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

Xbox 360 spring update to offer h.264 and MPEG-4 video playback

Besides being a gaming console, the Xbox 360 has quite a bit of functionality as a media extender. Music, video, and pictures that are stored on your home PC can be streamed to the 360 for viewing on your TV – very handy, but up to this point it has been crippled quite a bit. Currently, the only video formats Microsoft has allowed users to view via the 360 are Windows Media Video, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2. There are a number of hacks out there that do a good job of shoehorning in support for other formats, including Transcode 360 and TVersity, but they both have a number of drawbacks.

The good news is, on May 7 Microsoft will be sending out the spring update to all internet-connected Xbox 360s. Listed among the many updates:

  • H.264 video support: Up to 15 Mbps, Baseline, Main, and High (up to level 4.1) Profiles with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.
  • Added MPEG-4 Part 2 video support: Up to 8 Mbps, Simple Profile with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.

This is a welcome update – whether or not Xvid will be supported is still up in the air, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Not to mention a slightly obvious attempt to take a little wind out of the sails of the recently released Apple TV, which is primarily an MPEG-4/H.264 playback device. I was seriously considering buying one, but if the Xbox 360 I already own has the same functionality, I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got!

Related Entries

Free Software of the Week: Handbrake

Related Links

Xbox News: Instant Messaging Comes to Xbox 360

Transcode 360

TVersity