Xbox 360 video support update

Last month I blogged about the upcoming Xbox 360 update that would add MPEG-4 and h.264 video support. A few days before I first heard the news, I had ordered an Apple TV, which natively supports these formats. As soon as I found out that my Xbox 360 would support these newer formats, I quickly cancelled my order. I’d have to wait a month, but hopefully it would be worth it.

So at 5 am this morning, the update downloads to my 360. So I quickly flip over to the Media blade to see if the MP4 files shared from my PC will work, and… AND…!!!!

Nothing. I get a listing of a bunch of videos that the Xbox still doesn’t support (namely the XviD/Divx variety), but no MP4 files. I’ve got all the Firefly episodes encoded and ready to go, and I can’t watch them – what insolence!

After some snooping on the Xbox team blog, I discovered the problem at the bottom of the Spring ’07 Video Playback FAQ

21. What are the different video codecs that Zune and Windows Media Player support out of the box for streaming?

The Zune software supports unprotected WMV, MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.264. Windows Media Player 11 supports protected and unprotected WMV.

22. How can I get Windows Media Player 11 to stream MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.264 to my console?

By default, Windows Media Player 11 does not support MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.264. You can either convert your MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.264 content to WMV or you can install a 3rd party MP4 DirectShow decoder pack to import MPEG-4 part 2 and H.264 files into your library. Once they are in your library they can be streamed to your console just like WMVs.

Basically, my Windows Media 11 install wasn’t doing the job – despite the fact that I can view MP4 files just fine on my PC. I have ffdshow installed, but I guess that won’t do the trick. So I downloaded and installed the Zune player – despite not actually owning a Zune – and now it’s indexing my fairly large media collection.

Twenty minutes later…

Zune player finishes indexing my media, and I hop on the 360… it’s still not showing any MP4 files. I disabled media sharing in Windows Media 11, and disconnect then reconnect to my PC. Hallelujah! There’s my episodes of Firefly. I click “Play” and…

Sweet jumpin’ Jehoshaphat – it has to download an “Optional Media Update”. One I’ve already downloaded apparently. I’m so confused. So I re-download it, and finally – success!

I was able to play back the Xplay video podcasts, Firefly episodes encoded with Handbrake (iPod compatible), and Futurama episodes encoded with MeGUI (not iPod compatible). That was a lot of hoops to jump through, but at least it’s working now, and much better than having to transcode with TVersity or Transcode360.

Related Links

Xbox team video playback FAQs

Zune player download

Handbrake

MeGUI

EMI to offer DRM-free music through iTunes

In what is hopefully the first of many, the EMI record label announced that they will be offering their catalog of music free of DRM (Digital Rights Management) through the iTunes Store. In a nutshell, DRM is technology meant to stop people from copying digital content. On one hand it makes sense because artists should be able to protect their work from wholesale copying and distribution and benefit financially from the fruits of their labor. On the other hand, US copyright law does allow for “fair use”, which means being able to make backup copies for your own personal use – something DRM schemes are meant to limit.

One caveat is that the price of admission has gone up slightly – $1.29 per track as opposed to the previous $.99 per track standard. To dull the sting somewhat, the bitrate of these unprotected tracks has been increased from 128kbps to 256kbps AAC – which is virtually CD quality.

Hopefully the rest of the major labels will get the hint and follow suit. While there will always be people who want to get something for nothing, I think most people would be willing to pay for what they use as long as they aren’t subject to unfair restrictions.

Does this mean the Apocalypse is near?

Not that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but it’s now official: Hillary Clinton: ‘I’m in’ 2008 White House race.I doubt she’ll get the nomination – she’s just too polarizing. Considering her and Obama are the current front-runners, it will be interesting to watch the Democrat primaries, if nothing else.

Good grief

School bans tag, other chase games

Officials at an elementary school south of Boston have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they’ll get hurt and hold the school liable.

Another Willett parent, Celeste D’Elia, said her son feels safer because of the rule. “I’ve witnessed enough near collisions,” she said.

Oh no! Not a “near collision” on a playground! Whatever shall we do to protect our fragile little lambs? You gotta be kidding me. Of course, this is from the same school district that outlawed dodgeball a few years ago.

Let Me Blow Ya Mind

OK, so the classic Rubik’s Cube wasn’t particularly difficult once you knew the patterns. Rubik’s Revenge (A 4×4 cube) was significantly harder. But I have no idea what to make of this:

Magic Cube 4D

If that weren’t brain-twisting enough, how about a Rubik’s Cube with five dimensions? And three people have actually solved it – I can only imagine what kind of mutants they are.