There’s always been something a little “hit and miss” about Microsoft Workgroup Networking. If the tides are right, if the lunar cycle is correct and you’re wearing compatible trousers, Workgroup networking might just work. This is why I run a Windows Server Domain at home and aside from the f*cking Mac (not mine, my dad’s), it’s reliable and flawless.
The Xbox 360 doesn’t recognize Domains, so it’s back to the wiji-board world of Workgroup networking! This is not a universal guide and is presented “as is”. I do not guarantee that this will work for you, however all steps outlined here are innocuous and entirely reversible, so you’ve nothing to lose by giving it a go. I set this up with Vista Ultimate, but I believe it will also work with Vista Home Premium and XP MCE 2005, or indeed anything that works with the latest revision of Media Centre Extender devices. If doesn’t work, feel free not to email me about it. Also, this is a power-user guide. I assume you know the fundamentals of Windows, Windows Media Player and basic Windows networking. Here we go…
Firstly, realize that you will not be watching anything purchased from iTunes here. Getting unprotected H.264 files onto your Xbox 360 is hard enough. Decryption of FairPlay protected M4v files is possible, but is beyond the scope of this guide and probably the legal boundaries of this site.
To begin, make sure you have a password protected Windows account, which should be your primary “Administrator” account and the one we’ll be using for this process. Your Xbox 360 should be connected with a cabled Ethernet connection to your home network and joined with your PC and Windows Media Centre as described in the set-up process which Microsoft has made widely available. On your PC, create a folder and share it to “Everyone” as a “Contributor” or “Co-Owner”. The method and syntax of this will vary between Windows versions, but the point of it all is to share a folder with complete read / write access on your Workgroup to all and sundry. You know what I mean. Turn off McAfee or Norton. In fact, while you’re there, uninstall McAfee or Norton. They’re both bloated, expensive and un-necessary. Use the free Avast! Anti-virus and Defender instead. It’s all you need.
Then, copy your unprotected iPod video files to this new folder and enable “show file extensions” in Explorer folder options. Change the file extension from mp4 to wmv for each file. Next, download the massive pile of shit that is Media Player 11 (only if you’re an XP user, it comes pre-shat with Vista). Reject all its ambitions of dominating your multimedia Universe and install it with the least fuss possible. Open WMP and add the new folder to the “watch list”, then sit and wait for half an hour while you watch an animated version of why we all use iTunes. Don’t be sad though, this is the only time you will have to deal with WMP. What this is actually doing, is registering your movies with the Windows Media-Sharing Service. It’s not in any help file, it’s not mentioned directly on the Microsoft website in this context, but like Hyper-V, God help you if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Go in to Windows Media Centre on the Xbox 360 and add the shared folder from your PC. It won’t register or show any files, but rest assured, it’s doing something. Next, go in to the “Video” option on the “Media” blade on the Xbox 360. Make sure that your PC is selected as the source, and then browse to the shared PC folder. Then wait. And wait…
Depending on how many movie files you copied to the shared PC folder, you might have to wait for up to half an hour before anything will play. There’s no way to know how long, and there’s no way to know when it’s finished, so my advice is simply to wait half an hour. When the time is up, play your movies on your TV!
Sometimes, this just does not work. My Xbox 360 will absolutely refuse to see mp4 files or the iTunes Movies folder and in true Workgroup fashion, shared folders will disappear from the network from time to time. You have to keep two copies of any iTunes movie you want to watch with the Xbox 360 and whenever you add anything to the shared folder, you have to wait again for the Xbox to get to grips with it. Don’t just copy a movie in there and expect it to play right away, because it won’t.
Obviously, this is just a technical exercise. If you actually want to watch iTunes movies on your TV (including any protected ones), you should just buy an Apple TV, which is apparently fantastic. Of course, it doesn’t play Bioshock…
Guide by the Average Windows Nerd.