I can slot a DVD into my Xbox360 and watch it just fine. I can slot the same DVD into my Media Center PC and watch it just fine.
When I buy a DVD for my daughter I can rip a backup to my Maxtor HDD and file the original away to keep her sticky fingers off it but let her watch it on the Media Center. But what happens if I want to use the Media Center and have her watch the DVD in the other room on the Xbox... I've gotta go find the original disk again.
Why? Because while the Media Center is quite happy to stream a DVD image over the local network from the network connected Maxtor (or maybe soon a Windows Home Server) the Xbox only lets me do that for photos and music.
IMO this is a real limitation, a pain, and thorn in the idea of connected home entertainment. I'm not going to argue the legalities or the technicalities, just the user experience.
In his CES keynote this year Bill Gates talked about the connected media experience. I want it, and I want it all and now!
Well, in order to live the dream for the moment I have to make some sacrifices. Namely quality and convenience. While the Xbox won't let you stream a DVD to it, you can transcode it to WMV and it will let you watch that.
There are two solutions - live transcoding and manual. While Live transcoding seems like it should be the best solution it's fine for me, but a little hard for my daughter to control so I've gone the manual route at home.
The live solutions are Transcode 360 (for WinXP MCE and Vista) or TVersity. The former requires a Media Center machine, and the latter runs under any flavor of Windows XP or Vista.
Transcode 360 plugs into the existing Media Center interface or can be accessed as part of My Movies and is fairly simple to use though (in common with other on-the-fly solutions) you're at the mercy of a remote transcoding queue. Movies are selected from the usual user friendly UI within the Media Center Extender display and you then elect to start the transcoder to play it.
TVersity is another good solution (and doesn't need MCE - it works on any PC) that works pretty well (with the same caveats as Transcode 360) however the selection of available content is from within the Xbox Video list - a text filename list... so it has the added disadvantage for my daughter of no pretty pictures.
With both the live solutions I've had problems with the queues not starting/stopping as expected and the software getting itself tied in knots. As I say... okay for me, but not a good user experience for the wife and daughter.
So, that leaves manual transcoding. After looking around at a few I've settled on one that's fairly quick, easy to use and a good price.
Mobile DVD from SPBSoftwareHouse is intended to take your DVDs and transcode them for portable devices (mainly aimed, like most of their apps, at the Windows Mobile platform). I tried it because I use some of their other apps every day and think they're very good developers. With some tweaking of settings the resulting movie is as good a quality as pretty much anything I've seen via a transcode (and their forums indicate that support for a specific Xbox profile might be in the works).
This solution enables me to keep the original DVD in their jewel case and just transcode the main movie to a WMV, attach a pretty JPG to the folder and present the movies to her in the Media Center interface and she can use the Xbox just like she would the Media Center. I do however resent the extra work and storage space (as some movies we keep in DVD archive format as well because we want the special features and are happy to usually watch on the Media Center machine)
Note: With Transcoding you will loose extra material, multiple audio tracks, subtitles, etc., and a transcoding process always degrades the quality some
Update: Wii users can brag... Orb makes their life even easier!