Submission by Andre Boyle – Xbox Media Player, a real (… and cheap) alternative to Windows Media Centre Edition – Before I start into this let me tell you that I'm not a big games fan and although I do get the occasional spot, it's more likely to be stress induced that an echo of the heady days of puberty.
As I'm sure you've already ascertained, you're going to need an XBOX to get anywhere with this natty bit of software. "But Dre …" I hear you cry, "What is the Xbox Media Player!?" So, given that you're keen to find out more, I'll get on with the review.
Microsoft have aimed the Xbox squarely at the games market, there is no doubt in anyone's mind about that. But with a highly capable DVD drive under the hood, a Pentium 733 processor, a more than adequate amount of memory, GeForce graphics chipset, a 10/100MB Network interface, on-board Dolby Digital decoder and a USB sub-system, the XBOX is also a very well specified all-rounder PC. Oh, did I forget to mention that it's also running a flavour of Windows 2000 as it's base Operating System? Well now you know. Even though all these goodies are under the hood, Microsoft has wanted to keep strict control of the hardware and operating system for a number of reasons: –
- License Control for software development
- Standardised 'Builds' for developers to write software for
- Non-standard USB plugs mean that only licensed hardware vendors were to be able to release hardware for the XBOX
So once again it all comes down to control. This is all well and good for Microsoft. Until the Internet and the various open minded communities that inhabit it got their mits of this new toy.
Cracking the Xbox
The long and short of what happened next was that some smart cookies somewhere figured out to create a mod-chip for the Xbox. Basically, a mod-chip bypasses the inbuilt security that the Xbox has to stop 'un-signed' applications running on it. And what does this mean to your good self and me!?
o We can run any darned thing we please on the Xbox
o We get complete control over the hard disk and memory, so we can upgrade both of them how we choose. (It's been reported that there have been 120GB+ hard disks installed.)
The Cost So far
Basic Xbox : £130
Mod-Chip : £25
Mod-Chip Fitting : £25
Xbox Remote Control : £20
Total : £200
Finally … The Xbox Media Player
Out there, on the wilds of the internet, are some clever people. Very clever people in fact. So clever that a bunch of them have been writing media players for the Xbox. I know this is something that you're probably used to on a PC, with it's wide choice of media players and file format support. But what you also have with the PC is a bulky base unit, a monitor, a keyboard and mouse. Linking to you current home entertainment system can be a pain in the behind. Because, on the other hand, the Xbox is designed to be idiot proof and operated from the 'bum on sofa' point of view, it has a massive head-start by providing the following key improvements to the situation: –
- Base unit is very small and nestles nicely under the TV
- Remote Control unit works for everything and can be replaced by a standard programmable remote
- RF, S-Video, Scart & Phono output are supported easily without any real lose of quality
- Line-out, Phono audio out and Dolby Digital is support through simple cable connects
So back to the media player. The guys at http://www.xboxmediaplayer.de have created a single point and click interface, designed to be run using the remote, for accessing your media. And when I say 'your media', I really do mean pretty much ALL of your media. Supported formats for the media player include: –
- Raw Audio
- Too many others to list
If all of the above wasn't whetting your appetite enough, then you'll be positively dribbling when you see how it can get at your media: –
- Local Storage
- SMB Shares (Windows shares for the rest of us)
- Streaming Media Servers
- Shoutcast Servers
So all you need to do is pop it onto your network, configure the remote shares on each of your PCs or Network Addressable Storage units and fire-up the Xbox. What you have is a central location for storing, accessing, controlling, viewing and generally manipulating your media content.
Look and Feel of the Xbox media player
The new look for the xbox media player is very snazzy indeed. Lot's of black and blue all about. I prefer the original post-beta release which looked almost exactly like the Windows XP Media Centre Edition. So if you'd like that look. Just extra the distribution file for the newest version into a folder. Then extra only the SKIN folder for the XP look-alike edition into the same folder. This will override the skin and give you the most up-to-date app with the coolest look and feel I think you'll find this side of … well …. Windows XP Media Centre Edition.
How does it compare to the media centre edition of Windows XP?
Well, it certainly doesn't support all of the feature supplied in WXPMCE. However, at the current rate of feature development, that won't be far off. And with other projects running for the Xbox at http://www.sourceforge.com, including one to make your Xbox a TiVO style device, the Xbox will surely present an issue for Microsoft down the line as well as a real competitor to other commercial systems for media access.
My Own Setup
Netgear ND-520 for network media storage
Xbox & Remote
Dolby Digital output and shared between rooms in house.
SVGA output to TV.
Various Windows Servers
Cat5e-heavy house-wide network