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Xbox 360 icon

Xbox 360 icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, let me tell you, I was as disappointed as you might be when I found out that my Xbox 360 won’t play mkv file only because it chooses not to. (maybe because of licensing issues). So, without much hope, I tried to google for some workaround to make it play the mkv files, and here is what I found:

  1. MKV is just an open source and free  multimedia container, so like an AVI file, MKV file can contain any type of files in it.
  2. Xbox 360 supports H.264/MPEG-4 AVC encoding profile of upto level 4.1 (but not if it is in mkv container)
  3. Xbox 360 only supports 2 channel audio.

Based on the above facts, there are 2 types of solutions. 

First solution is sometimes time-consuming, but it is most reliable solution. It involves extracting the audio and video files from mkv container, transcoding the video file down to H.264/AVC High Profile@4.1 level and downmixing audio file to 2 audio channel if required, then packaging it into a mp4 container. This solution guaranties the video playback on your xbox because we actually convert the videos into a format that xbox understands. But the encoding procedure is very time-consuming.

Second solution is the fastest one. But it needs a streaming server with on-the-fly transcoding capability. And because it involves streaming, quality of the streaming video  depends on your network speed and the streaming server’s processing power.

Solutions:

1> Longer but reliable (and permanent) solution: (Play/Stream both)

Here is comprehensive guides for the same:

  1. Outdated and complicated or
  2. Easiest  or
  3. Yet Another!

2> Faster but less reliable solution (Stream only)

  1. Plex Logo (Photo credit: wikipedia)

    Plex Media ServerIt can transcode your video files on-the-fly. Therefore there is no need to convert and store your videos in mp4 container. Added benefit is that, you can access your library from anywhere in the world using plex client apps for mobile devices if your plex media server is running and connected to the internet. Guide to set up Plex Media Server. Once setup head over your xbox and open the video application and you can play any videos on your xbox. Plex also has various video channels that you can subscribe for free and enjoy playing videos from youtube, TED, etc on your xbox even if you don’t have Xbox live gold membership.

  2. Windows_Media_Center

    Windows_Media_Center (Photo credit: wikipedia)

    Window Media Center Extender: For this you need a windows machine that has Windows Media Center. The trick is to make use of Xbox’s windows media center application. Here is the guide to set up your Xbox as windows media center extender. First, you need to install codecs such as DIVX+ HD or ffdshow to decode H264 video and AC3filter to decode audio. Next, install media splitter such as Haali Media splitter that will split the mkv/mp4 file and separate audio, video and other files in the container and send it to installed decoders (divx+ or ffdshow and AC3filter) which in turn will transcode the audio/video files that can be streamed to any device. Installing the codecs for H264 will also add support for mkv files in Windows Media Center on your windows machine, which by default ignores any video files  with mkv extension.  Here is the guide that I followed.

  3. DLNA

    DLNA (Photo credit: wikipedia)

    From tablet/phone device: Now that xbox supports DLNA playback and control from remote devices, you can play your videos from any device. All you need to do is find an app that can create a DLNA server on your device. Here is a list of applications for most platforms. I use free application for android – Twonky Beam to stream any videos from the web to xbox. It supports youtube, vimeo, TED, IMDB to name a few well-known video streaming websites. 

Hope this guide helps. Let me know if you have any issues/ suggestions for this post.

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