XBOX+MCE+WHS=Nerd Network!XBOX+MCE+WHS=Nerd Network!

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Nerd Stuff
Like a real Microsoft-fan/nerd I own an XBOX 360, a (Windows 7) Media Center and a Windows Home Server to satisfy my Multimedia and gaming needs. In this blog post I will tell you about my setup and why I choose the products I mentioned.

There is also space for some criticism, because hey..it’s Microsoft stuff! Just kidding…I love the products, but I am missing some features. Some of the missing features have something to do with the country I live in. I love pictures, don’t you? That’s why I first show you a picture of my network, so you can’t imagine how everything is connected. If you have a question, don’t hesitate just drop me a line. How? Check my About page for my contact info.

The Network

On the network drawing above you can see the network as it exists at my home. Next to the Windows 7 Media Center, there are several other PC’s and laptops in the network, but because of the lack of space I just have drawn one of them. It’s also possible to remote connect to the MediaSmart Server through my personal Homeserver.com website. Through the web interface it’s also possible to connect all other Windows clients in the network!

Windows 7 Media Center
If your pc has a TV card and you’re using Windows 7 (or even Vista) you really should check it out….or not? In this blog post try to explain some of the issues I’m having while using my Windows Media Center and the solutions I found…if they’re available (as far as I know).

Media Center Extender (= XBOX 360)
When I bought a XBOX 360 (back in 2005) I bought it to play games (of course), but that was only for 30% of the time…..for the other 70% I wanted to use it pure as a Media Center Extender. This is still the case (after almost more then 4 years of XBOX 360), but during the last 4 years I had some serious doubts about my choice to use Windows Media Center as my personal PVR. The Media Center Extender does work, but (at least in the early years) you’re not able (without 3rd party software at least) to play DVD’s or MKV files via the Extender interface. I will get back to the doubts later in this post!

HP MediaSmart Server (= Windows Home Server )
Earlier this year I bought a HP MediaSmart ex475. This is one of the first generation Windows Home Servers. With this Home Server your home network administration becomes a piece of cake! You can have a central storage for your documents, pictures, video’s, music and recorded tv. Talking about Centralized TV Storage! Since Power Pack 3 became available in beta earlier this year, it became even better! With the new PP3 features (I blogged about them earlier this year) it became very easy to ‘backup’ your tv recordings to the Windows Home Server to have them available to all the Media Centers! The Windows Media Center (with the dual head TV card) records all the shows and they can be viewed from any Windows 7 Media Center in the house!

My Issues
Of course the setup described above sounds great I think! Too bad not everything works as you may expect! In the following few paragraphs I will describe the issues I ran into the last few months.

Media Center: TV Guide

When you want to record tv shows a good working TV Guide is one of the major things! I’m not sure how it’s in your country, but in the Netherlands the TV guide sucks from time to time. So it happens that when I want to search for a TV show which will air on Friday (Oct 30th), it’s not available in the TV Guide (see the image below, channel 3 and 23…no data). I just took the screenshot today (Oct 28th), and this happens all the time. I heard some friends talking about the bad EPG’s in their PVR (or hard disk recorder), but if getting a TV Guide right is an issue (it seems to be an issue here in the Netherlands)…solutions like Media Center will never become interesting for the general public, because it’s really difficult to schedule a recording if the show isn’t in the guide! This is the first (major) issue I’m having right now with Media Center.

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Media Center : Digital TV (DVB-C)
One of the other major issues I (and a lot of peers) are having is official supported availability of DVB-C support in Windows Media Center. Oke..with some workarounds it will work, but not officially supported by Microsoft and the Cable providers! When do the (Dutch) Cable companies enter the 21st Century and support other recording devices then their own PVR’s (the ones without the possibility to centralize your tv recordings)!

The strange thing is : Ziggo (my own cable provider) has a page on their website where they suggest that Media Center is a perfect solution for all your media. Just click here to watch the video (it’s in Dutch!). They don’t tell you that it’s not possible to (easily) record DVB-C with your Windows Media Center.

Earlier this evening @MartijnBrant mentioned that there is indeed an easy DVB-C Solution to record digital tv on your Windows Media Center : USB Clark Anysee. I’m not sure how (and if) it will work, but hey…it’s not officially supported, so when for example Ziggo is blocking the use of not-CI+ devices…you will have a problem recording your tv shows.

If you ask why they’re not supporting the DVB-C in combination with a Windows Media Center, they’re not very clear. The answers I heard of include they don’t like the ease with which you can record your tv shows and maybe manipulate the scrambled signal? Technically it is possible, but what percentage of their clients will try that? It’s the same as with people who buy original dvd/blu-ray disc’s. They have to watch all the anti-piracy shit, and everybody who is leeching their movies from usenet/torrents (for who the anti-piracy video’s are there) won’t see them….

Media Center : Internet TV and Add-On’s

The third and last issue I’m having with my Windows Media Center is the lack of Internet related TV/Video. When you’re in the USA (or UK), with Windows 7, you can use Internet TV which is part of the Media Center (see image), but when you live in the Netherlands (and probably other parts of Europe (or the World) the Internet TV option isn’t available!
02 - TV - Free Streaming Internet TV
Let’s hope that the European Cable companies work together and make Internet TV available in our Media Center. In other words : Let’s hope they will support IPTV in the near future. Ow..it also seems possible to watch IPTV through the XBOX 360 Dashboard, at least…a few years back I’ve seen a video demonstrating IPTV right from the Dashboard!

XBOX 360 : Media Center Extender and Media Connect
Since the last update the new XBOX 360 Dashboard has some nice new features like Facebook and Twitter integration, but the features of the Media Center Extender haven’t been extended over time. One of the things I (and a lot of peers) can use is support for MKV files. A few weeks ago I heard that it is possible to play MKV files via the Media Center Extender, but out-of-the-box it isn’t supported. It would even be better it was possible to play MKV files directly from the Video Library, so you won’t have to run a tool like Transcoder 360 (or some of the other available tools).

Conclusion
If you like to have a central recored tv storage with the possibility to watch your tv show from everywhere in your house the combination of an XBOX 360, Windows 7 Media Center, Windows Home Server and some laptops (with Windows 7 Media Center on it) will give you a great solution!

If you (at least) live in the Netherlands and the only recording device you have is your Media Center you’re not sure if your tv show will be recorded…the TV guide isn’t (entirely) complete most of the time. I heard that this is also an issue with some (or all?) Hard Disk Recorders. Most of the time all the episodes of a serie will be recorded, but if you want to schedule the serie (before the first episode starts) and the guide isn’t entirely up-to-date it can be frustrating that you sometimes can schedule the serie on the first episode..

Overall the setup works great and if Microsoft (and the European media content and cable companies) would ‘fix’ all the issues mentioned above they would make me very happy!

Maybe this will all be fixed in the new version of Windows Home Server which, if my sources are correct, will be released somewhere in 2010 and will contain some of the features that are now available in Media Center….if they don’t forget to add some support for DVB-C (and TV cards with CI+ support)!image

Nerd Stuff
Als een echte Microsoft-fan/nerd heb ik een XBOX 360, een (Windows 7) Media Center en een Windows Home Server mij te bevredigen in mijn multimedia en gaming behoefte. In deze blogpost zal ik je vertellen over mijn opstelling en de waarom ik juiste deze ‘producten’  heb gekozen.

Er is zelfs plaats voor wat kritiek, omdat hey…het is Microsoft spul!! Grapje…Ik vind de producten geweldig, maar ik moet zeggen dat ik toch wel wat mis. Sommige van de ontbrekende features hebben te maken met het land waar je woont. Ik ben echt een fan van plaatjes, jij ook? Daarom zie je eerst op onderstaande afbeelding hoe ik alles heb binnen mijn netwerk heb aangesloten. Als je een vraag hebt, aarzel niet en stel hem gewoon. Hoe? Op mijn About pagina vind je mijn contact informatie.

Op dit moment is de rest van deze post nog in het Engels, maar ik ben bezig met een vertaling….

Het Netwerk

On the network drawing above you can see the network as it exists at my home. Next to the Windows 7 Media Center, there are several other PC’s and laptops in the network, but because of the lack of space I just have drawn one of them. It’s also possible to remote connect to the MediaSmart Server through my personal Homeserver.com website. Through the web interface it’s also possible to connect all other Windows clients in the network!

Windows 7 Media Center
If your pc has a TV card and you’re using Windows 7 (or even Vista) you really should check it out….or not? In this blog post try to explain some of the issues I’m having while using my Windows Media Center and the solutions I found…if they’re available (as far as I know).

Media Center Extender (= XBOX 360)
When I bought a XBOX 360 (back in 2005) I bought it to play games (of course), but that was only for 30% of the time…..for the other 70% I wanted to use it pure as a Media Center Extender. This is still the case (after almost more then 4 years of XBOX 360), but during the last 4 years I had some serious doubts about my choice to use Windows Media Center as my personal PVR. The Media Center Extender does work, but (at least in the early years) you’re not able (without 3rd party software at least) to play DVD’s or MKV files via the Extender interface. I will get back to the doubts later in this post!

HP MediaSmart Server (= Windows Home Server )
Earlier this year I bought a HP MediaSmart ex475. This is one of the first generation Windows Home Servers. With this Home Server your home network administration becomes a piece of cake! You can have a central storage for your documents, pictures, video’s, music and recorded tv. Talking about Centralized TV Storage! Since Power Pack 3 became available in beta earlier this year, it became even better! With the new PP3 features (I blogged about them earlier this year) it became very easy to ‘backup’ your tv recordings to the Windows Home Server to have them available to all the Media Centers! The Windows Media Center (with the dual head TV card) records all the shows and they can be viewed from any Windows 7 Media Center in the house!

My Issues
Of course the setup described above sounds great I think! Too bad not everything works as you may expect! In the following few paragraphs I will describe the issues I ran into the last few months.

Media Center: TV Guide

When you want to record tv shows a good working TV Guide is one of the major things! I’m not sure how it’s in your country, but in the Netherlands the TV guide sucks from time to time. So it happens that when I want to search for a TV show which will air on Friday (Oct 30th), it’s not available in the TV Guide (see the image below, channel 3 and 23…no data). I just took the screenshot today (Oct 28th), and this happens all the time. I heard some friends talking about the bad EPG’s in their PVR (or hard disk recorder), but if getting a TV Guide right is an issue (it seems to be an issue here in the Netherlands)…solutions like Media Center will never become interesting for the general public, because it’s really difficult to schedule a recording if the show isn’t in the guide! This is the first (major) issue I’m having right now with Media Center.

image

Media Center : Digital TV (DVB-C)
One of the other major issues I (and a lot of peers) are having is official supported availability of DVB-C support in Windows Media Center. Oke..with some workarounds it will work, butnot officially supported by Microsoft and the Cable providers! When do the (Dutch) Cable companies enter the 21st Century and support other recording devices then their own PVR’s (the ones without the possibility to centralize your tv recordings)!

The strange thing is : Ziggo (my own cable provider) has a page on their website where they suggest that Media Center is a perfect solution for all your media. Just click here to watch the video (it’s in Dutch!). They don’t tell you that it’s not possible to (easily) record DVB-C with your Windows Media Center.

Earlier this evening @MartijnBrant mentioned that there is indeed an easy DVB-C Solution to record digital tv on your Windows Media Center : USB Clark Anysee. I’m not sure how (and if) it will work, but hey…it’s not officially supported, so when for example Ziggo is blocking the use of not-CI+ devices…you will have a problem recording your tv shows.

If you ask why they’re not supporting the DVB-C in combination with a Windows Media Center, they’re not very clear. The answers I heard of include they don’t like the ease with which you can record your tv shows and maybe manipulate the scrambled signal? Technically it is possible, but what percentage of their clients will try that? It’s the same as with people who buy original dvd/blu-ray disc’s. They have to watch all the anti-piracy shit, and everybody who is leeching their movies from usenet/torrents (for who the anti-piracy video’s are there) won’t see them….

Media Center : Internet TV and Add-On’s

The third and last issue I’m having with my Windows Media Center is the lack of Internet related TV/Video. When you’re in the USA (or UK), with Windows 7, you can use Internet TVwhich is part of the Media Center (see image), but when you live in the Netherlands (and probably other parts of Europe (or the World) the Internet TV option isn’t available!
02 - TV - Free Streaming Internet TV
Let’s hope that the European Cable companies work together and make Internet TV available in our Media Center. In other words : Let’s hope they will support IPTV in the near future. Ow..it also seems possible to watch IPTV through the XBOX 360 Dashboard, at least…a few years back I’ve seen a video demonstrating IPTV right from the Dashboard!

XBOX 360 : Media Center Extender and Media Connect
Since the last update the new XBOX 360 Dashboard has some nice new features like Facebook and Twitter integration, but the features of the Media Center Extender haven’t been extended over time. One of the things I (and a lot of peers) can use is support for MKV files. A few weeks ago I heard that it is possible to play MKV files via the Media Center Extender, but out-of-the-box it isn’t supported. It would even be better it was possible to play MKV files directly from the Video Library, so you won’t have to run a tool like Transcoder 360 (or some of the other available tools).

Conclusion
If you like to have a central recored tv storage with the possibility to watch your tv show from everywhere in your house the combination of an XBOX 360, Windows 7 Media Center, Windows Home Server and some laptops (with Windows 7 Media Center on it) will give you a great solution!

If you (at least) live in the Netherlands and the only recording device you have is your Media Center you’re not sure if your tv show will be recorded…the TV guide isn’t (entirely) complete most of the time. I heard that this is also an issue with some (or all?) Hard Disk Recorders. Most of the time all the episodes of a serie will be recorded, but if you want to schedule the serie (before the first episode starts) and the guide isn’t entirely up-to-date it can be frustrating that you sometimes can schedule the serie on the first episode..

Overall the setup works great and if Microsoft (and the European media content and cable companies) would ‘fix’ all the issues mentioned above they would make me very happy!

Maybe this will all be fixed in the new version of Windows Home Server which, if my sources are correct, will be released somewhere in 2010 and will contain some of the features that are now available in Media Center….if they don’t forget to add some support for DVB-C (and TV cards with CI+ support)!


  • Michel de Rooij

    The electra company will be very pleased to hear your running 3 boxes just to watch some stored TV shows .. How does an old Xbox or decent PC with Xbox Media Center (XBMC) sound? Plays *anything*, with subs. Works well for your download commercial-less episodes of As the World Turns 🙂

  • Michel de Rooij

    The electra company will be very pleased to hear your running 3 boxes just to watch some stored TV shows .. How does an old Xbox or decent PC with Xbox Media Center (XBMC) sound? Plays *anything*, with subs. Works well for your download commercial-less episodes of As the World Turns 🙂

  • Michel.de.Rooij

    http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/64177/microsoft-star

    Als dat net zo gaat als met die te-dure games on demand (EUR 20-30 voor een uitverkoopbaktitel van nog geen tientje) dan geef ik het weinig kans ..

  • Michel.de.Rooij

    http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/64177/microsoft-star

    Als dat net zo gaat als met die te-dure games on demand (EUR 20-30 voor een uitverkoopbaktitel van nog geen tientje) dan geef ik het weinig kans ..

  • YEah…to watch tv i'm running 3 boxes. Lucky me we don't record a lot, and a lot of it is also stored on my Zune…and watched from there 🙂
    I'm waiting for the 'new' WHS…..the rumors tell that it will have some tv tuners and media center capabilities on board…

    I'm not sure what an old xbox has to do with watching tv series….the 360 also plays downloaded episodes of my favorite tv shows without any problem!

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  • Aaron

    Hi Helmer
    Great to read your post (especially as it is in English) on the W7 / WMC / XBOX 360 extender combination and the lack on Internet-TV in Holland (and Europe generally).
    I have a similair set-up in place as your self (including ziggo as a provider).
    As an English man in Holland I have been struggling to find any consistent information (in english) on if and when Microsoft and NL/EU Cable companies intend to provide this service here.
    Knowing that the US and now even the UK (with linkage to Sky) have very broad scale PCTV services, is very frsutrating.
    I will subscribe to your blog and would be pleased if you can keep this subject updated if you hear of any positice movements.
    cheers
    Aaron

  • Aaron

    Hi Helmer
    Great to read your post (especially as it is in English) on the W7 / WMC / XBOX 360 extender combination and the lack on Internet-TV in Holland (and Europe generally).
    I have a similair set-up in place as your self (including ziggo as a provider).
    As an English man in Holland I have been struggling to find any consistent information (in english) on if and when Microsoft and NL/EU Cable companies intend to provide this service here.
    Knowing that the US and now even the UK (with linkage to Sky) have very broad scale PCTV services, is very frsutrating.
    I will subscribe to your blog and would be pleased if you can keep this subject updated if you hear of any positice movements.
    cheers
    Aaron

  • Cool I didn't even know xbox allowed you to get tv for pc free http://www.computeruser.com/blogs/entry/satelli

  • C Finley

    Hi Helmer,
    I have the same set-up with some extensions. Personally I’m not a big fan of the media center extender. I use the directory browsing feature of the XBOX360 and convert all my recordings to H264 (h264 as .avi is supported by the XBOX360). As primary recording source I use a DVB-S2 card from technisat with an original canaldigitaal card and CI-module. With this set-up it’s possible to play 1080P HD video directly via the XBOX360.
    PS for this I only need the homserver and the XBOX360 and no other PC.
    The feature I like the most of the homeserver is the automatic back-up. Although the current homserver is a server 2003 ultra light version the back-up feature is much better, easier and more extensive compared to Windows 7 or windows 2008. Before the homeserver I used ghost for back-up but homeserver provides the same convenience. Just as an example a new / bigger hard disk is installed including al programs and the windows license-key in less than 30 minutes over the network.

  • Jan

    great post, live in NL too. I have exactly the same config (all on a gigabit network) , however I have a big issue with the windows home server (490 version). I centrlize all my recordings and use XBOX360 as the media center extender. When I scroll through all recordings the XBOX360 is slow and at the end got disconnected. If recordings are stored on the PC which is actually recording or a drive connected to that machine it isn’t an issue. Have you heard about this issue as I don’t see the real value now. It should have perfect if the WHS really could take care of the recorded material being able to use the xbox360 to watch it. Also if I will fast forward a part of a recording it reacts slow. Much appreciated if you know what the issue could be. By the way; my network is all Gigabit so should not be the issue:-)

    • C Finley

      Dear Jan, I’m afraid that your problem is build into the Media center interface. Due to the previews the overview screen becomes slow. This is why I use file/ directory browsing. An intermediate solution is to organize the files a directory tree ( by year or name) This should speed up the scrolling process.