Xbox 360 – Media Center Extender Annoyances

I had the Media Center Extender running on my original Xbox some months ago, though not soon enough as it took Sony forever to release an update to bring my VAIO desktop (purchased August 2004) up to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. However, I have pretty much never used it since.

And I suspect it may end up being the same with the Media Center Extender on my Xbox 360.

The reasons for this are simple, but I will point out that they may not apply to everyone.

First, I don’t use my PC for much MCE video recording – I generally don’t record the over the air programs or the ones from the TDS (terrestrial digital service – like DirecTV, but land based instead of satellite) because the quality of the signal isn’t great on either, and because I don’t have any easy way for the MCE PC to switch channels on the marginally better TDS system (none of the remote controller set-up options works for the custom Zenith set-top box).

Second, on the rare occasions I have used my PC for recording programs, they are programs I would rather my children didn’t have access to (think HBO or Showtime programming in the 9pm and later time slots and you’ll get the idea). While I know there are parental controls available on the Xbox 360, they do not appear to apply to the programming I’ve recorded from our local TV signal sources. I don’t need my children asking me why all those people on the shows I recorded, like Penn & Teller: Bullsh*t! on Showtime, or Entourage on HBO, swear all the time. A similar issue applies to my photos – I don’t want non-family using my Xbox 360 to be able to view all the photos on my network storage – nothing embarrassing there, but there are about 15,000 images from the last three or four years, and some are more personal and private than others.

Third, video over the Xbox 360 wireless connection is poor and unsteady. I know they warn you about it, but the five-port Ethernet switch in my entertainment system is full (Xbox, PS2, GameCube, networked Onkyo receiver, and the network connection), and I didn’t want to bother adding another switch.

Fourth, while the music playback system on the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender is nice, once you get it to recognize and catalog music in locations other than the annoyingly default “My Documents” directory, the free remote (the short one) I got with my Xbox 360 has no apparent way to allow me to enter letters into the search fields for the artists or albums or songs I want, meaning that if I want to listen to Paul Simon’s music in my 400+ CD digitized collection, I have to scroll all the way down – a horribly painful and tedious process. Some letter/number keys on the remote would have been a useful touch. I also had the impression that the MCE remote control I got for the Xbox should work (per the configuration settings in the Xbox 360), but no joy there either. And I really have no desire to buy a more functional remote to make up for it.

And finally, I don’t want to have to keep my computer powered on all the time on the off chance I might want to watch a recorded movie or show, or listen to music. I already have a couple of file servers running 24/7 (main one is a Linux box with RAID-0, and the other is a very old PC running bare bones Windows XP for performing back-ups every night), and that’s enough. And I don’t want to have to boot up my PC just to watch some recorded video. Heck, it’s easier for me to just burn it to a DVD and watch it that way.

So, one of the big reasons Microsoft touts for putting an Xbox 360 in the living room “for the whole family to use” just does not fly in my household. It is nice for playing games though.