Ever since I heard of the existance of the Xbox 360, I was intregued by it’s alleged “streaming media” capabilities. When I got one, I knew it was a feature that I simply needed to try. That was December. I had been running Windows Media Player 11 long before that, and downloading and setting the connectivity part was simple. I had my mp3s streaming in about 10 minutes. Since then I’ve become quite the “library whore”, having a constant need to manage my own content, fix ID3 tags, get album art, etc. For the most part, WMP11 has stood up to my abuse, and I applaud it for that. I still think there are better players out there, but for library and organization sake, I find WMP superior to iTunes. That’s just one man’s opinion. I don’t have an iPod, so I can’t attest to iTunes “awesome trendyness”. But this article isn’t about iTunes vs WMP, actually, it isn’t even about music. It’s about TV.
While WMP11 streams music and photos to the 360 with ease, video is a whole other ballgame. At first I just put various TV shows into a folder, added the folder to my library and hoped for the best. No dice. Although WMP can play all sorts of media files, the 360 won’t see them. So I start digging. Apparently the original 360 dashboard and the original versions of WMP11 forbid streaming video. This was a pretty blatent attempt to sell more copies of XP Media Center Ed., which worked right out of the box with the 360 and could stream pretty much everything with little or no effort. The other option for streaming content was to wait for Vista, since Home Premium, Premium and Ultra all had the media center components build in. All this was going on in the latter parts of last year, before I even got my 360. When I was Google’ing the problem, I kept on finding “it simply won’t work without Media Center” as the answer, but all the articles and forum posts were early or middle 2006. Surely there had to be some sort of update since then, especially now that Vista is here. Sure enough, there was a WMP update, a Media Connector component update and a few dashboard updates. All this combines to let the people with the bleeding edge, newest updated copies of WMP stream a VERY specific type of WMV file to the Xbox.
Fantastic, awesome, now I can stream video to my Xbox right? Kinda. Like I said, it needs to be a specifically encoded WMV video file, with a certain type of audio encoding as well. Specifially, you need the Windows Media Encoder Series 9 codecs. You also need to have the video compressed with MPEG4 and MP3 192kbps audio. This is the only combination I could find that would work.
So, I have the right format. What about my content. Well, my main motivation in doing this is to watch TV. You see, I don’t have a DVR. I can’t watch TV when I want to. I’m at the mercy of the networks. I know, shame on me for not being with it and having a DVR (trust me, I want one). Thankfully, the internet comes to my rescue. TV torrents are among the most popular things on the planet at the moment. Not to mention that these torrents are almost always of the HD version of the show. The main problem is, all these bountiful, HD quality shows are all Xvid encoded AVI files. What’s a boy to do? Convert them of course!
Converting video these days is easier said than done, at least for the average home user, and especially when speciality formats are involved. I already mentioned that for the WMVs I needed the WME9 codec, MPEG4 and MP3 audio right. Well, to use the AVI files, I also need the Xvid codec, the DivX codec (for some), and AC3 audio filters. Of course, you need a program to actually do all this conversion. Well, most, if not all the popular conversion software can’t convert into that funky WMV format that the Xbox needs. WMEncoder can, but it can’t DECODE the AVI files. This is where it gets complicated. After searching for days, I finally determined that with the help of a VB script and a lot of command line decoding/encoding, it’s possible to do it fairly painlessly… but one video at a time. Of course, you need MORE crap to do that too. FFMpeg, FFDShow, and the front end to the AC3 filters do most of the work, and the VB script I found was called Encode360.
Basically, once you get all the pieces in the right place (which took the better part of a day), all you need to do is drag and drop a file onto the VB script and a couple minutes later, you have a fantastic looking, still fairly HD quality, properly formatted WMV file, that WMP11 recognizes, shares, and that your 360 finds and players perfectly.
Now, the only thing left to do is to re-encode my entire library of stuff. While it’s always beneficial to keep the AVI files, I usually just burn them to disk and get them off my system. There’s no sense in keeping the AVI files on my system when I would have to be in front of my computer to enjoy them. I’ll just keep the WMV files handy so that I can watch TV more or less on demand. Seeing as there’s only one evening’s worth of TV that I watch in the first place, that shouldn’t really be that daunting of a task. How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men and CSI:Miami. I’ve got the occasional episodes of Family Guy and The Office, but that’s pretty much it. I would like to get the entire collection of Red vs Blue on there, but I think I’d be looking into getting a new (giant) hard drive before that happens.
So, my question to you guys is this… do any of you have any experience transcoding stuff like this? Is there an easier way to do it? Any suggestions on programs or processes to speed this along? I’ve already tried TMPG-encoder, VLC player, and MediaMonkey. They either didn’t work, didn’t work properly, or produced poor and unwatchable results. I had videos without color, without audio, with audio but without video, all sorts of crap. I’d really like an all in one package that I just give it a file, tell it to make it a WMV with X, Y, Z parameters, and let it go to town. Any thoughts?