Windows Media Center Extenders

Published Mon, Nov 26 2007 1:55 | William

I'll be posting about some of the details shortly after this, but now that I have my XBox 360 up and running, I had an interesting experience the other evening. I was laying in bed scribbling some notes to myself on my tablet and a dialog box popped up I hadn't seen before. It said something to the effect of "Windows has detected a Media Center Extender.  Please enter the 8 digit code that you'll find on the screen of the device."  That wasn't the exact message but it captures the spirit. So I went into the living room and realized I left the XBox on. However I didn't see anything on the screen. Knowing that there was a code I needed to find though, I decided to look around and find it.  After I found it, I grabbed the tablet and entered it and walked through the little wizard. It mentions that you can hit the green Windows key on your 360 controller and pull up Media Center.  So I did and Mr "I hate tv and anything to do with tv" went further down the couch potato (or didn't Dan Quayle tell me it was potatoE?).

Not too long ago, I bought a new Yamaha home media receiver.  I wanted to consolidate all the chords I had on various devices and actually be able to listen to DVD's through real speakers.  The model I bought also had XM integrated into it which sealed the deal for me.  If I have time later, I'll post a little about the XM thing - the short story though is that having it pre-installed in a home receiver works infinitely better than using my Tao and a sound dock - and I can just leave the Tao in the car and never worry about leaving it at home).  The receiver has a special interface to work with IPods which would be nice, except for the fact that I don't use the IPod I have and it's incompatible with my Zune.  So I was using the Zune home kit which basically enabled the receiver to treat it just like any other input.  It worked, but the cables that the Zune home kit comes with aren't very long so I'm forced to keep the Zune and the dock near the receiver.  Admittedly, bitching about a problem like that entails way more energy than is warranted, but when you start down the path of keeping all your peripheral devices neat and orderly, little things turn into big frustrations. 

I mention this b/c now, I don't have to use my Zune to listen to my stored music.  That alone is nice but not really that big of a deal at the end of the day. What is that big of a deal though is that I can access all of "My Music".  I have a ton of music stored on various USB drives including one of my favorite new acquisitions, a network attached storage device.  So now, by using the 360 as an extender, I don't have to remember to bring in my Zune from the car every time I use it and I have access to way more stuff than I could ever fit on the Zune.  Considering that this all came for free by virtue of running Vista Ultimate and hooking up my 360, I was very pleased.  I had known for a while now that Media Center was included on Vista Ultimate but for some reason, I never really got it.  My tablets are my favorite devices in the house and I always do my best to keep them clean and keep stuff off of them that I don't need.  I feel guilty enough about having three versions of VS.NET on two of them. Prior to Vista, I basically had no choice but to use my Media Center as the media device and my tablets as tablets.   Although I'm sure my readers already know this, I would mention for any visitors that Vista Ultimate includes both Tablet PC and Windows Media Center.

Thanks to the network attached storage device, Kim and I basically load all of our pictures and music onto it and now have family media, as opposed to two different individual media stores.  She is much more proficient with the media center and uses it to pull down her favorite tv shows.  We have 2 media centers at her house and still are kind of fragmented there in that we haven't centralized everything to one machine.  The more powerful of the two is a laptop so she's been a little ambivalent about turning it into  a permanent fixture.  We're in the process of getting a new media center that will be the actual 'media center' and start using it like it was meant to be used.

That's where the discussion of Extenders came up. If we're going to just use one box for all of our media needs, we need to be able to access it from a few different rooms.  Sarah will need one for her room, we'll need one for the living room and of course we'll need one for the master bedroom.  Having an XBox 360 in each just won't work.  Nor will moving an Xbox 360 around from room to room - it's already a pain disconnecting it and dragging it from Atlanta to Greenville every week.

I kind of figured that there would be tons of extenders available. And somehow, I'm guessing that there are a lot more available and I'm just not realizing it (I could have sworn Michael Earls told me he used a regular Xbox as an extender). Anyway, here's the list I found:

I guess if you're just getting up and running, the HP HDTV's are the way to go, but I can't imagine they are cheap and buying a new TV for each room I need media center in just isn't an option.  The Niveus looks awesome although I'm guessing it's fairly pricey.  My guess is that it'd be pretty nice for the TV room but won't be a reasonable option for the other room. The DLinks and the Linksys stuff all look affordable (I think I saw the 2100 for a little over 200.00) and easy to use so I'm guessing that's probably what I'll end up buying.  On the one hand, even having this much high tech was something I wouldn't have guessed possible (or if it was possible, it'd be too expensive to seriously consider).  Having this much coolness and being able to trick out each room in the house with a TV in it for < $1,000.00 is impressive.  On the other hand, it's mainly going to just be an aesthetic thing b/c we already have everything we'll have with these extenders in the form of laptops and tablets. 

This weekend I had bought a Que book on Vista so I can finally learn my way around it effectively instead of clutzing around it like I do now.  And from what I've read so far, I pretty much knew everything Vista had to offer in terms of Tablet functionality and am definitely getting my arms around media center.  As much as I like my 360, and think it's a great extender from what I've seen so far, having devices targeted specifically to being extenders makes a lot more sense and means you don't have to walk around with your laptops everywhere or have an xbox in every room. I obviously have a lot of learning to do here.  And when it  comes to Media center, I've been pretty much a poser. I've had a few different machines, have the keyboards and the remotes, but have been pretty much crippled when it comes to doing anything significant on it.  Kim has pretty much pwned me here b/c she knows the media center inside and out.  Hopefully the extenders will give me a good excuse to spend some more time getting to learn Media Center better. If you have used a regular xbox as an extender (again, I may just be imagining things but I was pretty sure Michael Earls who was a true media center guru, told me it was possible) or no of any other ones out there, I'd definitely appreciate it if you could point me to some more information.  Truth be told, the only reason I even got an extender set up so far was a a complete fluke so I'm more than ignorant on the subject.


# JB said on November 28, 2007 2:57 PM:

Hey, Bill.  Have you checked out Windows Home Server yet?



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