Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console is one of the most popular ever. It's great for sitting around and playing games with friends and you can even play DVD's and music CD's on the console. While this isn't terribly exciting, if you have a system that is running Windows Media Center (MCE) or Vista Ultimate Edition, you can stream Windows Media Video (WMV) movies to your 360 console over the network.
The down side is that you are forced to use one of these operating systems and the WMV codec isn't all that good - compression is not that great and although it's becoming more popular these days, DivX and Xvid are preferred "DVD backup" choice codec's, shall we say? These lesser mainstream codec's offer better compression and many folks on the darker side of the Web mostly use this format to distribute movies around the Internet since they are the most 1337 choice among enthusiasts.
Since the Xbox 360 is essentially a PC wrapped in Microsoft 360 dashboard software, I always thought there must be some way to play movies other than WMV on the console - without actually hacking the 360 software and hence voiding your warranty. It turns out you can!
While there are plenty of discussed methods floating around the Web, most are impractical and annoying and not thought out so well. Many involve actually decoding your original video source into WMV format and then placing the file into a folder which is recognized by MCE and the Xbox console. Others are a little more advanced in that they can provide real-time DivX to Xbox 360 streaming of content but are less than ideal since you are still forced to use MCE or the most expensive version of Windows Vista.
Last month a group of software folks at TVersity who know a thing or two about this subject managed to make the whole experience much easier and pleasant with their latest version of TVersity. They have a piece of software (and it's completely FREE!) that is able to on-the-fly transcode many video and audio formats into WMV format suitable for the Xbox 360. As it is playing in WMV format from your PC over the network, you are not modifying the console software or hardware and using legal software, therefore your warranty with Microsoft will be fine. Essentially, TVersity is able to trick the console into thinking the source format is WMV (or one of the formats supported by the 360) by using transcoding.
If you use Digital Media Servers which are able to stream content is a similar fashion to the Xbox 360, TVersity will also work just fine. As long as your device uses the UPnP AV / DLNA standard (which is the de-facto standard for connectivity between devices in the digital home), you won't be limited to whatever your DMS supports.
Over the following pages we'll provide a simple step by step guide on playing DivX and Xvid movies and a bunch of other video and audio formats on your Xbox 360 console. Let's get started!
System Requirements and Downloads
We'll start off with the system requirements for TVersity:
- Pentium III 700 Mhz or better (Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz with support for Hyper Threading is recommended)
- 128 MB of memory or more (512 MB recommended)
- 50 MB of disk space (At least 1 GB of free space is recommended for cache area of transcoded media)
- Windows XP or Windows 2000
- DirectX 9.0 or higher
- Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher
- Audio enabled on the computer running the software
- Flash version 7 for the GUI (MSIE version 6.0 required for full GUI functionality, other Flash enabled browsers such as Firefox will have most but not all of the functionality.)
As you can see, the system requirements are fairly minimal. These are the requirements for streaming non-HD content, around the resolution of 400 x 300 pixels, with bitrates up to 300-400 kbps.
If you want to up the ante, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz with support for Hyper-Threading and with 512 MB of memory is recommended for real-time transcoding of standard definition video - WMV 720x480 1.5Mbps. If you want to go for the extreme (1080i/p content) they recommend Dual Core or dual CPU systems with 1GB of memory for real-time transcoding of high definition video.
As for our testing, we used a fairly standard Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 with 1GB of memory over a 100mbit wired network and everything was as smooth as silk - no skips or voices out of sync throughout many watched movies. We were only using standard definition video for testing and before the movie actually started playback, there was only a couple seconds delay before it got started and all movies played right through to till the end with no issues.
If you have a slower machine, obviously the playback start time will be slower and if you are using a Wireless network that may cause a problem if the signal strength is too low. Wired networks are recommended for a better experience as Wi-Fi can just plain suck sometimes, especially if you intend on streaming 1080p content to your brand new plasma or LCD. If you have an old machine, you'll need to stick to low video resolutions.
Downloading the Software and Codecs
As of writing this guide, the current version of TVersity is Release 0.9.9.1 (November 26, 2006) and this is the version which supports Xbox 360. If you are using a previous version, you'll need to find a patch.
Download the software from here and install - the download link is at the bottom of the page. We tested using the final version of Windows Vista (build 6000) and while installation wasn't ideal, it works after a reboot - just ignore the error messages and start the program. According to the developers, it should work in most versions of Windows 2000 and above.
If you don't have any codec software on your PC, you will need to download them but chances are you will already have them installed if you've been watching the movies on your PC but check anyway. On the download page is a list of required codec's - make sure you download them and install them all if you intend on streaming videos using formats such as MPEG2/4, H.264, DivX, Xvid, AAC, FLAC, Vorbis, FLV and so on.
After Installation and Testing
Once TVersity is installed, there are a few steps we need to do before you can start streaming movies to your Xbox 360. Assuming you have installed all the required codec's, you are good to continue.
A good test for this to play the desired movie you want to later playback on your Xbox 360 and play it in Windows Media Player to see if it works. If you see a blank screen and / or no sound, you haven't installed the codec's or installed them incorrectly. There is more information on the required codec's, here.
If that still doesn't work, it means you are trying to watch a movie with an uncommon codec which may not be supported by TVersity.
- Allow TVersity on your LAN
Since TVersity acts as a server (media server) on your Local Area Network (LAN), you need to make sure Windows and your router allows it access. If you have a personal firewall running or the Windows firewall is running, you need to make sure that the executable MediaServer.exe located under the installation folder of the software (usually c:Program FilesTVersityMedia Server) is allowed to accept incoming connections on the port used by the media server (which is by default port 41952).
If you are running a router, you will also need to enable port forwarding from your computers IP address - as a result, it will be handy if you assign yourself a static IP on your local network binded to your network card MAC address, for instance. Login to your router and enable port forwarding as you can see in the image below.
If you are having troubles figuring out how to do that, read your router manual or visit PortForward.com as that website is a great resource for this type of thing.
- Testing to see if TVersity Media Server is working
Once the program is open and you have started the Media Server (it should automatically start the Windows server when you open the program). To test and see if the Media Server is actually working, type the following address into your Internet browser: http://localhost:41952/
If every has worked correctly, you should be presented with a screen like the above. If you see this screen, you are ready to move onto the next steps. If you don't see this screen you've done something wrong and you should visit the Quick Start Guide section of the TVersity website for more details.
Setting up TVersity software
Now that we have confirmed that the TVersity media server is active and working on your PC, it's time to load up the program and make sure everything is setup correctly.
Open up the program - if the icon in your taskbar need the clock is not blue, it means the server isn't working or has been stopped. Blue always indicates that the server is working and red when it has failed. You shouldn't have any problems this - when Windows starts, so should the server.
The first you need to do is build up your library of content. First of all we will add a new movie to your library - simply click the green + button under the menu items and click "Add File" and then browse.
Once you have selected the movie, give the movie a title. If you don't give the movie a title, when you select movies on the Xbox 360 console, it will just show the file name, which sometimes isn't pretty. Make things neat and tidy and always give newly added movies a title. Once you're done there, just click submit and it will be added to your library - as simple as that, no need messing around with Windows Media Center annoyances.
If you don't want to add movies individually, you can simply add a folder. For instance, I created a new folder and simply moved movies there and updated the library. When you done adding files and folder, remember to click the blue refresh icon (next to the + icon) - that will update your library so your Xbox 360 shows the most up-to-date library listing on your console.
IMPORTANT NOTE: During our testing, we had issues streaming movies over an attached USB device (USB HDD caddie). It would seem like we are doing something wrong or there simply isn't enough bandwidth over the USB interface for these types of operations. If you have issues streaming from a USB HDD, just copy the file to your master HDD and everything should work normally.
The good thing about this software is that you can also stream video and audio from an Internet URL. Just add the URL the same way and you'll be able to stream from your media server PC straight to your Xbox 360. Too easy!
That covers the basic setup of the software - really all you need to do is build a library of content. However, the software can be tweaked but we'll look into that a little later.
Setting up Xbox 360
Setting up your Xbox 360 console
Now that the media server is working and the TVersity software is working as it should, we are ready to move onto the Xbox 360 console side of things.
First off you will need to ensure that you don't already have any other media servers linked to your console - if anything, it will most likely be your Windows Media Center based PC using Microsoft Media Extender software. Of course, you've found a much more practical and easier solution now, so you don't need that anymore.
Start up your Xbox 360 and scroll to the settings area and then click on "Computers". Disconnect any Windows based PC or Windows Media Center computer that is currently associated with your console. Now scroll to the media area and click on music and then click computer. The next step is going to ask you if you have installed Windows Media Extender software (www.xbox.com/pcsetup/) - you have TVersity now and that is acting on its behalf - so, just click "Yes, continue".
Next up and as long as your Xbox 360 console is correctly connected to your home network and you followed all the previous steps correctly, you will see your new TVersity media server - something like "TVersity on PC", select that. Now go back to the main media area and click on "Video" and you'll have your list of movies that can be streamed directly from your media server PC.
Simply choose the movie you want to watch and press the green select button and you're off and racing! Don't be alarmed if the movie doesn't start straight away - depending on the speed of your PC and quality of your network, it could take quite a few seconds before the movie begins. If it doesn't begin at all and says unsupported format, your TVersity media server has more than likely stopped. This could happen for a number of reasons but from what we have seen so far, it happens when you try and play a movie with a codec that is unsupported by TVersity or if the network connection is too slow, it just drops out and gives you an error message.
If you are having issues, try restarting the PC and turning the Xbox 360 on and off - that might well fix your problem, as it did for us a couple of times.
Tweaking TVersity - General
Now that everything is working, it's time to run through some of the additional settings which can be changed and tweaked in TVersity.
To access the settings area, click on the "Settings" tab under the + icon where you add new content to your library.
- General Settings
- First of all you have the "Media Playback Device" selection - you can leave this set as automatic but we set it to Xbox 360 for accuracy.
- Next up you have the "Media Sharing Service" - the options are pretty basic and here is where you can stop the server if need be.
- Next up is the "Temporary Media Files" - again very self-explanatory, just set how much space you want to allow for temp files. Default of 8192MB will be plenty. This space is used for time shift if you want to pause a live stream.
- Next up is the Home Network section. If you enter an IP, only that IP will be allowed to access the media server on your network. For security reasons, you should untick the box which allows incoming connections. Only enable this if you want to stream from outside of your Local Area Network, like when you're away from home.
- The final option under the General settings which interests us has to do with time shifting. As we discussed earlier, TVersity is able to stream live content from the Internet. If you need to leave the room for whatever reason, here you can change the time shift period (so that you can pause, resume and not miss anything). This software just gets better and better.
- Media Library Settings
Under the Media Library area, settings are fairly limited. The most important option is choosing the amount of time in between each refresh (update) of the media library. So your media library is kept up-to-date as much as possible, set the library to refresh every hour.
Further below you can also have TVersity modify the displayed file names of your content so that it is more readable on your Xbox 360.
Tweaking TVersity - Transcoder
Continuing on, the Transcoder area is where things start to get more interesting!
The first option lets you choose when the software should transcode your content - the best and recommended setting is "Only when needed".
When your content bit rate bandwidth required exceeds what your network is capable of producing, you are in for trouble. If you have a slow network (wireless), you can enable the option to decrease the bit rate if it is too high for your network. Wired network users should be able to disable this without any issues.
The next option is important. If you have a slow computer, you can optimize the transcoding to "Speed" which will result in a lower quality image but might mean the difference between you watching DivX and Xvid movies on your Xbox 360 and not. Users with fast or modern computers can keep this setting set at the "Quality" level setting.
The next option under "Connection Speed and Quality" lets you tell the software what type of network you have. Now is not a good time to lie! If you are using a wireless network or a crappy wired network, don't say you have a wired network with excellent connection quality - that's just asking for trouble. Set your network settings according to your actual network otherwise you'll more than likely see pauses and freezes when watching the movie, as TVersity is only trying to send to the Xbox at the bit rate you told it.
The next option is also highly important for users of slower computers and slow networks. Under the "Compression" section you can choose the amount of compression applied to your content. If you have a slow computer, choose between Maximum and Average, if you have a fast or modern PC, you can use the minimum option.
Again, the next option under "Maximum Video and Image Resolution" is important. If you have a fast wired network and an equally fast PC, you can go ahead and set the maximum video and image resolution as high as your TV supports. If you are super confident in your system and network, set a huge resolution such as 1920 x 1080 (1080p) and you'll be setup to stream full-HD content to your Xbox 360 console. Then again, if you have a slow PC and network or an old TV (or non LCD or plasma), a good maximum resolution is 640 x 480. Just set the resolution according to what your TV is capable of and you'll be fine.
The final option is "Decoding Speed" but we cannot comment on it too much as we haven't played with this option too much yet. If you are super confident in your PC and network, you can try enabling the option to decode media as fast as possible without taking into account its actual encoded bit rate. This is said to result is smoother playback and faster playback start time but might not be compatible with all media. Give it a try and see how it works for you - if you have problems, you can always disable it again.
That brings us to the conclusion of our guide on playing DivX and Xvid content and whatever other content on your Xbox 360 console that wasn't supported before. Keep in mind that TVersity also works with other devices such as Digital Media Players but this guide was only designed to help you setting up everything for the 360 console.
The folks over at TVersity have created a kick-ass piece of software that works well, even under Windows Vista, which is not even officially supported yet. It is amazing to think that the software is FREE; personally I would pay money for this software. If you think they've done a good job, you can give them a donation, which I will be doing shortly as a sign of appreciation.
If you are having any problems, we suggest that you visit the TVersity support page. They also have an extensive FAQ which should answer many of your questions. Please don't email us with questions as we are unable to offer technical support.
Hopefully everything went as planned and you're relaxing in your lounge room streaming non-supported official content to your Xbox 360. I'm about to go and relax and put a DivX movie on the console - have fun!
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