Streaming h.264 from Windows Home Server to Xbox 360 (Part 2)

After configuring my WHS so that it will stream h.264 to my Xbox, I now need to convert some movies.  For converting movies to h.264, Handbrake seems to be a good solution, if not the most user friendly.  It offers numerous options, many of which are explained on the Handbrake User Guide.  There are several presets available with options preconfigured for specific devices, though they are mainly targeted towards Apple i-devices.  Unfortunately, there is no preset for Xbox 360 in the current version (v0.94), with developers claiming in their forums that none of them have one, that it doesn’t support standards properly, and it seems to be not worth their time.  Despite that, I still want to find a good combination of settings to produce nice looking h.264 files that will stream to the Xbox.

I started out with the High Profile preset in Handbrake.  However, that did not work out, as there was a lot of stuttering and pausing upon playback from the 360.  I tried the normal profile, which was much smoother, but did not look as good.  Then I began to tweak settings, mainly on the Advanced tab to product a conversion somewhere between Normal and High.

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Streaming h.264 from Windows Home Server to Xbox 360 (Part 1)

I’ve been working on this one for a while.  I’ve seen suggestions all over the place for streaming movies to the Xbox 360, ranging from using transcoding apps to converting your ripped movies to various formats.  For my purposes, I would prefer to use a single, standard, portable format for my ripped DVD movies which precludes the use of a transcoding app like Transcode360 or some of the others.  h.264 appears to be the dominant format moving forward for video storage, usable across many platforms and devices, and retaining high quality at decent bit rates.

Unfortunately WHS v1 has Windows Media Player 10 and Windows Media Connect 2.0 installed, which doesn’t support streaming MPEG-4.  The Zune software appears to offer such support.  Unfortunately, the Zune software doesn’t install on WHS natively, and requires software from Windows Media Player 11.  WMP 11 also will not install on WHS or Windows Server 2003.  After doing some searching, I found a post on the We Got Served Wiki on installing WMP and Zune.

I followed the process for installation and configuration of WMP11 on WHS.  Only difference was that I used 7-zip to extract the WMP11 download.  Then, to install Zune, I downloaded the setup package (ZuneSetupPkg-x86.exe), and extracted it with 7-zip into it’s own folder.  Then I went into the packages folder and ran Zune-x86.msi, which installed successfully.  After the Zune install finished, I ran it and set the folders to recognize the WHS media folders.  This allowed me to stream h.264 files (with .M4V extension) to the Xbox 360.  Using the right settings for converting movies so that it will play smoothly on the 360 is another story.

Xbox 360 Hard Drive upgrade to 250GB

In early 2006 I bought a Xbox 360 with the 20GB hard drive.  While the original box died and I’ve since replaced it, the hard drive has continued to run strong.  I finally decided that I must have more space for installed games, demos, etc.  So I bought a 250GB Western Digital hard drive from Amazon with for $40 the intent on replacing the 20GB.

The 250GB BEVT works great, with the full capacity showing in the Xbox settings.  To perform the upgrade, I followed this guide, which was very useful.  Nearly everything went just as described in the guide when I followed the directions, except for migrating my data over to the new drive.  I first tried using a WinPE 3.0 USB flash drive to boot and run hddhackr.  That was fail.  Finally I created a regular DOS boot flash drive, attached the drive to a SATA port (running in Legacy mode in the BIOS) and the flash of the 250GB drive went smoothly.

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Thoughts on Kinect

Over the weekend I bought a Kinect for Xbox 360 at Best Buy.  I checked several places online which were sold out, went to GameStop (sold out), and finally found a dozen or so at Best Buy.  As far as the price for the controller goes, I think it’s worth it.  This is some impressive technology.

Setup was easy enough.  Ran the Kinect ID for each of the profiles so they’d be recognized automatically.  Though we only have one game for now, the bundled Kinect Adventures, the family has spent a bunch of time playing it.  Even my 3 year old is getting the hang of it.  It seems like it may get repetitive after a while, but for now it’s quite entertaining.

Controlling the “cursor” is simple enough, as is selecting items on screen.  Some reviews complained that it takes too long to select anything, but I haven’t been bugged by it.  One annoyance I ran across was with the search function in the Zune app.  Selecting individual letters and dragging them up was a real pain in the neck.  I really feel that UI needs work.  Another is with the avatar setup, which is done MUCH easier and quicker with a controller.  Dragging across pages of clothing or other items was a pain.

The voice controls are great, and I hope additional functions are added over time.  As far as apps on the Kinect hub, I hope we get the following: Video Library (for streaming from home PCs, not Zune), Facebook, and a “Paint” app.  I wonder if Kinect will be extended to work with the Media Center Extender functionality, which would be incredible.

Overall, it’s great!  More games are on the way, and I can’t help feeling this is the tip of the iceberg for this tech.