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. 

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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!!

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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.

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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.

2 Replies to “Windows Home Server and Xbox 360 Keep Kicking Me in the Head”

  1. My HP mediasmart server arives in the next couple days and I’ll be moving all my media over to it, including tons of H.264 (mp4) video. Right now I serve my media out to the xbox 360 from on old XP desktop using the Zune software, which displays the cover art. I’m also concerned that the only way I can keep the cover art is by passing it through Zune software sitting on a PC. This would require the server, the pc and the xbox 360 all on to watch a movie, and essentially makes the home server just an overly expensive NAS and kills all the energy savings I was hoping to get by keeping my pc turned off when not in direct use. Perhaps the Zune software can be run on Home Server directly. If so it should give you the cover art your want on the 360. If you have tried it, let me know if it worked.

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