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Creating a Media Center: Should the 360 Help?

Lucky CynicLucky Cynic Registered User regular
Hey there guys. I am thinking of putting together a media center type deal like so many people are these days. The trouble is that I have media everywhere and I would like it all bound to one simple device/interface. Now I currently am using a bunch of DvDs/hard drive space for the PC but I am thinking of instead opting to move all my pictures, movies, and music to an external hard drive and instead viewing all this content via the Xbox 360 but I have several questions because this is a daunting task to attempt.

The first question I have is how to increase the Xbox's hard drive capacity? 120 gigs is simply not enough for me. That is less than my computer hard drive. I do have a 1TB MyBook external hard drive which would be nice to utilize for all my media and just save the Xbox 360 hard drive for all my games and game saves. Can anyone verify if this is possible? Basically I want to hook up my external hard drive and have it carry all my pictures and content so if I do want to view all this, I can. Easily.

My section question revolves around the Xbox 360 and how well it plays with other media types. I assume it plays alright with music, with a basic interface to interact with my tunes like navigating and creating play lists and such. What about pictures? I haven't seen an Xbox 360 be used to view pictures but I assume it would have such an elementary feature.

My third question is regarding movies(digital and DvD copies), videos and other cumbersome content. I have movies and video content all over the place and I'd like to try and unify all my sources together. I have some movies in digital form, others from the Zune Video store, and others in DvDs. I would like to somehow rip all my content and put it on my external hard drive so I wouldn't have to deal with any discs but that probably isn't possible right now, is it?

My fourth and final question is regarding controls. Do you guys just use the Xbox controller to manipulate the interface or should I try and get a spiffy Xbox remote?

Any feedback you guys can offer would be great because my current solutions with a PC being as the center of my media center only started to turn up in smoke.

Lucky Cynic on

Posts

  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited January 2010
    The first question I have is how to increase the Xbox's hard drive capacity? 120 gigs is simply not enough for me. That is less than my computer hard drive. I do have a 1TB MyBook external hard drive which would be nice to utilize for all my media and just save the Xbox 360 hard drive for all my games and game saves. Can anyone verify if this is possible? Basically I want to hook up my external hard drive and have it carry all my pictures and content so if I do want to view all this, I can. Easily.

    The largest official hard drive for the 360 is 250GB. I think there are a couple special-edition boxes sold with those, but you're probably hosed there. Thankfully, from my understanding the Xbox 360 can play media (music, videos, and probably pictures) from an external hard drive, provided it has the proper filesystem (IIRC it can read all flavors of FAT, HFS, and ironically not NTFS...but you'll want to look that up).

    What I don't know is if it can allow access to that drive over a network. I'm guessing not, which is why I'd suggest that you instead hook the drive up to a computer (maybe put together a low-power-consumption file/print server) and share it from there...because your Xbox can also access media over the network.
    My section question revolves around the Xbox 360 and how well it plays with other media types. I assume it plays alright with music, with a basic interface to interact with my tunes like navigating and creating play lists and such. What about pictures? I haven't seen an Xbox 360 be used to view pictures but I assume it would have such an elementary feature.

    No idea on pictures, but I believe Windows Media Center does pictures and the Xbox is a Windows Media Extender, so it should be able to as well. At least through Windows Media Center.
    My third question is regarding movies(digital and DvD copies), videos and other cumbersome content. I have movies and video content all over the place and I'd like to try and unify all my sources together. I have some movies in digital form, others from the Zune Video store, and others in DvDs. I would like to somehow rip all my content and put it on my external hard drive so I wouldn't have to deal with any discs but that probably isn't possible right now, is it?

    The Xbox plays well with most file formats, including the most ubiquitous ones (.AVI, .MPG, .MP4, .WMV) but doesn't handle some of the newer (and better) ones, like .MKV.

    Yes, it's entirely possible to rip your DVD collection for play on your Xbox. Really, all you need are a couple simple tools (I use a command-line program called vobcopy in Linux to rip the DVD, then Handbrake in either Linux or Windows to re-encode it for the Xbox). What takes more time and effort is learning what half the shit you're doing means. Things like the difference between codecs and containers, what bitrates are appropriate in what codecs for what resolutions, what mixdown (if any) to use for audio, that kind of thing.

    But for quick and easy? In Linux, you can insert a DVD, run Handbrake, choose the "Normal" profile in the nifty GUI, and it will output a Xbox-playable file in one step (maybe four clicks total).* In Windows, you're going to need to rip it to your hard drive first (there are a few programs, I used to use DVD Decrypter but it's showing its age) then do the same (Handbrake is multi-platform).
    My fourth and final question is regarding controls. Do you guys just use the Xbox controller to manipulate the interface or should I try and get a spiffy Xbox remote?

    I use a Logitech Harmony remote for all my devices, and you should too. If you're going to buy a remote, go for one of these...they can be had starting at (if you really shot around) $70 or so, and you'll thank yourself. Otherwise? Just use the controller.
    Any feedback you guys can offer would be great because my current solutions with a PC being as the center of my media center only started to turn up in smoke.

    I recommend looking at using it as a Windows Media Center Extender. This'll mean storing your media on a computer (I know Vista and 7 come with MCE, don't know if you'll need to buy something for XP), but it makes life easier. Aside from that? Yeah, the Xbox is a pretty capable media player. Little loud, kinda limited on formats, but capable.

    Personally I use an old PC that has HDMI output (from a $50 video card, that can also do hardware decoding) as my media center. This adds the ability to do shit like Hulu (and other TV streaming), and also to play raw VIDEO_TS folders (from ripped DVDs, so no re-encoding or quality loss) as well as play any container I might run across. Then the Xbox gets used for things I've bothered to re-encode for it, and for Netflix Instant Viewing (as well as the occasional rental in the Zune store).


    * - This is never 100% foolproof. You will run into videos with funky framerate issues, but they're rare. More common are videos that use actual DVD subtitles for foreign language portions (think Kill Bill, in scenes where people are speaking Japanese) instead of just burning them onto the video itself...so if you don't check the foreign subtitle search options in Handbrake, you'll just be fucked during those scenes. But, if you do check the foreign subtitle search option in Handbrake, occasionally you'll run into funky movies that use occasional subtitles for other purposes (think Spaced, where all the pop culture references are explained through optional subtitles). Basically 75% of my headaches are with subtitles, but luckily 99% of movies don't give me any problems at all. Also, Handbrake now does proper "soft" subtitles (can be turned on or off during playback), but don't know if the Xbox supports them. These are all things you may or may not want to learn about if you go down this path, but trust me it's not as hard as it sounds.

    EDIT: Oh, and the reason I use vobcopy then Handbrake (instead of just Handbrake, because I could do it in one step) is because I do multi-pass encoding...better quality at optimum bitrate. If you just read straight from the DVD in Handbrake, it has to read the entire DVD for each pass. Also that way if I need to re-encode (or do a separate encode for my iPod) I don't need to re-read the DVD. Basically it just saves wear and tear on my DVD drive, by only copying the DVD to the hard drive once.

    Spoiler:
  • corky842corky842 Registered User regular
    edited January 2010
    Put all your stuff on a server with loads of storage space:
    http://freenas.org/

    Access that stuff from the 360:
    http://www.lagesse.org/freenas-tutorial-for-windows-users-part-five-xbox-360/

    Darmak wrote: »
    Something is wrong with me
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited January 2010
    Yeah, I'm definitely a fan of just using a networked storage solution.

    But keep in mind that running a computer constantly will run up your power bill (yes, us nerds do it anyway) so you might consider putting something together that doesn't draw much juice. Or even look at a router that allows hooking up a hard drive for NAS.

    Or just put the computer to sleep when it's not used.

    EDIT: You'll still need to learn a little bit about what formats the Xbox will play, and how to convert your media (like DVDs) to it. But it's not that hard.

    Spoiler:
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