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Mon 23 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Extend your entertainment

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console is packed with powerful hardware that gives it a breadth of capabilities including media sharing. So, if you want to turn your console into a handy ‘media extender’, read on as WINDOWS explains all.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 console is packed with powerful hardware that gives it a breadth of capabilities including media sharing. So, if you want to turn your console into a handy ‘media extender', read on as WINDOWS explains all.

Today's world is filled with a vast array of digital content such as high resolution digital images, High Definition (HD) movies and more. In most cases all this content is stored on your PC, which in turn is likely relegated to your bedroom or a dedicated workspace inside a study.

But, what if you want to view this content on a larger HD screen rather than being forced to view it on the smaller screen that your PC is connected to? Enter Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.

The 360 is designed primarily to play HD games but thanks to its high-end internals, it can do more than just run the latest 3D games.

It can in fact be used as a sort of ‘media extender' that can take the content stored on your PC's hard drive and pump it onto the screen and sound system it is connected to.

This way you can better enjoy the content stored on your PC while leaving your PC exactly where it is at the moment. To get this sort of functionality however, you'll need to do some groundwork.

The necessities

Assuming you have your Xbox 360 connected to a home theatre audio system and a HD screen, you'll only need to invest a small amount of time and money to turn your 360 into a proper media extender.

First and foremost, you'll need to have your Xbox connected to your PC via a network. The choice of whether to go the wired or wireless route here depends on a number of factors.

From a performance perspective, if you're considering streaming high-bitrate HD movies from your PC to your console, you'll need a solution that offers sufficient bandwidth.

This then dictates that you go the wired route with a 10/100Mbits/sec network. However, if your 360 and PC are in close proximity to each other, you may be able to get away from using cables by going the WiFi route and using a ‘N' standard adapter.

Cable free

If you want to hook up your Xbox 360 console to your existing network and want to avoid running cables throughout your house, you can opt for a wireless solution. A number of USB WiFi adapters are compatible with the 360, so look around and pick one that suits your budget. If you're having difficulty finding a third party adapter however, you can't go wrong with Microsoft's own 360 Wireless Network adapter.

With the wired route, the simplest solution would be to connect your Xbox 360 and PC via crossover Cat 5 cable. If however you have other PCs that you'd like to connect to your network, we recommend investing in a network switch with as many ports as you deem necessary.

Going the wireless-way will be a little more expensive as you'll have to buy wireless adapters for the console and your PC (assuming your PC doesn't already have a WiFi adapter).

Here we again recommend that you buy a wireless access point assuming of course you don't have a broadband router with WiFi already in place.

Beyond this hardware, there's nothing else that is actually essential, so you can get busy with the software setup.

Novel networks

Whether you're going the wired or wireless route, setting up a network using a Windows-based PC and the Xbox 360 is supremely simple. Start with the PC, first boot into Windows and then click on Start/Settings/Control Panel and then double click on the ‘Network Connections' icon.

Then double click on the wired or wireless adapter you're using and click on ‘Properties'. Click on the ‘General' tab if it's not already selected and then scroll down until you see ‘Internet Protocol'. Select that and hit ‘Properties'.

Here you should see your PC's IP address information. If you want to setup a dynamic IP-based network where you don't have to manually assign IP addresses to each machine on the network, make sure the check box next to ‘Obtain an IP address automatically' is ticked.

If however you want more control over your network settings and want to assign static IPs, click on ‘Use the following IP address' and use a number such as 192.168.0.1 while using a Subnet Mask of 255.255.255.0.

Next up, it's time to setup your Xbox 360 so it can connect to your network (assuming you haven't already done this). Power it on and wait until the ‘Dashboard' screen loads. Then navigate to ‘My Xbox' and ‘System Settings'.

Here look for ‘Network Settings' and select ‘Configure Network'. A new window should open up with a list of your 360's network settings including IP address, Subnet Mask, Gateway and more.

All’s well that ends well

If all is well your PC and Xbox 360 console should be able to talk to each other and your 360 should be able to access content stored on your PC's hard drives. Note for music, videos, photos etc to be accessible to your 360, you'll need to store them in the appropriately named folders on your PC's drive.

Using a Windows Vista PC for instance, you'll need to move all the photos you want to share into UsersUsername (your account name)Pictures. On the other hand, if you want to share some tunes, you'll need to put the files you want to share into UsersUsernameMusic.

If you've thus far setup a dynamic IP-based network then you needn't worry about filling in the IP address and Subnet Mask information. You will however have to enter the Gateway IP and DNS addresses if you want your 360 to be able to connect to the Internet (recommended).

If you went the static IP route, then you should setup your 360 to use the same range of IP addresses as the PC you intend to connect it to. So, if your PC's IP address is 192.168.0.1, setup the 360 so its address is 192.168.0.2 while leaving the Subnet Mask the same value you used on your PC. Once you're happy with your settings, hit ‘B' on your controller to accept the changes and get back to the previous screen.

If you've got your Xbox 360 connected to the web, it's worthwhile performing any updates at this point as they include performance improvements, bug fixes and other improvements.

With the local area network between your 360 and PC up and running, it's time to go back to your PC to finish the setup process. You'll need Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11 to proceed, so if you don't already have it downloaded and installed, hit Microsoft's website and grab it.

When Media Player is running, click on ‘Library' and select ‘More Options'. A new window should open and if you aren't already in the ‘Library' tab, click the button to bring it up. Next, hit the ‘Configure Sharing' button and this will call up another screen known as ‘Media Sharing'.

Make sure to check the ‘Share my media to:' checkbox and then click on Xbox 360 so it's highlighted (your 360 needs to be powered up for it to show here). With the 360 selected click on the ‘Allow' button and finally hit 'OK'.

To test if your Media Extender setup is functioning properly, grab your Xbox 360 remote or gamepad and navigate to ‘Movies', ‘Pictures' or ‘Music'.

On selecting any of these categories, your 360 will then prompt you to select a playback source. It will generally give you options of local content (content on the 360 itself), content on a disc in the 360's drive (if any) and any PCs you've chosen to share content from. In our case, just one PC is being shared and so is listed.

Selecting this, the 360 will show you all the content you've put in your share folder on the PC. The Xbox is fairly competent in terms of content decoding and supports WMV, H.264, MPEG-4 and PlayForSure video formats.

On the audio front the system offers WMA, WMA Pro, WMA Loseless and the MP3 file formats. Picture support is somewhat limited in that the 360 can only load JPEG files.

Time to accessorise

Microsoft has released many accessories for its Xbox 360 console, one of which is a handy media remote. This can be used to navigate the 360's interface and offers solid media functionality that will enable you to skip scenes, go through photos and more. It's a far more elegant solution to using the 360's gamepad to do the same.

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