Vision of streaming media at home realized via XBox 360

Ever since my home machine started collecting digital media I’ve wanted a robust way to stream that media from my study to my living room. Over the years I’ve tried a few different approaches, but none were exactly what I wanted. They were either too unreliable or too limited in functionality to be worth the trouble.

Last Fall I started reading previews on the XBox 360. It promised to be just what I was looking for–ease of use, wireless capability, and access to all of my rich media types.

While I waited for Microsoft to meet demand for the consoles my wife and I got hooked on our Windows Media Center PC. After having lived with it for four or five months now I can say it has exceeded our expectations. The only problem? Our study was the only place to view recorded content. (Although I have to admit, our Dell ultrasharp widescreen flat panel doesn’t have me in a hurry to return to the living room).

A couple of weeks ago I came across an XBox 360 core system at Best Buy. I was tempted to snag it–I had never actually seen one in real life and I had waited so long for this last piece in the media streaming puzzle. But I opted to wait for the pro bundle–the hard drive alone made it a better deal.

Last weekend I was in Oklahoma. Thinking maybe in Small Town America the demand for a high-priced gaming console wasn’t as great as it is in The Big City, I had my stepfather swing by the electronics section at Wal-Mart during one of his routine runs. Sure enough. XBox 360 Pro bundles a-plenty.

Back in Dallas I had a bit of trouble getting the wireless in place. As it turns out, the little USB adapter made specifically for the XBox 360 only works with a limited number of routers and bridges. I thought 802.11a/b/g was 802.11a/b/g but I guess not.

After repeated trips to Best Buy, CompUSA, and Circuit City, and committing the “supported hardware” list on xbox.com to memory, I finally settled on a config that seems to be working fine for now. I’ve got my original Belkin Pre-N router talking to a Linksys 802.11g gaming adapter.

I also snagged an XBox Universal Remote–it makes navigating the Media Center controls on the XBox much easier than using the wireless game controller. From a UI standpoint it is exactly the same as if I were sitting at the Media Center PC. This is a big plus, especially because that UI is so intuitive and visually appealing.

So now I’m streaming home movies, digital stills, music, and PVR’d television from my study to my living room. But saying that is the only thing I use the XBox 360 for is like saying one reads Playboy only for the articles. The XBox is, after all, primarily a gaming machine.

I’m no hardcore gamer, but it only took one session for me to become a Project Gotham Racing addict. The realism is unbelievable. I didn’t think I’d be into competing against others from around the world via XBox Live but it’s kind of a rush. And moving from computer opponents to humans is a sure way to keep the ego in check.

This little project wasn’t cheap and it may not be over. Depending on how much interference I get from the wireless controllers and normal use of my 802.11g network I may decide to put the XBox on its own 802.11a network. And, the whole thing has me thinking about upgrading the TV. But, at least for now, it works and I am thrilled.

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