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Microsoft Xbox 360

However, the biggest advantage the Xbox 360 has in this arena is its close relationship with Windows PCs. If you have the old Windows XP Media Center OS or a version of Windows Vista with the Media Center software built-in (namely Ultimate or Home Premium) then the Xbox 360 acts as a full Media Center extender, meaning you can access the media supported by Media Center on your PC using the exact same interface with barely noticeable delays. If you have a PC set up with a TV tuner as a PVR, scheduling, recording and viewing TV becomes an option, while watching films or video clips, viewing photos or listening to music is a cinch. You can even watch programmes downloaded from the BBC's iPlayer service, though this does involve a little workaround (a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know).

If you don't have Media Center then the console still works with the media sharing features of Windows Media Player 11; just use the Video browser under the My Xbox section of the NXE dashboard. You can also use this to show Xvid or DivX files direct from the dashboard, though the NXE update has caused problems with this on some consoles (including the present author's). The 360 will also work perfectly well with third-party hardware and software media servers, including those built into many NAS and specialist Media Player enclosures, and the free TVersity.

The sibling relationship between Microsoft's console and operating systems also makes getting your 360 to work with your Windows PC remarkably easy. Provided you have both machines on your network getting them linked and running takes a matter of minutes, and it's rare to find any configuration hassles unless your router or firewall is playing up.

Unfortunately, it's not hard to guess the fly in the 360's ointment: noise. Unless you have your TV or sound system turned up high as a matter of course, the 360 is simply too loud to make a great day-in, day-out media centre, and that still seems to be the case with recent revisions. As a device for watching the odd TV show or movie, however, it's a winner, so if you already own the console, make sure that you give it a try.

Pros:

Works well with Windows
Media Center integration
Movie Rentals
Inexpensive

Cons:

Excessive Noise Levels

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