluted mess. They can right this ship by integrating Directv into Windows media center 2008 or whatever the next version of MCE will be called. A Zune client built into windows media center wouldn’t hurt either. Currently, WMC can’t even read the Zune’s playlist files, which is pretty pathetic.

    It would do the WMC team a lot of good if they went to a 2-updates per year schedule like the XBOX 360 team. The incompatibility with other Microsoft products, delays, and months of inactivity from that team continue to make the whole Media Center platform look silly.

  12. Media Center will never make it as long as it’s in a computer box. Mark my words.

    Normal people don’t want computers hooked up to their TVs, whether or not it’s directly or through an extender. It’s just too much work and expense for what the majority of people can get in a TiVo.

    Hell, I love Vista Media Center, but a few months ago I bought my first TiVo and a three year subscription. I’d pay a premium for Vista Media Center in a TiVo-like box I could just plug into my TV and go. But until that happens I’m stuck w/my TiVo, which reminds me every day of how elegant Vista MCE is. I just wish I could use it.

  13. Jeff: I would disagree with part of that. The PC hooked up to the TV has no future in the living room for the average person.

    An extender (or digital media receiver, UPnP, etc) on the other hand, does. These require the use of a PC, and are now very common. TiVo, PS3, Xbox 360, DIRECTV HR20, and many more integrated and standalone devices work under this concept. Whether recording TV will take a part in this is a big question. Xbox 360 Dashboard is providing most of the core functionality of Media Center without the TV part.

    Shawn: Yeah, there are always small providers with the server. I don’t handle that end of things, but when things get bad we try and let our admin know so we can get a reboot or IIS restart.

    And I think nycHDlover reasoning for it ruining his investment is the lack of support for formats he expects to be able to play. The promise of Media Center w/ Extender is to extend the experience around the home. Unless you can play your content, this idea doesn’t work and can very well be considered a wasted investment.

  14. Chris,

    The killer: The requirement of an always-on desktop PC to serve the media center content to the extenders. Over 1/2 of computers sold these days are laptops, and they aren’t just supplementing desktops — they’re replacing them.

    Of the seven people that work on my floor of our office, none of us have desktop computers at home. Of the dozens of people in my company, I can think of only a couple that have desktop computers at home — and we’re an ISV! My girlfriend is ditching hers for a laptop; her friends all have laptops; my _mom_ has only a laptop for Pete’s sake. Come to think of it, I can only think of one friend that has a desktop computer and that’s only because he’s a graphic designer and needs a big workstation.

    With laptops at $500 these days, people just don’t see the need for a desktop. And an extender w/o a desktop to drive it probably isn’t very useful.

    My dual-Cable Card TiVo HD was $300. TiVo is now selling TiVo HD + wireless networking thing + lifetime subscription for $700. If I can buy a Vista Ultimate laptop for $700, why can’t I buy a Media Center _appliance_ for that much or less? It certainly isn’t because of OS licensing costs.

    If the Media Center strategy is based on a Media Center ‘server’ hosting content to extenders and the like, it will remain and niche product and that’s a shame. I do not like using my TiVo, but it’s a box that does what it’s supposed to and that’s about all I can ask for. Heck, TiVos let me play songs from Rhapsody, rent movies from Amazon Unbox, stream content to other TiVos in the house, download content to my laptop, view pictures from computers on the ‘network’ and so on. And it’s just a little box hooked up to my TV. Microsoft needs to do this.

    Reluctantly former Media Center user

  15. Yep – Missed the boat… Again… Divx / Xvid works well on the xbox360 – but only the dashboard, if these codecs also worked within the media center extender component, I dont think people would be complaining – instead congratulating for an integrated solution.

    What a heap of sh**.

    All the on the fly codec conversion solutions dont work well, with stuttering and the like – might as well just throw away Vista, keep the xbox360 and be done with it.

  16. Sigh,

    I am really sick of people telling me that all of my xvid files are pirated! This is the same crap I heard from Major Nelson’s podcast when the 360 came out and I am sure it is part of the Msoft culture. BTW, isn’t this the same thing that Msoft said about MP3’s before they were forced to adopt them? I remember having to pay for an MP3 decoder in XP.

    Listen, it seems simple. If the dashboard can decode it why can’t VMP? My Vista PC plays it, the dashboard plays it, why can’t the 360 extender? I have been ripping my enormous DVD collection (just like I did for my music collection) and want to be able to catalogue and play it anywhere in the house. If you have kids you understand! I spent an hour finding my daughters “Barbie Island Princess” DVD last night… (between the player in the car, in the living room, library, media room, etc.) I converted some of them to WMV files originally, but no AC3 sound, large files, and very long encode times.

    Before the 360 came out I read an article with Mr. Gates where he talked about how it would be the center of your digital life. I got really excited because I thought they finally got it. They saw where I wanted to go and they wanted it to! Here we are years later and it is still not up to snuff and it probably will never be until another company (apple, or somebody else) does it, then they will play catch-up.

    As for the TV issue, I would love to use it for TV, but I have DirecTV and as many have said, my Directivo just works!


  17. “isn’t this the same thing that Msoft said about MP3’s before they were forced to adopt them? I remember having to pay for an MP3 decoder in XP.”

    I don’t remember this being the case. Wasn’t it MP3 ENcoding that was not included frist?

    I don’t think Microsoft ever having not supported MP3.

  18. Yeah, I guess you are right, all I remember is that xp forced me to buy a 3rd party codec to rip to MP3, which I did!


  19. It really is a shame to have this ‘disconnected’ digital home. I do foresee the xbox360 extenders getting some additional codec support with V2 extenders hit the stores.. but then again does this solve some of the other problems that we still will face? We still won’t have DVD streaming with our DVD changers (two xl1b3s <3), still no native HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback.. so you are back to using a full-pc
    hooked up to your TV.

    The future of extenders is that there isn't one; you can build a mini vista mce box for just a bit more and support any codec + DVD streaming.... we loose liveTV but we loose that when we use the Xbox360 Dashboard anyway.

    We need a inter-mce connected home and to do this we need a tuner-sharing/pooling software. We don't even need softsled since MCE is already on our desired boxes.

    *cough we need to hack the firmware of the blasted OCUR tuners and disable the WMDRM re-encoding cough*

    Can anyone recall the sony media software that actually let you pool tuners from other sony pcs?

  20. I’m inclined to agree with the main point and the first commenter, They need to fix the basic functionality of the Media Centre extender system first.

    The 360 in extender mode can not even play WMV’s correctly without severe stuttering, However these all play fine through the dashboard and USED to work with Windows XP Media Centre.

    For those of us who have spent years re-encoding all of our DVD’s and videos into WMV, it’s like Microsoft spitting in our faces.

    It’s the only system I know that has gotten progressively worse over time.

    I install A/V systems professionally, and used to recommend the 360 as a Media Centre, after the switch to vista its just plain broken.

  21. yep, i’ve been phasing out MCE as the 360 gains features and MCE stagnates. my MCE machine only operates as a UPnP server now with WMP11, which doesnt even require the machine to have MCE. now i’m transitioning to a Windows Home Server as the UPnP server to the 360, and that is tempting me to get rid of the MCE machine altogether. one less machine to maintain would be a good thing. but i do hold out hope that the next version of MCE will be something special. my only real holdout for MCE is that its open to 3rd party developers. if the 360 would open up XNA to work with Media … then i’d jump on that bandwagon.

  22. Open Post to MS Extender Team and Anyone else who is listening:

    I cannot believe that Microsoft has not fixed the stuttering issue between Vista and Xbox 360 extenders when playing Variable Bit Rate (VBR).wmv files. It is absolutely in excuseable to not fully test and support your own format with your own products. This issue has been around since day one of the Vista release and it is really getting on my nerves. I encoded all my video files into VBR .wmv and I expect full support from Microsoft when using their products. Get it together MS extender team and fix the problem now! You are already forcing into using WMV’s! Why don’t you at least provide some decent support for the format!

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