While downloading the demo of NBA Live 2006, I installed Windows Media Connect on my workstation and the MCE2005 version of the Xbox 360 Connect software on my GeForce 6600 based Windows MCE2005 machine. The process is ultra-smooth and I have no troubles with the configuration at all. These tools are supposed to allow the Xbox 360 to stream copy protected content as well, although only an authentication code was necessary for the Windows Media Center 2005 system.
After firing up the Media Center interface, the first thing I notice is that compared to my GeForce 6600/Athlon64 X2 based Windows MCE2005 machine, the component video signal coming from the Xbox 360 is lower, giving a punchier but darker output. This means that Iíll have to recalibrate my TV for the Xbox 360. Whatís great about the Xbox 360 though is that the interface is 100% identical to the Media Center 2005 interface, which is already excellent. Streaming *high-definition* MPEG-2 video that Iíve recorded from off-the-air channels as well as Windows Media Video files works well, but AVI files and MPEG-4 files donít seem to work, made more disappointing because Iím able to see the thumbnail preview (being done on the server-side).
When streaming MP3s or WMA Lossless files from a Windows XP Media Center 2005 PC, stereo music is transmitted as 48 kHz PCM audio. When you play WMA Pro 5.1 sources, the Xbox 360 re-encodes it into AC-3. Thereís also a setting for the Xbox 360 that enables digital WMA Pro output for use with receivers that can accept WMA over the digital output. Unfortunately, my THX Ultra2 certified Denon AVR-4802R isnít such a receiver. I also had no luck streaming the WMV-HD version of "Step into Liquid." I donít think it attempts to get the license.
Xbox 360 Media
When playing music CDs through the standard Xbox 360 Dashboard, the machine remains in Dolby Digital 5.1 mode. For audio purists, this means that the Xbox 360 is resampling the 44.1 kHz audio to 48 kHz and then encoding it using lossy Dolby AC-3 compression. DTS music CDs donít undergo any special detection meaning that all youíll get is static. To prevent music CDs from being encoded into AC-3, you can change the global digital output settings for PCM-only but this still resamples to 48 kHz. While audio purists might not be happy with the CD playback features of the Xbox 360, itís good enough for anyone who feels that the Dolby Digital soundtrack from a DVD movie is good enough. CD-TEXT is not supported, but track listings are automatically downloaded off Microsoftís servers which means that virtually every CD you can buy at Best Buy or Tower Records (including imports) will be present but your mix CDs and direct-from-manufacturer audiophile labels might not.
The visualization effects are actually the best Iíve seen yet. I havenít been a fan of music visualization primarily because the animations always seem to have minimal correlation with the music and because it simply looked like an distorted oscilloscope. For the Xbox 360, Microsoft brought in Jeff Mintner of Tempest 2000 fame to do the visualization. It actually looks great. It's crisp and is flashy while still being conservative enough to be useful.
To test DVD playback, I fire up my Monster Music release of 40 Years of Charlie Brown: A Christmas Special. The DVD playback interface for the Xbox 360 is vastly superior to Windows MCE2005. DTS 96/24 works even though thereís no DTS logo on the Xbox 360. The high-resolution 24/96 PCM soundtrack is downsampled to 48 kHz. The Monster Music discs have multiple DTS mixes (essentially an aggressive 5.1 mix and a conservative one). Switching between the audio tracks using the DVD playerís audio button will not switch between the two DTS tracks Ė youíll have to go into the DVD menu to change this setting. This is definitely a bug with the Xbox 360 as opposed to the disc because other DVD players, including the PlayStation 2 work fine.
For DVD playback, Microsoft has adopted a flagship ATI GPU and InterVideo software. You would assume that DVD quality would be exemplary. Unfortunately not. Dropping my screen resolution to 480p and then bringing out the HQV Benchmark DVD made me want to cry. Out of a maximum score of 120 points, the Xbox 360 scores 5 points. Yeah, one, two, three, four, five. There is no flickering on the first test in the black/white areas, but the green and red lines are blended meaning that the Xbox 360 is dropping resolution. Jaggies are present even in the red zone, and even a "good edit" 3:2 pulldown fails. I popped in Star Wars Episode III to see if the 3:2 pulldown works with real film content and there are jaggies still present, indicative of the Xbox 360 ignoring half of the resolution.