Ask LH: How Should I Replace My Xbox Media Centre?

Ask LH: How Should I Replace My Xbox Media Centre?

Dear Lifehacker, For the last few years I’ve been using my Xbox as a media centre of sorts — basically plugging my external hard drive in and watching TV shows and movies through it as well as DVDs. But the other week the Xbox died (damn three red rings!) Now I need something to replace it and was hoping you could provide some advice.

I’ve been looking at the Western Digital range of TV Players (Live Hub is winning at the moment), and also maybe another Xbox, but I’m wondering if there’s something I haven’t seen, or something that would suit my needs better. Any advice you can offer would be really appreciated. At the moment all I do is watch shows from my external hard drive and play the odd DVD.

Thanks, Boxed In

Picture by tomasland

Dear Boxed,

At the risk of sounding horrendously unsophisticated, for your current purposes I’m personally going to suggest that buying a replacement Xbox 360 might be the best solution for your needs. You can pick up a new Xbox 360 without too much trouble (chances are right now it’ll come with a Kinect controller as well), and you’ll be able to use it for games, DVD playback and accessing movies on your external drive.

That’s not to say there aren’t lots of other alternatives — from Apple TV to the Live Hub to building your own XBMC centre — but in practical terms, for the setup you describe, the Xbox is a really straightforward solution. But I’ll also freely admit to not being a modern media centre enthusiast, so I’d welcome alternative suggestions from readers in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker


    • Hi.
      I suggest to get a standalone Media player, or get a PS3 and wait a while until media center for PS3 are released (for hacked PS3)
      There’s a lot of progress and every week a new piece of the puzzle.
      Lately we got read access for NTFS volumes.

  • Just like you, I used to use an original XBOX with XBMC to play my media (it was the only reason I bought an xbox, I’m not a gamer). When I upgraded to a HDTV, I wanted a device that play HD content. After much research, I bought a WDTV Live player and have been completely happy with it. It plays everything without problems or fuss, has good firmware support from WD & even is somewhat hackable with custom firmware. It also is very easy to use so my non-techy housemates love it and use it all the time. I use it with an attached 2TB USB drive. Also, if you are looking at the WD devices, look around online as there are often sales at different stores.

    I’ve also heard that you can now install XBMC onto the new AppleTV 2 devices, but the content is streamed over wifi and there is no USB drive support.

  • If you need DVD playback, another 360 is your best bet I think.

    Alternatively, many of the cheap, Chinese brand DVD players now come with USB playback support for a vast array of video formats. I’d want to double check it can support a large external drive though. Many/most are only designed to look at a USB thumbdrive.

  • I think – look around for a cheap media player – there are a lot of forums to ask first before buying. The big diff would be games though – if you plan on playing games still, replacement xbox is probably your best bet.

  • The best and the easiest option is WDTV Live.
    The box fits in the palm of your hand and it plays everything! Full HD, digital audio.
    Just plug in some form of external drive and watch it, whatever format.
    Also streams over networks or the interwebs.
    Damn cheap too!
    Best purchase I have ever made for my home theatre set up.
    My four year old daughter can comfortably navigate the menus, folders, movies/tv shows and watch what she wants.

  • 1. Bravia TV + media server software. No additional hardware required.
    2. WD TV or AppleTV or Boxxee.
    3. PS3 or XBOX if you want gaming and/or true BlueRay/DVD playback.

  • This post is of interest to me for a few reasons. I am a PC enthusiast and have not owned a console since the original xbox. I play a lot of games, but prefer to play on my PC – so getting a 360/PS3 has always been put off.

    I currently use Boxee and my old laptop as my htpc solution. The problem, whilst Boxee is amazing, and does everything I need it to (and more), it is still slightly unstable at times.

    So, after all that – which is better for media playing capabilities (specifically streaming / network media) – 360 or PS3?

  • cheap pc with xbmc is hard to beat, especially if you have an android phone for the xbmc remote.

    no experience with apple tv + xbmc, but it seems even cheaper than the cheapest decent comparable pc you could build.

    did i mention i loooove xbmc remote? ;D

  • Why not a straight pc with Windows 7 & Media Centre? Plays everything, records tv, and if you don’t have a remote you can get free apps for all smartphones that work over your network (ie they don’t need Bluetooth or infra-red). I use myRemote on Android.

  • I was using XBMC on the original Xbox for years, then when I got a 50″ plasma that was retired and I got an Asrock ION3D running XBMC (Live).

    Plays 1080p flawlessly, and can be customised to however you want it. Plays content across my network from my slow ass PC.

    I also have a 360 but it can’t play h.264 high def content as far as I can tell (and I’ve tried, even with tversity it still fails).

  • If you don’t play games, and you’re after something basic then you can pick up a soniq bluray player for just over $100. Plays Bluray, upscales dvds, and has a usb input for attaching an external hdd to play your movies, music and shows. I picked one up recently and it does the job extremely well.

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