Getting all video types to work on MCX

I had a wacky thought the other day, one that I think is actually quite viable.  Sorry, this article is not a solution but a suggestion to the Microsoft design teams.

Media Center Extender video playback is limited by hardware to MPEG2 and WMV basic formats. 

Transcode files into a format that is useful for Media Center Extender.  Windows Media Player 10 has a new synchronization engine for portable devices that already does this, the basic operation goes like this:

  • Device publishes its capabilities (screen size, playback formats, etc)
  • WMP10 determines what files should be copied over on next syc
  • Files that are not already in a compatible format are transcoded to a compatible format, and are placed in a cache
  • Upon sync, it copies over the transcoded files and not the original files

This all happens without changes to your current library, but each file has potentially a transcoded equivalent to be sent to the portable device.  Now, I certainly think that the current implementation of this has its flaws, but the basic idea is a good one.  I’d like to leverage this concept of “portable device synchronization” into more of a “remote device service”. 

Specifically with MCE and MCX, here is how it might work:

  • MCX publishes its capabilities to the MCE machine
  • MCE determines files that do not match those capabilities and places them into a transcode queue
  • MCE transcodes these files into WMV9 format with a max bitrate of 4 MB/s (per the MCX’s capabilities)
  • When MCX attempts to access a file, it is redirected to the transcoded version
  • If the file is not yet available in a compatible format, it is added to the transcode queue and the user is notified

To abstract the idea beyond MCX’s, this works for multiple remote device types including:

  • Windows Media Connect devices
  • Media Center Extender devices
  • Other PCs on the LAN (maybe without MPEG-2 decoders)

This suggestion will of course eat up lots of disk space and CPU power, but to be honest those things are becoming cheap commodities these days. 

By applying existing technology, it suddenly becomes possible to access my ripped DVD collection, my home videos taken from the Sony Digital8 camera, music stored in Ogg format, etc.