Windows Home Server: A Series of Unfortunate Events

I have been using Windows Home Server since the public Beta was released a year ago. I *want* to love it, but there are just too many quirks at the moment (many of which are due to faulty hardware on my build). But more severe is the data corruption issue that the WHS team announced back in January. Anandtech has an article on the nuts and bolts of this particular problem

When it rains, it pours, and sometimes you get hit by lightning too which will really ruin your day.

Since very late last year, Microsoft has been facing an issue with Windows Home Server where under certain conditions files on a server’s shares could become corrupt. The severity of the situation is pretty immense and the situation straightforward: nothing should be getting corrupt on a file server, otherwise it’s a pretty useless file server. Since the initial report Microsoft has been attempting to reproduce the issue in order to fix it, and finally this week they have announced that they have fully identified the problem, its causes, and what needs to be done to fix it.

It just about couldn’t get any worse.

Microsoft unveils revamped Zunes

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will offer three new models of the Zune in November, including two equipped with flash memory. The 4GB and 8GB versions are iPod Nano look-alikes that will sell for a suggested retail price of $149 and $199 respectively. An 80GB player equipped with a hard drive will sell for $249. The pricing scheme for the devices exactly mirrors that of Apple’s iPods.

Some of the other changes include a complete overhaul of the device’s software and a redesign of Marketplace, Zune’s music store. Other interesting features include wireless syncing and the new Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive technology that enables users to slide their finger across the main navigation button instead of always having to click.

Microsoft is a living example of the “third time’s the charm” axiom. Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center, etc.; it usually takes Bill G and company three times to knock it out of the park. They’re certainly heading that way with the Xbox 360, and it looks like the Zune may follow this trend as well.

No one in their right mind – or at the very least, anyone without an axe to grind – believed or said that Microsoft would be able to unseat the iPod right out of the gate with the Zune. And they didn’t. They won’t with this revision either – but they’re much closer to parity. For now, I’m still sticking with the iPod for my portable media (just bought a 160GB iPod Classic) – but come next year and the Zune 3.0, it may be a different story. The Zune may never be the literal “iPod Killer”, but it may well give Apple a run for their money.

[CNET News.com]

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

Fortune: “Why Google Scares Bill Gates”

An interesting read… while I’m not part of the “Micro$oft is the DEBIL!!!” crowd, they are at their most productive/interesting when threatened. Netscape lit a fire under them a decade ago, and it looks like it’s now Google’s turn.

Technology – Why Google Scares Bill Gates – FORTUNE