After I ditched cable TV, I used both Snapstream’s BeyondTV and SageTV (now owned by Google) to sate my and my family’s television needs. After almost 2 years we ended up turning cable back on. Win one for the cable company!

But that did not end my search for the perfect home television system. Our cable box, well, works; but the hard drive is limited, you have to pay $15.99/mo for it, and the recordings are only on one device.

Luckily I found the DCR-2650 (currently $122 at amazon) which allows you to rent a CableCARD from the cable company (I’m paying $3.99/mo from Verizon) and get all of the premium cable channels on your PC – the drawback is that you must use Windows Media Center due to the DRM (there is a hack for SageTV – more on that later).

We recently got an Xbox 360 for Christmas, and I’ve been wanting to try the Media Center Extender functionality on it. I’m happy to report it works really well! Here is a video with a quick walkthrough of the Media Center Extender experience on the Xbox 360.

Some notes on the setup:

  • My Media Center PC & Xbox are both connected via gigabit wired network
  • Live TV, Guide and DVR functionality work perfectly
  • Have had issues with Movie playback. This is because the Xbox is limited in what codecs it can decode. Apparently the Windows Media Center Extender app does not use the same codecs as the Xbox media player app.
  • You could use as many Xboxes as you want, so essentially you have a free number of DVRs in your home
  • The DCR-2650 uses a single cable card but has 2 tuners. This means you are limited to 2 channels at a time of live TV or recording shows. You could easily continue to add tuners if you would like more.
  • The Windows Media Center app is available directly on the main Xbox menu that pops up when you hit the Xbox button on your controller/remote

The quality of the video coming from the Media Center Extender is significantly better compared to the “LiveTV” streamed over the internet – also from Verizon.

If Microsoft and Verizon is serious about making their streaming live TV app commonplace in consumer’s homes, they will need to both up the quality of the video and also add DVR functionality to the system.

Between how well it works and the fact that you can get a remote for the Xbox, it really makes an ideal replacement for your cable box.

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