website hit counter BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender - Chris Lanier

BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

Xbox: A Winner Only at Games | “The heart of Microsoft's vision is a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition, which can dispatch music, photos, live or recorded TV, or other videos to different devices on your home network. The new Xbox fits right in, pulling TV signals from your PC, for example, and showing them on any screen. It's simple to set up, and you can get it connected in less than five minutes. Although video quality suffers a bit from the compression required for moving it on the network, it's not bad, even over wireless -- provided you have a strong signal.


There are some shortcomings: The Xbox makes a racket -- especially its cooling fan. This is O.K. during game play but not when you're watching TV or listening to music. Worse, there are some basic flaws in Microsoft's grand vision. Media Center has very limited ability to handle high-definition programming. And if you have the Xbox sitting there next to your HD display and cable or satellite set-top box, you don't need the expensive Media Center setup”


I’m confused about the first point, I’m not aware of any “compression” applied to content in order to stream it.  I’m not exactly sure where this bit is coming from, but the files are only compressed in the exact form they are on the Media Center PC.  DVR-MS are MPEG-2 for example.  Yes, it’s compressed, but it’s not compressed for moving it on the network.

The noise the unit makes is subjective, however Charlie Owen says “when running the Media Center Extender software, it's virtually silent with the fans at their lowest setting. From my experience, it's quieter than the VCR in my kids playroom when running MCX.”


The article is correct about the shortcoming with HDTV, but I think they might have missed that Microsoft and CableLabs Announce Agreement to Enable High-Definition Digital Cable Programming on Windows-Based PCs.  A quick quote for those who don’t know: “These Media Center PCs, capable of supporting a CableCARD module, will allow consumers to enjoy one-way cable programming, including premium high-definition cable content, on their personal computer and throughout the home on compliant network-connected devices, such as Xbox 360”.  The Xbox 360 will be a device that is built on over the next year.  The functionality of the device, or connected devices, will improve and bring much wanted features to the consumer.

Published Thu, Dec 1 2005 13:13 by chrisl
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# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

I agree that the reviewer is a bit confused and/or misinformed. Further, I'm not clear on whether he understands what Microsoft's trying to do or what the target user wants. The target user of the Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender (i.e. ME!) is likely to use this device INSTEAD of the set-top box. For instance, my intent is to simply have the XBox 360, my stereo receiver, and my HDTV in the living room. That's it. My MCE "server" PC will stream TV from the STB in my basement to each of my XBox 360 extenders (and v1 Linksys extenders), along with other media.

I am trying to simplify the media-interaction experience for my family and make it available in many locations throughout my house, in a uniform fashion. Of all the technologies I have looked at so far (including TiVo--extensively), MCE2005 and the XBox 360 are the best candidate solutions on the market at the moment.

Coming enhancements like DVD-changer integration and CableCARD integration only make things more enticing for me as a home media enthusiast.

I never thought that MCE would become more attractive to me than sexier "indie alternatives" like SageTV or BeyondTV (or even TiVo, which I used for years), but here we are. Being a big company with relationships and influence on the cable TV and consumer electronics industries is helping Microsoft here, to my intellectual chagrin but to my gadget-loving geek-centric pleasure.

Thursday, December 01, 2005 4:45 PM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

I don't think the author of this article has even seen, much less "used", an Xbox 360. Does he know that the fans automatically reduce to the quietest setting when in Extender mode? The difference in fan noise between gaming mode and extender modes is shocking. It's *very* quiet in Extender mode.

I have the 360 running with my MCE PC. It's brilliant. It allowed me to move the MCE PC to a closet (quite happily). I've been running for a week, with not so much as a stutter (wired network). The author seems completely uninformed regarding the alternatives to Microsoft's current setup. Granted, the HD support is currently limited to OTA, but name one other DVR offering with complete HD support coupled with all the other included media features? It doesn't exist. Within a year, MSFT will have, by far, the single most complete offering, and the 360 will be playing it's part.

I also question the "compression" comment. Real-time compression would require a very significant processor power, which is *not* a stated requirement for this configuration. In fact, last night I was watching a recorded OTA HD show through the 360, recording another one on the MCE PC, and all the while the MCE PC was decrypting, compressing, and burning a DVD. Not a single stutter on the 360.

This article is a joke and smells of something written along the lines of "I'll query my friends about the Xbox 360 and write a factual-sounding review based solely on their responses and opinons."

Friday, December 02, 2005 8:40 AM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

I e-mailed the author yesterday about why the content isn't transcoding, the noise factor in Extender mode, and linked to this page. We will have to see if he replies or makes any corrections.

Saturday, December 03, 2005 9:31 AM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

Got done with my e-mail threads with the guy, very disappointed that this is the kind of person writing for BusinessWeek! :(

I had sent him a link to this post and he e-mailed back saying the following about the "compression" issue.
Actually, I believe the video is WMV9 transmitted between the MCE and the Extender. Standard MPEG-2 has a bitrate of about 4 megabits per second, peaking at 8 mb/sec or more. There's no way to move that much data across a wireless network and get acceptable video at the other end. WMV takes the bitrate down to about 1.5 mb/sec, but you can't do that without sacrifing quality.
I replied saying that DVR-MS is MPEG-2 at about 8mbps (Best Quality) and OTA HD recordings are about 19.4mbps. I also said that you could get about 20mbps from a a/g wireless router and that real-time encoding solutions cost over $1000.

He replied to that by saying
Your estimates of wireless throughput are extremely optimistic. The big problem is that neither TCP/IP not Wi-Fi was designed for isochronous delivery of packets so you need a huge amount of headroom to have any hope of acceptable video performance. Microsoft recommends 802.11a, which offers more reliable performance and much less interference than g, but at a significant loss of range. Reliable, standards-based, quality wireless video is going to have to wait a couple of years for 802.11n.

While not correct at all, he is right that 802.11g isn't going to give 20mbps throughput, unless you are say 8 feet away from the access point. However, you can get it with 802.11a on a fairly consisant basis (anyone streaming OTA is getting about 20mbps throughput) *He didn't say a single thing about transcoing of the content, meaning he knows that he is wrong and is just trying to find something to reply with*
About the noise he said
I tried out two different Xboxes and they were both pretty noisy, noisier than anything else in my video rack by a fair amount. Some people will find that objectionable, some won't. I did.

I replied to that with
Noise of the unit is very subjective, I can't really argue about that. However, I can say that your wording in your article leaves much to be desired, considering the fans will be snipping more during gameplay and less/slower in while running the Extender software, your depicting really doesn’t follow those facts.

No followup to the noise in his last e-mail, just about wireless throughput.


Then he replied about the CableCARD fact with
I'll believer in a Cable Lab's CableCARD for Media Center when I see one. Microsoft has had to pull CableCARD support out of the last two versions of MCE because Cable Labs failed to deliver. In any event, it's not going to happen before the release of Vista next fall because there are no further releases of CE planned between now and then.

I replied with
Not exactly sure about your CableCARD and CE (Windows CE?) comment. CableCARD will ship for Windows, most likely Vista but we are not talking Windows CE support over consumer based SKU’s. Windows CE doesn’t have anything to do with it. :-)

He then replied to that with more comments that I'm not sure about, saying
By the way, by CE I mean consumer electronics, not Windows CE.

I'm not sure what "CE releases" he is talking about, but I don't think he has a clue what he is talking about. Consumer electronics doesn't have a thing to do with CableCARD and Windows PC.

By far one of the worst articles that I have ever read, he needs to fix the mistakes in his article!

Saturday, December 03, 2005 2:52 PM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

Hes Right about the noise - my 360 makes a hell of a racket even when its doing nothing at all- just sitting at a menu with no game in the DVD tray.

I want to use it with MCE but the fan noise is putting me off.

Looks like ill have to swap out the fan, and therefore i`ll have to invalidate the warranty to fix it. Not impressed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005 7:09 AM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

Well, I must say that I agree with the guy from BusinessWeek with respect to the noise issue.

I think the Xbox 360 is extremely noisy when using it as an extender. It may be even noisier when playing games, but this doesn't bother me as much as there are often a lot of sound in the game itself. I think the noise level is completely unacceptable for watching TV or movies on the 360.

Could it be that some units are more noisy than others?

I can't detect that much of a difference between Media Center mode and game mode either. OK, the fans may turn down a little, but not that much.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005 10:21 AM by chrisl

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

In response to the fan noise issue, just speculation since I don't have my 360 yet - coming for Christmas.

I've heard that the fan noise is much greater when the xbox is in a vertical position. It makes sense, in a vertical position they would be much more likely to wobble.

Anybody notice a difference? Also, those complaining about fan noise, are you setup vertical, or horizontal?


Tuesday, December 13, 2005 12:25 PM by Mashman

# re: BusinessWeek Not Happy With Xbox 360 As Extender

The x Box 360 fan noise is too loud. It sound like a hair dryer! Not able to watch a movie!

Friday, June 09, 2006 2:29 PM by John Mitchell