Xbox Media Center Extender Details

The Xbox Media Center Extender is a $80 add-on to your Xbox and Windows Media Center PC 2005 to allow your Xbox to do things like watch live or recorded TV, check the weather, listen to internet radio or song files on your Media Center PC, etc. You simply connect the Xbox to your home network with an ethernet cable, or with a wireless networking adapter (additional cost), then use the supplied remote control to remotely control the Media Center PC through the Xbox. I’m not sure how all of the DRM will work, but I’m sure it will be there somehow. I imagine anything Windows Media Center 2005 will play, the Xbox will play though, because it just streams content over the network.

This is all fine and dandy, but what if you use Macs or Linux? What if you have Windows XP and don’t want to go out and buy another $2,000 computer in order to get the Media Center 2005 version of Windows to make this work?

Luckily, some clever programmers have had this solved for quite a while.

You have a couple of options, the main one being:

h3. Xbox Media Center

“Xbox Media Center”: is based off of the XDK, which is supposed to only be available to developers. This means you have to download a pirated copy of the XDK off of your favorite site for acquiring something like that, which makes this version a bit more illegal than the other option. You also have to install a mod-chip into your Xbox for this one, which means taking apart the Xbox and soldering the chip in place, though some chips have a solderless option which costs more and works on older versions of the Xbox. Taking apart your Xbox voids the warranty, so if you mess it up, you’re screwed.

The Xbox Media Center supports a ridiculous amount of video formats that it will play, from DivX to WMP to Quicktime and Mpeg4. For sound it plays MP3’s, OGG vorbis, AAC, etc. It allows you to browse through a library of pictures in a wide range of formats, and uses the internet to give you the current weather, etc.

You can store your movies or music on another PC on your network, whether it’s Windows XP, Mac OSX, or Linux. The Xbox Media Center will scour the hard drive for files, and download the cover art and details for movies that it recognizes through a database it uses online. You then browse all the cover art for a movie you want to watch, and it starts streaming it and playing it over your network. You can use the Xbox DVD remote to control the entire system, so you don’t have to get up off the couch to grab the game controller in order to pause the movie or switch to your music collection.

With the modded Xbox and a few other apps, you can also do things like copy entire games to the hard drive, which are then loadable through a menu in Xbox Media Center and play directly off of the hard drive without the original DVD. This is obviously not legal, but it’s possible anyway.

You can install a larger hard drive once you’ve modded your Xbox, so you could use it as a media hub. Put a 200gb hard drive in there, store all your games directly on the hard drive, movies, music, etc. You could access the movies and music from other computers on your network because of the built-in FTP server.

There is also a wide variety of emulators for the Xbox, so you can have a huge collection of NES, SNES, Genesis, GameBoy Advance, and other systems right on the Xbox available all at once.

There is an insane amount of things you can do with a modded Xbox and some of the software floating around, which is one of the reasons the Xbox has become so popular.

h3. GentooX

The other option is “GentooX”: which is an Xbox port of Gentoo Linux. It uses a BIOS written from scratch for the sole purpose of booting Linux, so you don’t have to steal the XDK in order for this one to work. You also don’t need a mod-chip.

I’m not real familiar with this setup yet, but I imagine you can do anything on this that you can do with a regular install of Gentoo Linux, including watching movies and listening to music. It’s a good option if you don’t want to have to take apart your Xbox and void the warranty.

h3. Converted

For the longest time I had no interest in the Xbox because the only good game for it was Halo, in my opinion. I wrote it off as a lame attempt by Microsoft to control the gaming industry like they control everything else. Which I still believe they are trying to do, but after I found out about a few of these hacks I became a whole lot more interested.

I run all Macs at my house, and have an “EyeTV”: on my G5 so I can record TV, etc. I also have a large collection of movies, and since my DVD players got fried in a storm, we’ve been having to watch movies on the computer, which means sitting in uncomfortable chairs and watching a tiny screen. I was going to buy the “EyeHome”: in order to watch movies and the recorded TV shows on the TV, streamed from the computer, but it turns out getting an Xbox is actually cheaper, plus it allows you to play emulated games right on the TV, as well as the regular Xbox games of course. Plus it has its own hard drive, rather than having to stream everything from the network all the time.

I will be purchasing an Xbox in the next month or so, and I plan on writing about the experience here as I mod it, etc, so if you are interested in setting something like this up yourself, stick around for that article. If you’d rather get started now, “Xbox Scene”: has all kinds of info on the mod-chips, emulators, Xbox Media Center, etc.

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