The pain of a home theater entertainment

Today, we had to upgrade to TwonkyMedia Server 5.x, because its 4.x versions were not serving .mp4 files to our XBOX360. There was a tip online to rename the .mp4 files to .m4v in order to fool the XBoX360, but apparently version 4.4.11 had a bug about .m4v files too. Only renaming them to .mov would force Xbox360 to play them but if I was to do that, then our Sony PS3 wouldn’t play these files.

So the upgrade to v5, fixed most of our problems. The XBoX360 now plays all my .mp4 files, .m4v (that it didn’t before), plus all the other formats that it was able to before (e.g. WMV). It also supports the .mov container, the MPEG4-SP (the kind of .mp4 found on cellphones), something that the PS3 doesn’t (although the PS3 supports AVCHD and HDV files, that the Xbox360 can’t). Both consoles can playback XViD/DiVX AVI files with the same success (so-so, that is). The XBoX360 can playback more kinds of WMV and WMA than the PS3 can (e.g. I had a WMV video here that its WMA audio wouldn’t work with the PS3, but it did with the XBoX360). The XBoX360 also supports streaming .mp4 videos (e.g. Youtube HD rips), and non-PSP .MP4 containers (e.g. the kinds of MP4 that Adobe CS4 exports by default) — the PS3 doesn’t support any of these kinds of MP4s (it only supports the ones that their container has some “PSP” extensions, usually it is the default exporting format on video editors, except for Adobe’s).

For the rest of the formats out there, e.g. Sorenson, MJPEG etc, I would need an AppleTV. Plus, the AppleTV would behave best with .mp3/aac audio files, something that the PS3 only does so-so (it seems to confuse album art), while the XBoX360’s AAC and mp3 compatibility was terrible (non-DRM AAC from iTunes wouldn’t work at all, even after installing the AAC plugin, while one of my mp3s was playing in slow-motion)!

There was also a specific .mp4 file that TwonkyMedia would think it was audio and would only serve it as audio (even if it’s video). Renaming that to .mov made it visible in the list while using the v4 server. But after upgrading to version 5, while version 5 fixed everything else, the file wouldn’t be visible again because it now seems that TwonkyMedia v5 looks inside the format rather than figuring out what’s what from the extension. But that’s just one file, and besides, TwonkyMedia is *the best* UPnP/DLNA server out there anyway. If they can’t get it right, probably no other piece of software can (everything else I have tried is buggy as hell).

In other words, if you don’t want to be setting up Linux PC media centers that will piss you off one way or another while configuring them, to play A/V files on your TV without having to transcode each time to the device’s supported formats, you need all three devices (with their firmwares upgraded): PS3, XBoX360 and AppleTV. And that doesn’t even give you OGG, Theora or MKV by default (which are only semi-working via third party addons on the AppleTV).


Soundtweaker wrote on May 31st, 2009 at 11:11 PM PST:

I have an xbox 360 and I love it. I stream all my mp3s and xvid movies from my HP 485 homeserver. Just waiting for Win7 to come out with the builtin support for h.264.
Tversity works ok for mkv files but I drather not have to use it. I like to keep things simple.

Soundtweaker wrote on May 31st, 2009 at 11:14 PM PST:

By the way this blog is great!

Carlos wrote on June 1st, 2009 at 1:56 AM PST:

I’ve had a lot of success with PS3 Media Server on the PS3 (it also has some support for the 360). It is capable of doing container remuxing for H264 from MKV/OGG files, and realtime transcoding for codecs not supported on the PS3.

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Eugenia wrote on June 1st, 2009 at 9:08 AM PST:

Real time transcoding there’s no way it will happen on my P4 at 3Ghz. The whole point is to not transcode, but to just stream.

Mike wrote on June 2nd, 2009 at 5:33 PM PST:

Answer: get a Mac Mini.

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Eugenia wrote on June 2nd, 2009 at 5:37 PM PST:

The Mac Mini is unable to play full 1080p videos, not enough horsepower with the Quicktime or VLC software (CoreAVC would be able to do it if that was Windows though). Plus, it has no HDMI-out. The ports it supports either are not supported by my TV (e.g. DisplayPort), or they have no sound (DVI/VGA). I need a product that was designed for what I want to do, not having to hack around and add external speakers and all that jazz. If I was to hack around, I would just put together a Linux box. I don’t want that.

Mike wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 3:59 AM PST:

The current generation of Mac Mini comes with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor and and nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics card, which should be more than enough to handle full 1080p. On top of that it comes with a nice AppleTV-esque user interface usable with the Apple remote, that can play anything you can throw at it using third-party QuickTime codec packs like Perian. I currently am using my MacBook Pro for these purposes and it works like a champ.

If your TV has a DVI input, there’s a good chance it will let you connect at the very least a stereo audio source to go with it. Otherwise there is the admittedly hackish solution of using a DVI+optical-audio-to-HDMI adapter, which you can find for as low as $66.

Mike wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 4:01 AM PST:

Oh yeah, and the icing on the cake is that you can turn it into a DVR using EyeTV too if you want.

Fuaod wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 6:30 AM PST:

Hey Eugenia, did you seen this?

I figured you might want to comment since you are now an “expert” on video.

(Yes, I wrote with a straight face. It was difficult).

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Eugenia wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 10:27 AM PST:

the Mac Mini has a few problems:
2 Ghz is not fast enough for Quicktime and 1080p video. Not for CABAC videos anyway. Also, its price is considerably higher than the PS3 or XBoX360 and the remote control doesn’t come with it. And Quicktime doesn’t play all kinds of videos anyway. It would be stupid to buy a whole computer just to play videos on a TV. Also, the sound is a problem. If the MacMini had HDMI instead of displayport, maybe…

Fuaod, yes, I have seen it. All I have to say is that if they only implement the current Theora codec and not the newer alpha version, then I don’t want it. The current Theora sucks compared to h.264.

Guys, please use HTML for links. That request is written just above the reply form in red characters.

Richard wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 10:37 AM PST:

A minimalist approach, i.e., one that loses the computer entirely and reduces the solution to Storage -> playback -> display is available for $70. Looks interesting anyway:

USB to SATA HDD adapter + Multi-Media player + HDMI Output

If it works as advertised why bother with a PC?

Tom wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:35 PM PST:

Fuaod, you are wasting your time. Eugenia knows zero about what she talking about. She doesn’t know open source because she calls the user base “freetards”. She needs to quit OSNews or David needs to grow a pair and fire her.

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Eugenia wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 1:44 PM PST:

Richard, this device looks like crap. It also says nothing about HD playback, which is usually a bad sign. And as I said above, PLEASE USE HTML to do links.

“Tom”, stop trolling on my blog day in and day out. I do not work for OSNews anymore. You keep saying that I do, and yet all I do is contribute 1-2 articles per month, like any random reader is able to do too. So go fuck yourself, get a clue, and stop reading my blog if you have a problem with it. So it’s not a matter of me getting “fired” or “stop doing osnews” as much as, you, stop reading my blog. It’s that easy!

GoblyGoop wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:32 PM PST:

What about using XBMC on your PC with vid out? you can run the windows version.

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Eugenia wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:47 PM PST:

I have no HDMI-out PC for that job. Maybe when I get a laptop. But then again, the laptop would have no IrDA support, so I won’t be able to use my remote control. In other words, it’s not a device that works as well as a PS3 or XBoX or AppleTV does. Also, reading their charts, it seems that in some devices they run unaccelerated, meaning that they can’t handle HD the same way the PS3 can. It’s close, but not quite there. It’s the poor man’s PS3.

Richard wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 4:03 PM PST:

“Richard, this device looks like crap. It also says nothing about HD playback, which is usually a bad sign. ”

I guess this is meaningless then:”Video output: AV, YPbPr, HDMI (480i/576i/720P/1080i)”

Since when is 1080i NOT HD? Jeez, who pushed your cranky-closed minded button?

BTW, just judging by looks alone- the HV20 (which I own) looks like just another cheesy mini-cam.

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Eugenia wrote on June 3rd, 2009 at 4:17 PM PST:

Richard, you don’t get it. Having HDMI-out, DOES NOT MEAN that a device can do 1080p playback!!! They simply upsample!!! My DVD player has HDMI-out, even the AppleTV does, but the DVD can’t do over 480p and the AppleTV can’t do over 720/24p.

So, yes, I am cranky, because I have a bunch of people over here suggesting things that are either not ideal (not all-in-one products), or they can’t go over the marketing tricks to understand the true limitations of said devices.

And yes, that device is extremely ugly. It can’t compare to an all-in-one device that you know its behavior from the get go. This device looks like one of these Chinese devices that I usually get for free to review on my various gadget sites, that ultimately sucks goats. Sorry, but 99.9% of such gadgets just suck.

Anonymous Freetard wrote on June 5th, 2009 at 12:41 AM PST:

1080i is a “Low-Definition” HD – I would prefer to watch in 720p to be honest. Any ~i video mode is marketing junk.

My HTPC of choice is a MythTV box, using a motherboard with on-board Nvidia HDMI out. Right now Myth DVD-playback (0.21) sucks (ripping the DVD first works OK), but is too much for the kids to work out (maybe that’s a good thing). But the live-TV, and “media library” support is excellent – it has no trouble playing any sort of video file. I guess it’s not for everybody, because you have to actually install a distribution (like Mythbuntu), and configure some stuff (OH-NOES!) – but if you put the couple of hours work in, it really shines.

Anyway, let me digress …

With recent updates to the NVIDIA driver with respect to offloading video decoding (in particular h.264), a 2GHz mac-mini should at least approach playback of HD h264.

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Eugenia wrote on June 5th, 2009 at 9:23 AM PST:

Yes, but currently, no player on the Mac supports that. Quicktime is said to have that in store, but that version is not out yet.

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