There are standalone extenders, and there are extenders built into TVs, but I’m going to use the Media Center Extender functionality that is built into built into my Xbox 360. Select Yes, unless you only want to allow the extender to be used for TV and online media, in which case select no. After a loading screen, of which I didn’t get a picture, Media Center will appear on the TV just as it does on the computer, introduction animation and all. Something else notable is that the Xbox does not have DivX support through the Media Center Extender, so if you want to play any DivX movies, you’ll have to do it though the video option in the media blade. You can have up to 5 extenders hooked up to one computer, and they all operate independently, so multiple people can use each one at the same time. Finally, if you want to get back to Media Center on your Xbox, you can either go to the Media blade on the dashboard and select Media Center, or you can press the Media Center button on a Media Center remote. This entry was posted in Demos, Tutorials and tagged Entertainment, Media Center Extenders, Windows Media Center, Xbox. That was a really good tutorial…can you give me a tutorial on how to get my xbox to connect to my network? With the recent announcement of the MCE Beta program I wonder if it has to do with this Windows Media Center Extender? Connect the Ceton Echo to a TV set and enjoy live TV, DVR and all your personal media in any room. Transform your Windows Media Center PC into the whole-home entertainment box you’ve always wanted. The Ultimate Media Center SidekickBring your Windows Media Center experience to any TV in the home. Save up to $60 a year on electricity alone compared to using a cable box or an Xbox 360 used as an extender. Use your mobile phone or tablet to manage your media library, select shows and play using the Echo and even use your mobile as a killer remote control with the My Media Center app for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8.
It seems so long ago now, but I still fondly recall my first experience with Microsoft's Media Center software, which back in early 2002 was known by its codename Freestyle (see my preview). It's been a while since the last What I Use, but there haven't been many major changes since late last year: Surface Pro 3 has become my go-to travel companion, I've added a third cellphone line for testing Windows Phone, Android and iPhone side-by-side, and have rotated through some new tablets and other devices. Does this mean CE devices (televisions and devices) will come standard with this technology or is MSFT killing this platform — please say it isn’t so!!!! It's been over three years since Microsoft released a new version of Windows Media Center, and while some have declared the platform dead, the ecosystem lives on in companies like Ceton. The Echo has the makings of the best Windows Media Center extender ever, but first Ceton needs to work out some bugs. My goal is to bring to your attention the latest DIY projects, the greatest home automation and home theater products.
Department of Energy published electrical rates, April 2012, comparing Ceton Echo to a high-definition DVR cable set-top box and an Xbox 360 used as a Media Center Extender. At the time, Microsoft didn't even know how it was going to distribute the software, which represented the company's first serious attack on the lucrative market for living room-based digital entertainment.
So I pulled the trigger on an unlocked Windows Phone flagship that will hopefully take me through at least the first half of this year.
Besides continuing to support Media Center, releasing new tuners and developing software, the company is now the first to introduce an extender in four years. Microsoft eventually decided to release Media Center as part of a unique Windows XP version, called Windows XP Media Center Edition, which I thought was a mistake, though the company corrected that somewhat by making the latest Media Center version available in two Vista product editions, Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. The primary function of the $179 Ceton Echo extender is the same as those that came before it: to bring the full-featured Windows Media Center experience to more TVs in the house while centralizing all your media on a single PC.
Until now our favorite extender has been the Xbox 360, but it retails for $20 more and the power supply alone is bigger than the entire Echo, so perhaps there's room for innovation here? There's also a small window for the IR receiver, but you can't see it because it blends into the black front. You can use Media Center with a keyboard and mouse and computer display, of course, but it's really designed to work best with a remote control and television set (preferably an HDTV in the Vista version), so that you can control the system from the couch as you would any living room device. My family used a series of Media Center PCs as our sole TV interface for several years--about mid-2002 through late 2006--and we've all come to appreciate and expect its myriad features. Instead the power is supplied via a standard USB cable and the plug looks like one that might come with a mobile phone. We were able to plug the USB cord directly into a TV and power the device, even though the company doesn't officially support this -- presumably because not all TVs supply adequate amperage via USB. Many older Media Center extenders did feature WiFi, but endless support forum threads show that broadcast TV via WiFi is a recipe for pain and suffering.
If you just have to try it for yourself, you can always get yourself a bridge, but don't say we didn't warn you.
These first Extenders were simple hardware set-top boxes that solved most of the problems with Media Center. It never used more than four watts of power in our testing (one watt when off) which probably explains why it runs relatively cool. They could sit in the living room, unobtrusively, and remotely display the Media Center experience--or much of it, anyway--which would be streamed to the device over the home network from the Media Center PC, which was now relegated to the home office were it belonged.


The first generation Extenders (see my review) weren't perfect, of course: As the hardware was based on Windows CE, they couldn't display some of Media Center's nicer transitions and effects. They required a fairly complex (and preferably, wired) home networking setup, with a Media Center PC off in some other room, preferably connected to a cable box for DVR duties.
And that Media Center PC was still a PC, based on Windows XP, so there could be reliability and stability issues.
As soon as you hold it in your hand, you can't help but dream up ways of affixing it behind every wall-mounted TV in your house. Perhaps Ceton will follow up with an accessory mount, or we can just grab some cable ties and double-stick tape. The Xbox kit included a remote control, an IR dongle, and a software disc for loading the interface. It worked OK, though the Xbox was and is a loud device, thanks to its PC-like internals and fans. That's because the Echo is compatible with a plethora of Windows Media Center remotes already available; this reviewer actually has a few of his own to choose from. And performance was awful, since the software was emulating a hardware device and couldn't even be installed to the Xbox hard drive. But just in case you're planning on using the remote, this is why you should reconsider: the buttons are too small, don't have letters on the number keys for triple-press text entry and are hard to find without looking down. You can't program the volume or the power buttons to control your TV, but worse -- and unlike almost every remote ever made -- there are two power buttons: a discrete on and a discrete off. The green button is even too small for our liking and the remote doesn't use standard batteries (can't say we've ever seen a remote that uses coin batteries). And then there is the cardinal sin for remotes, there are buttons on it that don't do anything, like the Eject and DVD buttons.
And its hardware partners have shipped a number of standalone Vista-compatible Extenders (see my reviews). Software From a software perspective, a Media Center extender does only one thing: deliver the Windows Media Center experience to a TV without a PC attached to it. The Xbox 360 has always been unique in that it replicates the animated transitions and transparent menus truer than any other extender can ever do it, thanks to Microsoft's third-party extender specification. That being said, a lot of that responsiveness has been lost along the way through all the dashboard updates that have been pushed out over the years. The Xbox 360, meanwhile, includes an amazing array of digital media features, including the latest Media Center Extender experience, which replicates the Vista Media Center interface to the console and, thus, to your HDTV or other television. So, while the Xbox 360 experience still has a few unique elements that can't be matched by the brand-new Echo -- the animated transitions are still something almost no other set-top box can do -- we found the overall experience more enjoyable than what we've become accustomed to recently. Standalone Extenders, while not as powerful as the Xbox 360, provide a decent approximation of the Vista Extender experience, minus some animations and other graphical effects. For example, the Xbox is known not to respond to the press of the remote, and tends to queue up commands.
Fast forward, rewind and skip all work as quickly as you'd expect from using a real HTPC running Media Center, as did changing the channel.
We found the overall experience more enjoyable than what we've become accustomed to recently. One point of differentiation from all the other extenders we've tried is that the Echo allows you to configure its various options via a Media Center plug-in. At the time of this writing, only the Xbox 360 is compatible with Vista's version of Media Center.
While the Xbox 360 requires a quick trip to the dashboard to edit things like resolution and audio output, the Echo is easily configured without a gaming controller, thanks to a user interface that has the same look and feel as the rest of Media Center. This is achieved by installing a plug-in on the host Media Center PC and then navigating to the Extras menu via Media Center on the Echo.
There are eight main menus to choose from with settings like output video resolution and audio via HDMI or Toslink, but there are also some nice additions like the ability to skip startup animations and sounds.
Other options are very handy, like the option to have the Echo take you directly to Recorded TV when it is turned on -- rather than the main menu, which is the default in Media Center. Optionally and ideally, this will include at least a single TV tuner card (for standard definition TV recording) or a CableCard interface or over-the-air (OTA) antennae (for HDTV recording). There are a few cosmetic options as well, including the ability to slim down your main menu by removing items you don't use -- sounds trivial, but this is something, believe it or not, that isn't easily done in Media Center.
We saved the bad news for last: unfortunately the release version of Ceton Echo has a bug that seriously limits its usefulness -- beta builds include a fix.
It might not seem like a big deal with all the 1080p TVs these days, but 1080i is actually still the most prevalent broadcast format and the way it's currently rendered by the Echo makes it unwatchable. The most obvious problem is the frame rate which results in a nauseating mess of flicker and judder whenever there is any moving object; as in sports or news tickers. Your Media Center PC might have come with such a remote; if so, it is compatible with the 360 and Media Center Extender.
But that isn't all, as the black levels are noticeably grey and any compression artifacts appear amplified.
This is very disappointing because this bug effectively makes everything we like about the Echo a moot point, as without rock solid 1080i playback, we couldn't recommend this device to anyone.


There are a few other less notable issues with the Echo, but no others that would get in the way of us enjoying the Echo. All that said, after having a chance to try out the beta build that fixes this, it gives us confidence that 1080i can look as good once it is pushed to everyone. If you don't share our confidence, Ceton has also extended the return policy to 90 days and the warranty out to two years. If you're using an Xbox 360 as an Extender, wired networking is dramatically more reliable than 802.11g-based wireless networking. Wrap-up More Info Ceton previews multi-room DVR and Echo extender (hands-on) Ceton previews DVR companion apps on Android and iOS, teases Echo beta 'soon' Ceton's $179 Echo Windows Media Center Extender is ready to go on sale 'around Thanksgiving' The almost year-long wait for the Echo has left us disappointed and also, surprised. For other Vista-based Extenders, Wireless-N networking is a reasonable alternative, though the Media Center PC will still need to be wired to the hub for best performance. We're surprised that Ceton didn't hold the product until a bug that prevented perfect 1080i playback was fixed. That being said, it otherwise works well and we trust that a fix is forthcoming and already in beta builds. To record or watch TV in high definition, you will need to purchase a specially designed Media Center PC with this capability. Some will scoff at the price because the Xbox 360 offers more features for the same price -- or less, if you can find a good deal. If you enjoy gaming and don't mind spending the money on Xbox Live Gold to access the Xbox's other video services, then it's clear the Echo isn't for you.
On the other hand, if you really just want to ditch your cable box and have the same great Windows Media Center experience in the bedroom that you have in the living room, then the Echo is a better solution -- once the beta that fixes 1080i playback is released, of course. There are also lots of other lower-priced media streamers out there with seemingly more content, but there's still one big feature that sets the Echo apart: it can play live TV, including premium content like HBO. If you think you will want this functionality, you will need to factor that into your purchase decision.
So while services like Netflix, Amazon and Vudu are very compelling, there's a reason why cable is still the most popular source of content in the US. If the Apple TV and Roku are the cord-cutter's or cord-never's dream, the Echo is for everyone else. It's unlike the rest of the media streamers out there in that it does have what it takes to live on input one. This is a good option for cable-based HDTV users who already get DVR functionality via their service provider: You can connect both the Extender and cable box directly to the television and switch inputs to move between the two interfaces. While each Vista-based Media Center PC can work with several Extenders, if needed, based on your available hardware resources, an individual Extender can only be configured to connect to one Media Center PC. This connection is similar to the process by which one might link a Bluetooth peripheral to a PC or other device: There is a one-to-one connection between the two, and once that connection is made, the Extender is tied solely to that Media Center PC. The first time you select this option, the Xbox 360 will supply you with an 8-digit code that you must jot down so that you can enter it into the appropriate place in the Vista PC's Media Center interface.
Most dedicated Extenders support both the Extender experience and standalone media-sharing capabilties, based on Microsot's Windows Media Connect, which is compatible with both Windows XP and Vista. First, you enter that 8-digit code, and then some Extender-related firewall changes are made. If you choose Yes, the Music Library, Photo Library, and Video Library views you see on the Extender will be roughly identical to what's on the PC. Here's how you do it: In the Xbox Dashboard, navigate to the System blade, then Console Settings, and then Startup. This is a handy shortcut to remember if you'd prefer to have the Xbox 360 normally boot into a game disc or the Xbox Dashboard instead of Media Center. Indeed, you don't even need a Memory Unit to use the Extender software, though a hard drive or Memory Unit--and a free Xbox Live Silver account--makes it much easier to download and install Xbox 360 firmware updates. I recommend doing both: Microsoft has shipped a wide range of functional updates to the Xbox 360 over the past two years. The company also provides useful TV show and movie rental and download capabilities via Xbox Live: These features require a hard drive. For example, if you want to access online services such as MovieLink, its preferable or even required that you do the initial configuration of these services on the PC. Then, Extender-based access to the service should work normally.) Obviously, some Media Center features will not work through the Extender. If you're using an Xbox 360 as an Extender, or a DVD player equipped standalone Extender, however, you can play DVD movies directly, from outside the Extender interface. The Media Center PC is a PC, after all, and it sometimes needs to be rebooted when an application is installed or updated. Yes, there is a bit of technical know-how involved, especially if you want HDTV recording capabilities. But for all its warts, Media Center remains the premier PC-based DVR system around, and the Media Center Extender functionality in Windows Vista makes it even more useful.




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