Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2008 and has been placed in our archive. Some of the suggestions the author recommends may be outdated. However, we decided to keep the article up for informational purposes.
Windows Media Center is a full-service media application included with Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. If you have one of these Vista editions and a TV tuner, you can watch live TV, record it, and even pause (and then fast-forward) though television programs. If you have a DVD player and burner, and you can watch and burn DVDs. With the right speakers you can manage and listen to music too, and with a big enough monitor, share a slide show of your favorite pictures with friends. Of course, you can also watch and manage home video. You can even get media online, right from the Media Center interface! No more trips to Blockbuster or waiting for your Netflix movie to arrive in the mail.
Why You Need a Media Extender
Employing this technology using a Vista PC (and Media Center) to manage all of your digital media may also mean you’ll have to gather the family around a single PC to view the media you’ve saved and want to watch. That’s no good. However, by installing a media extender like an Xbox 360, you can access all your media from any other room in your home, or even show a movie in a home theater. With an Xbox 360, you can connect to your Windows Vista PC from anywhere in your home through a wired or wireless network connection, and use the Xbox to “extend” it.
An Xbox 360 is capable of displaying (referred to as “extending”) Media Center from a Windows Vista PC, over a network, and to your home theater display, living room, or any display that you can connect an Xbox 360 to. You can even directly access your Windows Media Player library without having to open Media Center on the Xbox 360, and even play entire albums directly in certain video game titles, replacing the included game soundtrack with your own.
In the next four articles, you’ll learn about how to connect an Xbox 360 to your Windows Vista PC and your existing network so that you can access Media Center and your Windows Media Player library.
Note: Although accessing Media Center from an Xbox 360 requires a high-performance network, accessing your media in Windows Media Player 11 (through Media Sharing) from an Xbox 360 does not. An Xbox 360 can also access Zune media on your computer, though we will not discuss how to use an Xbox 360 with Zune software in these articles.
There are four steps to installing, configuring, and accessing shared media on a home network using Windows Vista’s Media Center:
- Select the appropriate type of home network.
- Connect an Xbox 360 to your home network.
- Add an Xbox 360 Extender to Media Center.
- Access your Windows Media Player library from an Xbox 360 or another Windows Vista PC.
1. Selecting a Network
Accessing Media Center over a wired network from an Xbox 360 requires a high-performance wired network. Ordinary wired networks are great for browsing the Web or checking email, but in order to access Media Center from an Xbox 360 over a wired network connection, you’ll want to make sure that your network offers a speed of at least 100 mbps. A wired high-performance network is best for accessing Media Center from an Xbox 360. It provides minimal interference and maximum speed, and is more reliable than a wireless network.
If you are not able to run a wired connection to your Xbox 360, a wireless connection may be the next best option. It is important to keep in mind that not all wireless networks provide the best experience when used with an Xbox 360 for Media Center access. In fact, wireless networks may cause the most trouble. Other devices in homes such as cordless phones and microwave ovens can interfere with wireless signals and cause connections to become unreliable or data transfer speed to degrade. This is why wired connections are highly recommended. 802.11b wireless networks are not recommended for use with Media Center on an Xbox 360 due to the slow speed. 802.11a is highly recommended because it is faster than 802.11b and operates on a separate frequency from 802.11b and the other devices mentioned that may interfere. 802.11g is suitable, but may suffer from the same interference problems.
2. Add an Xbox 360 Extender to Media Center
Connect your Xbox 360 to your home network. If you are connecting to a wired network, it should be as easy as just plugging in the Ethernet cable. Follow the instructions included with the Xbox 360 or available on https://www.xbox.com if you aren’t sure, or if the Xbox is new. If you are connecting to a wireless network, you may need to configure wireless security and other settings on the Xbox 360 first.
On the Xbox 360
After the Xbox 360 has been connected to the home network, turn it on. Then, follow the directions here at the Xbox 360:
- From the Media tab, select Media Center on the menu.
- When prompted to connect the Xbox 360 to a Media Center PC on your network, press A (Select) to continue (see Image 1).
Warning: If the Xbox 360 is connected via an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless network, you may be warned that poor performance may result. You should switch to a higher performance wireless network (such as 802.11a) if your wireless router supports it. Be careful though, as other devices on your network may not support 802.11a. Select Continue and press A (Select) to continue.
- If the Xbox 360 can locate your Windows PC on the connected network a Media Center Setup Key is displayed on the screen (see Image 2). This code is used to ensure that the Xbox 360 connects only with your Windows PC, and not any other on the network. Write this code down on a piece of paper, and go to your Windows PC. (If the Xbox can’t find the PC, you’ll need to troubleshoot your network!)
On the Windows PC
Now it’s time to work with the Windows PC. On your Windows PC:
- Click Start then click Media Center.
- Scroll down to Tasks, then scroll right to Add Extender. You may also be notified that a Media Center Extender has been found on the network. If you are notified, select Yes; otherwise, select "add extender" from the tasks list (see Image 3).
- Click Next to continue.
- Enter the eight-digit setup key displayed by the Xbox 360 (see Image 4).
- Click Next to continue.
Now, Media Center will configure set up so that the Xbox 360 only communicates with your WindowsPC and no other hardware. When this process is complete, you’ll have a chance to configure options for your Windows PC and Xbox 360.
To complete the setup process, you’ll need to configure some options for how you want Media Center to work with your Xbox 360. There are two options to consider.
First, you can turn Away mode on or off. Away mode is a special power mode for your computer. When the computer becomes inactive all audio is muted, video is turned off, and input devices such as the mouse and keyboard are turned off. (This is so that your computer isn’t woken up just by children or pets walking across the keyboard.) At the same time, the computer still listens on the network for Media Center requests. If a Media Center Extender attempts to connect, the computer wakes up to accept the connection. This saves energy while making sure your computer is still available for the Xbox 360 to connect to it, in case you decide to use Media Center on the Xbox 360 while your Windows PC is idle.
Second, you need decide whether or not the Xbox 360 can access the same media you see on your computer (see Image 5). This is recommended if you have video and pictures in your own personal folders that you may want to display from the Xbox 360. When you click Next, Media Center finalizes your settings and configures the Xbox 360 to connect to Media Center on your Windows PC (see Image 6). Next, you’ll see the Xbox 360 change to a Connecting screen while Media Center finalizes your settings.
If the Xbox 360 is connected through a wireless connection, the configuration process is not over yet. Next you’ll have a chance to tune your network connection so that you get the best possible video out of your Windows PC over your home network. This is a very important step, and you should not skip it.
Test Network Connectivity
Media Center Extenders need a high-performance network in order to provide the best experience for viewing high-definition movies, music, photos, and more. Windows Vista includes a tool for testing your network and optimizing the signal of wireless Media Center extenders. You need to test your network to see how it stacks up.
To test your network:
- Open Media Center, click Tasks, Settings, and then Extender.
- Select the Media Center Extender, and then select Tune network. If you just added the Extender, you may also be asked to tune the network (see Image 7).
- Click Next to begin the network performance test. If you are using an 802.11b or 802.11g network you may receive a notification about Marginal Network Performance (see Image 8). In this case, you may not be able to watch high definition TV or video without additional adjustments to the position of your wireless router’s antenna or the Media Center Extender’s antenna or location.
- Select how you’d like to view the current quality of signal between your Windows Vista PC and Media Center Extender. The bar view shows the quality of the signal as it changes, while the graph view shows a plot of the signal over time. Both views indicate what the current quality signal can be used for — standard television, or high definition television.
- Adjust the antennas and position of your Windows Vista PC and Media Center Extender until the signal is as good as it can get. See the Tip next.
Tip: Imagine a straight line between the two antennas. The more obstacles there are between the two points, the more your signal may decrease in quality. You may not be able to obtain a high-quality connection over an 802.11b or 802.11g network. 802.11a networks are currently the best in speed and quality for Media Center Extenders. If all else fails and you are unable to achieve a good connection, use a wired connection. The speed is much better than wireless, and so is the quality!
3. Add an Xbox 360 Extender to Media Center
Check Your Network Security
When you connect to a new network, Windows Vista asks if the network is a Home, Work, or Public connection. If the connection is a Home or Work connection, Windows Vista assumes it is a private connection, and lets more applications communicate with your computer on the network. With a private connection, Windows assumes that you are not directly connected to the internet — therefore, it is safe to allow more applications to communicate with your computer.
If the network is public, Windows Vista locks down your computer and increases security on the Windows Firewall so that fewer applications can communicate with your computer. Windows assumes that a public Internet connection is connected directly to the internet.
If your computer is connected to a public network, Media Sharing is disabled. Media Sharing is enabled on a public network. To check and see what type of network you are connected to, click on the arrow under the Library button in Windows Media Player 11, and then click Media Sharing. Windows displays the current status of media sharing at the bottom of the Media Sharing window.
Since Windows Vista automatically adjusts your network security settings based on the type of network that you are connected to, Media Sharing only works if you are connected to a private network. Before you continue, check to see what type of network your Windows Vista PC is currently connected to. If it is not a private network, you’ll need to change the network type.
To determine what type of network you are connected to and change the network type:
1. Click Start, Control Panel, and View Network Status and Tasks under Network and Internet (see Image 1).
2. In the Network and Sharing Center, verify that your network is a private network (see Image 2).
3. To change the network type, click Customize.
4. Select Private.
5. Click Next and Close.
4. Share Your Media
To Configure Media Sharing on the Windows PC:
1. Click Start, All Programs, and Windows Media Player.
2. Click the arrow under the Library button in and then click Media Sharing (see Image 1). Windows Media Player lists all devices that have been allowed or denied access to your Media Library.
Note: Because you must explicitly grant any Windows Media Connect device access to your media library, when a new Windows Media Connect device is discovered on the network it is automatically added to the Media Sharing dialog with a yellow and black exclamation point. The yellow and black exclamation point means that you haven’t allowed or denied the device access to your media library. As a result, it does not have access to any of your media. If you own an Xbox 360 that has been turned on and is on the same network, it is listed in the Media Sharing dialog as Xbox 360 and has a yellow and black exclamation point.
3. To access your media library from the Xbox 360, click it, and then click Allow. A green checkmark appears after you allow the device to access your media library (see Image 2).
4. Once shared, Media Sharing is very configurable — you can control what type of media is available to each Windows Media Connect device based on star rating and parental rating (such as explicit music content, TV-PG video, etc). To see how this works:
A. Click the device, then click Customize (see Image 3).
B. Note that you can only click Customize if you’ve already allowed the device access to your media library. Customize will be disabled (grayed out) if the device is already denied access to your entire media library.
To access your Windows PC’s media library from an Xbox 360, connect the Xbox 360 to the same network as the Windows PC and power it on. Windows will detect the Xbox 360 after several minutes and it will appear in the Media Sharing dialog with a yellow and white exclamation mark. Select the Xbox 360 and then click Allow. Make sure you click Apply and then OK to close the Media Sharing window. If you don’t do this, the settings will not take effect and you will receive a connection error on the Xbox 360 later on.
This article was excerpted from How To Do Everything with Windows Media Center, written by Joli Ballew and Justin Harrison for McGraw-Hill Companies and a copyright exists at McGraw-Hill. Permission must be granted by McGraw Hill to reuse or republish this material.