Windows Media Center Extender
Windows Media Center Extenders (officially "Extender for Windows Media Center") are devices that are configured to connect over a computer network to a computer running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition, Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate, Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate, or Windows 8 Pro with the Media Center pack add-on to stream the computer's media center functions to the Extender device. This allows use of the Media Center and its features (such as view photos, videos, listen to music, watch live television and use DVR functions, watch recorded TV, etc.) on a television receiver or other electronic visual display.
The advantage with these devices is that a household's primary computer, hosting Media Center, need not be near the device used for display. Additionally, with an Extender, the Media Center can be accessed at the same time by several users. The Xbox 360 gaming console has Media Center Extender functionality. The Ceton Echo is a stand-alone extender.
Media Center Extenders (MCX) can either be dedicated hardware devices, such as set top boxes or televisions, or software based implementations such as the Xbox 360. First generation hardware based devices were based on the Windows CE operating system whereas the second generation devices can use other embedded OSs such as Linux as well. The Extender creates its own user account on the host PC(MCX1, MCX2, etc.) and then uses a version of Fast User Switching to enable the use of the host computer and Extenders at the same time.
Version 1 Extenders only support Media Center versions up to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2 - they cannot support the version of Media Center incorporated in Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate Edition and later.
The server software, which runs on the host PC and streams the media, is built into Windows Media Center. An MCX device must be paired with the MCE software before use; this is done by pairing the MCE software with an identifying number generated by the MCX device.
The MCE software makes the user interface available via the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP, which is also used by Remote Desktop client). All processing done by the MCE software and plug-ins happen at the host computer; only the user interface is streamed to the MCX devices.
As such, the device can render the interface even though the Media Center-specific software (or the plug-ins) might not be installed there. However, the media files are streamed over a different protocol. To render the media, an implementation of the codec used to package the media must be locally installed on the Extender; having the codec on the host computer is not enough. Alternatively media can be trans-coded on the fly by the host computer to a codec that is supported by the Extender. In Windows 7 this is now a standard feature which will probably relieve Extender vendors in the future from having to include such a wide variety of codecs.
Version 1 Extenders
- HP x5400
- Linksys WMCE54AG
- Xbox with Media Center Extender Add-On
All Version 1 Extenders have been discontinued and are not supported in Windows Vista.
Version 2 Extenders
For quite some time, the Xbox 360 was the only Version 2 Extender available that could work with Windows Vista. When connecting an Xbox 360 to a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, a free download is required to connect for the first time. When connecting an Xbox 360 to a Windows Vista PC, no download is necessary as all required components are built into Windows Vista.
Microsoft eventually announced the v2 Media Center Extenders from partners (Linksys, D-Link and Niveus Media) on 5 September 2007. Version 2 capable Extenders support animated transitions between screens and additional capabilities of Windows Vista to handle newer video formats, notably, DivX, Xvid, Windows Media Video HD and H.264. They can stream HDTV (including 1080p) through HDMI like the Xbox 360, can stream protected content and many incorporate draft 802.11n wireless connectivity.
In addition to these updates, Extender manufacturers will be able to integrate Extender technology into other popular consumer electronics devices. Examples include DVD players, HDTVs, HD DVD players, Blu-ray players, etc. Windows Media Connect and Windows Media Player Network Sharing are able to connect to them on Windows XP; however, they do not work with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 as extenders. Xbox 360 is the only device that can work as an extender with both Windows XP Media Center as well as Windows Vista.
Products available (as of 20 October 2017):
- Xbox 360 (Works with MCE 2005, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 Media Center)
Discontinued Products (as of 20 October 2017):
- Ceton Echo (Does not work with Windows 8 Media Center)
- D-Link DSM-750
- HP MediaSmart Connect - x280n
- HP MediaSmart SL4282N & SL4782N HDTVs (With software update from April 2008)
- Linksys DMA2100
- Linksys DMA2200 (Integrated DVD Player)
- Niveus Media Extender - EDGE
- Samsung MediaLive Digital Media Extender MR-00EA1
The various versions of the Xbox 360 consume between 70 and 200 watts of power, depending upon model and activity (the 360 S consumes 70 W while idling). The Ceton Echo claims to use less than 5 W. Energy cost depends upon electricity prices, model, and use, but for an Xbox 360 running continuously can be a significant fraction of the purchase price every year. The Ceton claims to save up to US$60 a year on electricity compared to a cable box or Xbox 360 used as an extender.
During the 2015 Build developers' conference, a Microsoft executive confirmed that Media Center, with its TV receiver, PVR and extender functionality, would not be updated for or included with Windows 10, thus the product would be discontinued.