Playing DivX on an Xbox 360

One of the hidden secrets in the Xbox 360 is its capability to run as a Media Center Edition 2005 PC Extender. So, what does that mean you’re missing out on? In short you could be using your Xbox 360 to watch movies and TV that you’ve either recorded yourself, or have downloaded.

What do you need?

Currently you can only stream videos to your Xbox 360 from a Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 PC. I say currently because there are rumours that this might change one day, but here today, that’s the only way. Do you have to buy a new PC to do this? Not if you don’t want to – you can buy an MCE OEM CD and install it yourself.

So what is this MCE? Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is basically another version of XP, the very same XP you enjoy now but it has one key addition: the ‘Media Center’ program. When you run it you get a simple menu driven interface that simplifies access to media files (music, videos, photos) along with the ability to watch and record TV if your computer has a TV tuner card installed.

Do you actually need a TV tuner card on your Media Center PC? The answer is no, not unless you want to have the ability to use your PC as a TIVO type box. That alone is a very useful feature but you can watch downloaded files without purchasing any extra hardware at all.

So, to stream video you need a copy of Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005. If you want to record TV – to do the Tivo thing for ‘free’, you will need an analog tuner. Make sure it’s one with a hardware encoder on it, or it won’t work. Something like the WinTV PVR-500 MCE is a good choice, or the WinTV PVR-150 MCE will get you started. I notice Amazon has the OEM WB (white-box) version going for around $56 with free shipping.

Playing back video

Once you have installed MCE (Media Center Edition) on your PC, you will need to first install the multiple Windows Updates that exist by running the Windows Update tool. Apply the updates repeatedly until none are left. You may also need to use the Custom option in Windows Update because the Media Center specific updates are not critical ones and must be manually selected.

Once all the updates have been installed (and after several reboots), on your Xbox 360, go into the Dashboard and go to the Media blade. You will see a link to Media Center. Follow the instructions there to link your Xbox 360 to your MCE PC.

Once you have installed the download from xbox.com, you will have the ability to play videos on your Xbox 360 that are on the MCE PC, but there is a limitation… you can only play WMV files and MPEG 2 files. Not so good for all those downloaded files.

Adding support for DivX playback

Fortunately for us, an tool has been created that extends MCE to allow it to stream DivX files. You can download it here:

http://www.runtime360.com/projects/transcode-360/

What this tool does is adds a menu to video files visible within the Media Center, allowing you to play a DivX file by transcoding it on the fly. Transcoding means your PC converts the DivX file to an MPEG steam that the Xbox 360 is capable of playing and sends that to your Xbox. All in realtime and behind the scenes.

The installation of the tool is easy – run the setup program and just accept the defaults that it offers.

So how do you actually watch the DivX files on the Xbox 360 at that point? Assuming that your files are in a shared location, e.g. My Documents\My Videos, you navigate to the movie file but instead of clicking on it to play it, you bring up the menu (Using the X key from a standard controller) and select the ‘More’ option. Then click Transcode to play it.

Pretty simple really :)

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