To paraphrase a famous literary passage: In the beginning, there was a console system with a large controller and an even larger hard disk drive, and the people did rip upon the drive a vast flood of music, manipulating the great analog joysticks and oddly placed buttons, and waiting for long ages while the audio transferred from disc to disk drive thus enabling the use of custom soundtracks in precious gaming titles that supported this bold new technology. And it was good.
It was so good, in fact, that Microsoft decided to make the media surrounding the games and gaming culture as important to the Xbox 360 as the games themselves. But I digress... Ahem:
Then, it was passed down from the great village of Redmond in the great state of Washington a great new gaming system which had increased its media handling capabilities not once, nor twice, but a thousand times, integrating many portable devices, television recording, and networking with machines that were once unreachable.
It may be a bit melodramatic of an introduction to a how-to article about getting the most out of the new media capabilities built into the Xbox 360, but the level of media integration into the gaming experience is completely unprecedented. Not only has Microsoft brought us a new level of gaming technology, but they have mainstreamed what until now has been the domain of only a few of us lucky media geeks: the media hub (or, as Mr. Bill likes to call it, the media extender).What can it do?
The Xbox 360 retains the original Xbox's ability to rip music and use it as custom soundtracks in games. But that's where the original stopped, and where 360 gets going. The Xbox 360 takes media control out of the hands of game developers and puts it squarely under your control. All of the media features are integrated into the system at a core level, which means that you can always access your own music and play games with your own soundtracks, regardless of whether or not the game developers have decided to support those features.
The Xbox 360 also connects to portable devices, ranging from external hard drives to a wide variety of MP3 players, including iPods. All of the basic music navigation tools are available when playing back from these devices, including listings by Artist, Genre, etc. and access to any playlists that have been stored on the device. For music players such as iPod, which charge their internal batteries from USB connections, the Xbox 360 is happy to re-charge your portable device for you.
Xbox 360 can also connect to any Windows PC on your home network. With a free level of Xbox Live included with every Xbox 360, even more Xbox owners will be creating a home network and connecting their console to it for online gaming. The side-effect of this is that gamers can install Windows Media Connect on their home PCs and give the Xbox 360 access to any folders they have decided to share. This means that gamers can view images and stream music directly from their home computers, almost completely removing the need to rip music to the Xbox 360's hard drive.
Finally, a Windows PC running Windows Media Center Edition 2005 can use the Xbox 360 as a "media extender," more commonly known as a media hub. Using the very nice remote control that comes with the 360, the console becomes a TV tuner, allowing gamers to watch, record and playback live TV. The Xbox 360 supports all the major DVR (digital video recorder) features found in so many products on the market-today (this is where the adjective Tivo-like could come into play). In extender mode, the 360 can even stream videos stored on networked computers.
All of these features offer loads of possibilities to users looking to experiment with media, so we thought we'd walk you through some of the most common media-oriented tasks.Using a portable USB device (iPod, mp3 player, or external hdd) with 360
Hooking up a portable device to the Xbox 360 is super simple: Just plug the USB cable into one of the two USB ports hidden behind the little trapdoor at the bottom of the unit's faceplate (assuming your 360 is standing vertically). The Xbox will recognize the unit, and we've had luck getting it to recognize both Sony's PSP and various iPods. Once the device is connected, you can browse to the Media blade to play music or view images from the device.
If you're inside a game, you can still connect a device to the Xbox at any time. Then, press the Xbox Guide button (the big silver one in the middle of the controller), and go into your music playback menu. Browse to your connected device and select an artist, song, album, or playlist (screen
). Press the guide button to return to the game, and you will notice your soundtrack is mixed into the game's soundtrack. Playing GUN with the Beastie Boys' Phil Glass remixes in the background is pretty surreal. The system is even smart enough to pause the music for the cutscenes and resume playback when regular gameplay resumes.
There is no way to eject your external device, so be sure you've stopped your music playback or image viewing before yanking the USB cable out of the Xbox 360. So far we haven't run into any issues, but it still is a little weird to just detach the device with no safe eject option.Connecting to a PC using Windows Media Connect
Most Windows PC owners have Windows Media Player installed, which is half of the installation here. So pat yourself on the back for a job well-done. You'll need at least Windows Media Player 9 here, although WMP 10 is recommended. To get Windows Media Connect, visit this site
, then download the file. It's just under 7MB, so it's not too bad. (NOTE: You will need Windows Service Pack 2, which you should already have by now.)
Install Windows Media Connect following the directions. Have your Xbox 360 turned on and connected to Xbox Live. Windows Media Connect will detect your Xbox 360 and you can add it to the list of allowed devices. If you need to alter this, just click on the Devices icon on the left side of the Windows Media Connect window.
You must also enable Windows Media Connect to start with the Start-Up Group, which means it will run whenever the machine boots. You'll also want to enable folder sharing (screen
), and then select the folders you want your Xbox 360 to access. That might mean your My Music and My Pictures, or, if you color outside the lines, possibly the creatively named "MP3", as is visible in our screenshot
Windows Media Connect will review the files in the folders you're sharing, and that could take awhile if you have a lot of music or images. Once it's finished, you can minimize it to your System Tray and let it do its thing in the background. Return to your Xbox 360 and pull up the Dashboard blades. Navigate to the Media blade and you'll see that the Xbox now sees your computer and you can play music and view images from your home computer (screen
Just like with the portable devices, you can stream music from your home PC to your Xbox 360. Pull up the Xbox Guide with the Guide button while you are in a game, and then simply navigate to your music. You'll see the same directories and listings as before, and you can play them live in the game. It is important to realize that this streaming audio takes up some bandwidth, so it might affect speeds on your local network. But the bandwidth required for playing music should not interfere with any gaming activities, such as playing on Xbox Live. Connecting to a PC running Windows Media Center Edition 2005
The process for connecting a PC running Windows Media Center Edition 2005 is a little more complex, but only because you have to go through a few extra steps to make a deeper connection to the PC. The reason behind this is that the Xbox is able to control major media functions of the PC to facilitate television viewing and live television pause/record/playback.
Once you've connected the Xbox 360 to your Media Center Edition PC, you should be able to use the PC just as you normally would-except you'll be sitting in the living room using the Xbox and its remote control (screen
). All of the normal functions of the PC should be there, and you'll even notice a little "Start" button on the remote. Of course, all of your music is available to play during games, too, just like mentioned previously in this article.Closing Tips and Ideas
The Xbox 360 will only play video downloaded to it and from a Media Center Edition PC. You cannot stream video from your networked PC using the Windows Media Connect application, although it would be nice to see that change. Windows Media Connect works with other media hubs to play video, so we hope the Xbox will eventually get this capability.
Check out our other How-To article about getting podcasts on your Xbox 360
. It's fun to play games and listen to your favorite news or radio shows.
Do you have some more ideas for cool ways to access media with your Xbox 360? Drop us a line and let us know: mailbag[AT]gamesfirst.com