And they call it progress…

My last blogpost was about my Xbox 360 dying and me purchasing a replacement. This blogpost is about me spending another wad of cash to correct what Microsoft calls “a feature”.

You see, a few weeks ago Microsoft released an update that allowed people to use regular thumbdrives to store profiles and savegames. Although this may sound like a great idea, it has a nasty side-effect, which I was able to confirm after calling Microsoft customer support. Apparently this latest update limits any external storage to 16 gigabytes (although it can be doubled by adding an additional thumbdrive). For people like me who use the 360 as a media center and who have 2 terabytes of external storage hooked up to it, this is a very bad thing. As mentioned in my previous blogpost, neither one of my Lacie 1TB drives were being recognized. I was screwed.

Not only is this annoying, but it also shows that Microsoft has no qualms about dropping down to Sony’s level. Sony has been heavily criticized every single time it removed functionality from it formerly mighty PS3. From backwards compatability to OtherOS support, the fact is that in the case of the PS3 (and unlike about every Apple product out there) early adopters were the smart buyers. Now I see Microsoft pulling the same stunts. Not only did they drop component and HDMI cables as well as the remote from their packaging, they are now screwing customers by halfassing a system update. I’ll accept that I’m part of a tiny minority who actually uses his 360 the way I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that my 360 today is unable something it was able to do for years.

Confronted with this fact, I started looking for an alternative. I considered the Popcorn Hour, but that turned out to be too rich for my blood. Then I remembered an episode of Tekzilla where they showed of the Western Digital HD TV Mediaplayer. It’s basically a box that outputs any content from an attached USB device to your TV via HDMI (or composite). The folks at Tekzilla liked it and I found it for only 101 € at mediacentershop.be (great service as usual, love those CoolBlue guys) so I decided, what the hell and ordered it.

My experience so far has been positive. As you can see from the photos below the device itself is nice and compact. It very light and the installation process is a snap, just plug and play. It supports a nice broad selection of video, audio and image files. It takes a while when attaching full external harddrives to scan them in but after that it’s ready to go. So far it’s only chocked on WMV files that have audio encoded in WMApro, but that’s an easy thing to fix. It’s about as stable as a 360, the interface is very functional and best of all, it produces no noise whatsoever.

The only downside to this whole arrangement is that my TV only has 2 HDMI ports. With one already taken up by my DVR I was forced to connect my 360 using component cables. I don’t think my games look worse (component, while analogue, is still HD after all) but it does make it that I can’t upscale my DVD’s via HDMI, which means they look a lot worse than they used to on my HDTV. Luckily I rip all my movies (from my legally bought DVD’s) using Handbrake and with the WD HD TV (horrible name by the way) in my possession, I’m not forced to watch crappy-looking movies. The WD does a great job (dare I say better than my 360) of upscaling video over HDMI and my HD content itself looks great as well.

Microsoft may well fix this issue with external harddrives and they may very well not. At least now I’m no longer tied to my 360 when I want to watch my media on my HDTV. In fact, I can now do more than I ever could before. I say that’s well worth the money.