Networking a Windows Media Center PC and Xbox 360 lets you access files as if you were front of the computer. But there’s a catch: It doesn’t work with DivX or XviD (two of the most prevalent video formats). Fortunately, a free utility offers a simple fix.
by Joseph Moran
Earlier this year, we explored how to network a Windows Media Center PC with an Xbox 360. Setting up the game console as a Media Center Extender lets you lets access photo, music and video files using the same MCE interface that you would if you were front of the computer. Accessing your content from the couch sure beats having to sit at your desk. This is especially true when it comes to videos, if like most people your TV set is considerably larger than your computer monitors.
But using the Xbox 360 (or any other Media Extender device for that matter) in this way does have a catch in that it supports only a limited number of video formats. For example, while you can easily stream MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and WMV files from the Xbox, it doesn’t work with videos encoded using DivX or XviD, even when you have the appropriate codecs installed on your system. Given that these are two of the most prevalent video formats around, the inability to watch them from your living room is a bit of a drag.
Fortunately, a free utility called MCE Encoder offers a relatively simple way around this problem. When you install MCE Encoder on your Media Center PC, it can automatically convert your DiVx and XviD videos on-the-fly into a format the Media Center Extender will recognize. Here’s how to set it up using a system running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005:
If you haven’t already done so, start by setting up your Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender as described in our earlier column.
Now it’s time to turn your attention to the Media Center PC. You probably already have the relevant codecs installed on your system if you’ve previously used your PC to watch DivX and XviD videos, but if not, you can find them here or here.
When you launch the MCE Encoder installation wizard, it’s default setting is to install the program only for the currently logged in user, but be sure to change this to “All users” before continuing the installation. (This is important because the Xbox 360 uses a special Media Center Extender user account in order to access your system.)
When the installation of MCE Encoder is complete, reboot your system and then launch the program via its desktop icon. When asked if you want to install the Media Center Add-Ins, choose Yes (this will open up command-line window running a batch file). Once MCE Extender is running, you should find it’s TV set icon in your Windows tray.
To make sure it’s configured properly, double-click the MCE Extender tray icon to open the application, then click Browse and locate a DivX or XviD file on your hard drive. Click the play button and wait for the Status field to read Started. (If you get an error message reading “E3: An attempt to acquire a network resource failed”, select Tools|Settings|Change Port and specify a port other than the default of 8080 — that port is probably already in use on your system).
Now fire up your Xbox 360 and connect to the Media Center PC (using link found on the Dashboard’s Media blade. Once connected, navigate to My Videos and then highlight the video you want to play. Pressing the Info button on your Media Center remote (or the X button if you’re using a game controller) will bring up a list of options; choose More … and then on the next menu choose Start/Stop MCE Encoder. Finally, choose Play MCE Encoder, and within a few moments your video should start to play.
Since encoding video is a fairly processor-intensive task, it helps if your Media Center PC has a reasonably fast CPU, though you don’t necessarily need the latest scorcher (it worked just fine with our Athlon 64 X24400+ system).
So there you have it — DivX and XviD videos streamed to the comfort of your living room. Don’t fret if your XP system isn’t running Media Center Edition, because next week, we’ll look at a way to accomplish something similar with a regular Windows XP system.
Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.