What If I Just SAY I Won – HowTo for WHS and Xbox 360

So I didn’t exactly do everything I wanted to.  I came close though.  Close is good, right? 

I satisfied all of the requirements I set for this project with the exception of 1A which was NOT to need a Media Center PC to be running.  Since I have totally hijacked my own blog for this, I figured it was better not to sink any more hours into this and get back to our originally scheduled program. 

So here it is broken down for you in living color, my Media (not quite) Utopia.

 Capture

At the end of this journey you will have:

  • Ripped DVD content encoded to MP4 files encoded with H.264 at very high resolution
  • A slick graphical Collection Management system
  • Direct streaming from WHS to any Media Center PC
  • Streaming from the WHS via a Media Center PC to the Xbox 360
  • A (fairly) straightforward method for ripping your DVDs directly to the Home Server

I am assuming that you already have:

  • Xbox 360 with latest updates, connected to your Media Center PC
  • A functioning Windows Home Server
  • At least one Media Center PC, joined to the Home Server
  • Network connectivity between all of these devices (the faster the better)

 

1.  Download and install My Movies 3 for WHS on your Windows Home Server. I just opened an RDP session to the server (Start > Run > mstsc, then enter the IP or name of your server) and installed it that way. 

RDP

2.  While you’re RDP’ed into the server, make sure that the “Windows Media Center” Group has modify permissions to the folder D:\My Movies\File Storage or your 360 will throw a File Storage error.  (My Computer > D: > My Movies > Right Click FileStorage and then click the Security tab.  If you don’t see Windows Media Center in the Group or user names: box, then click the Add button and then type Windows Media Center and then OK.  Then in the Permissions for Windows Media Center box, click the Modify check box under Allow.)

FileStorage Permissions

3.  Open the WHS console and go to Settings > My Movies.  Enter in your Web Service account (you can create one at the My Movies forum) and make all of the service lights are green.

4.  Download and install the My Movies Client installer on your Media Center PC.

5.  Launch the Collection Management app on your Media Center PC, and then enter your WHS name or IP when prompted.  You’ll also have to enter your My Movies Web Service account again. 

MyMovies_Connect to server

6.  Make sure that your “Videos” share on the home server (or whatever share you are going to use to store the movies) has the Guest account set to “Read”. 

image

7. Now you’re ready to get some movies going.  Under the videos share, create a folder (it doesn’t matter what you call it, but I use the movie name) and copy an MP4 or a VIDEO_TS folder into it.  After just a minute you should see some additional files appear in that directory (if My Movies can identify it, that is).  My success rate has been pretty high so far. 

Folder

8.  Once the files show up, you can look at the info in the Collection Management app on the client.  If it can’t figure out what movie it is from the filename, then you can click the Change Title and Source button and either scan the barcode off of the DVD case (very cool) or manually search for the right title.

My Movies_Collection Management

9.  At this point you should be able to launch Media Center on both the PC and Xbox and see the My Movies Menu option.

My Movies in media center

In the final (!) installment of this train wreck, I will show you how to use Handbrake to rip and encode your DVD’s right to your Windows Home Server. 

Windows Home Server and Xbox 360 Keep Kicking Me in the Head

I spent all weekend looking to conquer the home media utopia.  I have gone through a seemingly eternal progression of media packages.  (Not that it was all pain.  I found some really cool software in the process.)

First, I have to slightly amend my stated objectives for this project.  They now are:

The “Must Have” List:

  1. It must store the media (music and movies mainly, photos are really an after thought for me) on a centralized, always on system. (Currently a Windows Home Server in my garage) 
    • This system must be stand-alone. For example, I don’t want to have to have a Media Center PC always on in addition to the home server.
  2. I must be able to use the content from:  My Windows 7 Ultimate PC, my Vista Slate, My Wife’s Vista PC, My Daughter’s Windows 7 Home Premium PC or the Xbox 360 in the living room.
  3. The movie content will be displayed GRAPHICALLY, like with cover art, so that my illiterate children (5 year old and soon the 1 year old) will be able to select movies without shouting across the house “WHAT DOES THIS SAY MAMA?”

The “Would Be Nice” List:

  1. The ripping process should be relatively painless.
  2. Movie descriptions, ratings and cast info.
  3. If the disk space could be minimized, that would be great.

The reason I had to update this list is because of My Movies 3.  This package ALMOST fits my requirements exactly.  I REALLY wanted this solution to work.  It has a Windows Home Server installer that works beautifully and client software that can be installed to do the actual DVD ripping and store the VOB files on the WHS shares. 

image

All of the content lives on the server and all you have to do install the client software on your Media Center PCs and a new section shows up inside of Media Center and allows you to see the cover art and movie info as well as play the content directly from the WHS share.  Great Right?  That gets me all of my must haves as well as my would be nice list. 

I have two problems with the way this plays out on the Xbox which I didn’t think about when I was writing the requirements.  (This is called “Scope Creep”, by the way – or maybe just crappy requirements gathering.)  First, it requires that the Xbox be able to connect to a Media Center PC, which means it has to be on and accessible on the network.  The second problem is that once you get into the My Movies section of Media Center on the Xbox, it won’t play any media from the home server.  SO CLOSE!  I can’t imagine why the XBox can’t stream VOB files from a Network path (UNC either – I tried) on the Windows Home Server!!

IMG_0564

One of the other packages, tversity, seems like it would work (other than some flaky behavior on Windows Home Server) but it doesn’t seem to do cover art at all.  Another solution that would work for me with no additional software is just streaming MP4’s directly from the WHS to the Xbox.  The problem here is the ugly gray icons which only show the file name.  It doesn’t seem to respect the ID3 tags or embedded icons that show up on the file system.

IMG_0562

I’m sorry this got a little too techy (and ranting), but it has been a frustrating weekend.  I was lamenting to a friend of mine, and he said “Just teach your kids to read dude!”  Touche, Steve.  Touche.

DIY: Windows Home Server – Part 2

I know it’s taken forever for me to get this out, but here is the second part of the WHS article I started back in February.  In that article we stopped after the server setup was finished.  We’ll jump right in and look at the WHS console, which is the tool you will use to configure and maintain the server.

First we’ll set up a user account.  Click on the Windows Home Server Console icon on the desktop, then click on the User Accounts tab at the top.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-57-01

Click the Add button and you’ll see:

WHS-2009-03-18-14-57-09

Click on OK and you’ll see:

WHS-2009-03-18-14-57-28

Enter the name and username that you want and then select whether you want the user to have remote access for that user.  You can set up WHS to allow connections from the internet to your server, so if you were at work or traveling you can access files and even take control of your home computers.  I’ll cover that in more detail in a future post.

When you’re all done, click Next.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-57-38

Enter a password.  If you chose to enable remote access in the last step, you have to come up with a good password.  Don’t try to use your dogs name unless it looks like $oT7jkl12.  Click Next.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-57-44

This screen is asking you what access to give the user.  Full means they can add, delete, change whatever they want in that folder.  Read means they can view, play, etc but not change delete or add.  None means they won’t even see that folder.  Make your selections then click Finish.

While we’re in the Console, let’s take a look at the rest of the tabs.  Click on Shared Folders.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-58-06

Here you can see a bunch of shared folders that WHS created for you.  You can add as many more folders as you need and then you can set permissions (as described above) for that share as well.

Click on Server Storage.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-58-10

This will show you all of the hard drives that WHS is aware of.  One of the cool things about home server is that you can add internal drives, external USB drives, thumb drives, or whatever and it will add them to this screen and use them.  You can see the nice graph that tells you how much space you’re using. 

Now click on the Settings button over on the right side near the top.

WHS-2009-03-18-14-58-20

This is where you will set many of the options for WHS.  You can set up what time to run the backups of your computers, configure media sharing and also set up the remote access piece.

Now let’s go to one of your computers and get it connected to the home server.  Find the disc labeled Windows Home Server Connector software and put it into your CD/DVD device.  You’ll see:

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-53-52

and then:

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-54-48

Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-54-54

Of course we accept the terms which we have never read and have no intention of reading.  Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-55-32

Enter the password you created when you did the initial setup.  (You know, way back in February…I really do suck sometimes).  Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-55-46

It’s just easier to let the machine do the updates for you, but it’s up to you.  Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-55-49

Also up to you, but backups are IMPORTANT.  I would leave it on Yes.  Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-56-09

Click Next.

WHS_Vista-2009-03-18-14-56-15

Now you’re done!  Wait, what just happened? 

  • Your computer was joined to the server
  • An automatic backup was scheduled for your computer
  • You now have an icon that says Shared Folders on Server on your desktop

In part 3 of this article, we’ll go through the steps to enable and secure Remote Access to the server as well as set up media streaming and connecting your Xbox 360 to WHS.  Stay tuned….

Windows Home Server Rules

I’ve been using WHS at home for a few months now and I REALLY like it.  It’s been out for a while now, but it hasn’t really made a big splash.  Basically it’s a server for your home.  Duh.  Why do I need a server for my home?  Here are a few questions that will help you determine if you do:

1.  Do you have more than 1 computer or laptop?

2. Do you have files (pictures, songs, movies, documents) that you would cry over if your hard drive died?  (C’mon, we all know you’re not doing backups…)

3.  Do you have an Xbox 360 you’d like to watch movies on?

If you answered yes to any of these, you should think about getting a Windows Home Server.   A real world illustration:  My wife mentioned that she thought she had a virus on her PC.  Being the competent technology widow that she is, she booted into safe mode and started an online virus scan.  It kept acting stupid, so when I got home, I popped in the WHS restore cd and booted to it.  30 minutes later we had done a full restore to the previous day’s backup, sans virus.  Sweet.

There are lots of advantages to using it for your home, but I really think it’s a viable solution for very small businesses also.  It has a hard limit of 10 users (and no upgrade path), but it brings a lot of functionality to the party for very little investment. 

Look for a Do It Yourself piece in the next few days that will show you how to take an old PC and turn it into a Windows Homes Server.  If you’re not into rolling your own, check this HP out for about 500 bucks.