Fine Tuning Media Center 7 – Is it all worth it – Part 2

A while back, I had “given up” on using a Media Center PC, sold the digital cable tuner cards, and moved on to the old standby – a service provider set-top-box, hoping to use other devices and DLNA to replace some of the lost functionality. Let’s just say that even with DLNA libraries, Netflix, and OnDemand…a purpose build Media Center is nearly impossible to replace…that was before I owned an XBOX 360.

Enter the Media Center Extender. It looks 100% as the Media Center app does in Windows 7 with nearly all of the same functionality.

Let me briefly describe the current setup. DLNA was being provided by a Windows 7 VM with both video and audio libraries. Being a VM, it was always up and the perfect candidate to sync with the XBOX. All networking is 1Gb so that is not an issue – though I did have to up the amount of vRAM just a bit.

Let’s go back over the list:

The Pros:

  • Audio Library
    • All functionality is preserved, including sorting, album art, and even the scrolling albums covers during playback.
  • Picture Library
    • All functionality is preserved.
  • Excellent DVR
    • This could potentially be resolved with a tuner card, but would require that the Windows 7 machine be a physical PC not a VM…or use some of the network sharing capabilities of the new InifiTV card, but again this would require a physical PC.
  • Video Upconversion
    • Appears to be the same functionality.
  • Built in optical drive
    • All functionality is preserved, but limited to DVD – no BluRay here.
  • Huge PC
    • Not quite the same…but then again, it is an XBOX…..
  • Sports package
    • All functionality is preserved.

The Cons:

  • Boot time\Sleep issues
    • Resolved. The VM is always running, and the XBOX does not take long to boot, and always boots reliably.
  • Guide jump to Recorded TV
    • Have not seen this issue yet.
  • Overall remote issues
    • Does not appear to be an issue, but we’ll see how this goes on.
  • No OnDemand
    • Still have the Set-top-box, so this is not an issue.
  • Hardware failure
    • Resolved just because the Windows 7 box is a VM…yes there could be host hardware failure, but that will be a much worse day than just not having Media Center.
  • Heat and Noise
    • The XBOX 360 is a bit loud and produces heat, but not quite as much as the old MCPC….but then again, so does the set-top-box.
  • Cable provider service updates
    • Does not apply as I have yet to test the DVR\Live TV functionality.

 

All told, most of the functionality is preserved through the XBOX 360 Media Center Extender. This is still NOT quite the easiest solution for most people – who has a VM host server running 24/7? Plus I still have not tested the DVR\Live TV functionality yet.

4 thoughts on “Fine Tuning Media Center 7 – Is it all worth it – Part 2”

  1. Matthew-

    I have looked into the HDHomerun products before – this would be a great addition, considering that the Win7 box in my environment is a VM. I would be looking to get a HDHR3-CC for CableCard\PremiumChannel support.

    My only concern with the setup would be the HDCP connection requirement – being a VM there is technically not ANY connection to a display device, and certainly not an HDCP connection. I am wondering in the case of an extender, will that satisfy the requirement?

    Either way, good call on the HDHomeRun – this would be a much better way of doing a tuner setup than the InfiniTV with network bridging.

  2. Because of your article I got into using a VM to host MediaCenter. I was having quite a big problem with missed recordings, and putting the record responsibility inside a VM completely resolved the issues. It was this completely clean virtual machine that fixed everything.

    I'm using the HD-Homerun for over the air recording. I have to say, now after having gotten used to HD, there is no going back. And further more, cable will only be selling me internet connectivity in the near future.

    It just works. :O)

    I Think you will like having your tuners on the wire, and available to any devices that need them. Also the on the fly encoding into H264 keeps the file sizes down. Its just an amazing product. The tuners can be anywhere on your network.

  3. One more thing to add is that I was able to use XBOX 360 as an extender with this VM, and it work quite well.

    I was surprised because the VM was setup with just enough memory for the bare minimum, being only 1280 MEGs allocated.

    This was enough ram to run MediaCenter as a recorder, and to act as a server for the Xbox to connect to. Simply amazing.

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