In my house, we are big media consumers. If you think about music, movies, television, web video and podcasts, between the three living beings in our house, we consume enough for our block I am sure. There are many different ways for media to snake it’s way into your home, but my question is are those ways starting to file down to one?
Think about this, as little as a year ago we had cable, internet, bought movies, iTunes music, Netflix, Redbox and probably a few others I can’t think of at this moment. We had 5 cable boxes, one for each TV in our house. The result was a bunch of singular stations that could only watch what was live (except one DVR) could not share content anywhere in the house and was pretty much catch what’s on or pop in a DVD.
Today things are quite different. We are down to three cable boxes in our house (and considering going down to one, but I’ll explain that later) and everywhere that we regularly watch TV, we can watch TV on demand, all the shows we like to follow. How might we do this you ask?
Xbox 360 and Windows Media Center
I think this might be the best kept secret in the world right now. Sure all my buddies know about it, but I work at Microsoft, so they should. The tipping point was today when I saw that my sister had purchased an Xbox 360, she is no gamer. So what makes this little box so special? The quick rundown of features the Xbox 360 provides that don’t include gaming is:
- Windows Media Center Extender: This gives you access to live TV, Video, Music, Photos and FM radio streamed from a Windows Media Center PC. Basically any Vista computer not running Windows Home Basic. It takes about a $50 investment in a TV tuner if you don’t already have one.
- Netflix Streaming: If you subscribe to Netflix, you now have over 10,000 on demand videos you can watch right on your TV from the Xbox 360.
- Zune Integration: This isn’t where it should be yet, but you can plug a Zune in USB and listen to music off of it. While we are on Zune, if you manage your Zune on your Media Center PC, all of the music you have purchased or downloaded via Zune Pass is available through Media Center.
- Xbox Live Movie Rentals: You can rent movies on demand direct from Microsoft, we are talking same day as they come out on DVD.
That’s pretty slick right? So how does that work in a real world scenario? We have 4 Xbox 360s in our home. I talked about there being 5 Cable boxes before, now there is only 4 360s because I can also watch TV in my office on the Media Center computer’s 24” Monitor.
I have three tuners in my Media Center computer which means that it can manage 3 Live TV feeds. That could be watching one while two record, watching 3, watching two while 1 record, you get the idea. Any combination and it streams the show real time to the Xbox over the home network.
Of course all of the Xbox 360s are also fantastic upscaling DVD players as well, so watching our movie collection plays out of the same box instead of having to add a DVD player everywhere. It’s a fantastic solution. When the cable companies give up on the encryption crap like the music companies are starting to do with DRM, then you will be able to bring your cable into your house with a Media Center computer, perhaps a tuner for each place you will put an Xbox 360 and then an Xbox 360 in each room. Talk about an awesome setup. Might want to run all that wired tho! I have had a few issues with performance if your WiFi connection isn’t that strong.
So now when shows come up we like, I go to the Media Center computer, set up a recording or series recording. When we are ready to watch, we just pick it from the lovely TV friendly interface and we are enjoying our favorite shows with the Cable Box on the curb.