When CinemaNow announced the addition of Showtime and A&E into their stable of network TV partners, I decided to give the service a spin with a free episode of Sleeper Cell. While iTunes does carry Showtime programming, they don’t currently offer the second Sleeper Cell mini-series… And when downloading shows via iTunes, I have to hook my laptop up to a TV via SVideo (thanks, Work) and an audio cable — Watching without the use of a remote control. Knowing that CinemaNow has a Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) widget, I hoped I might be able to stream the show from computer to television by way of my new Xbox 360.
I started by downloading the 58 minute show (@ 670MB) via Internet Explorer (no love for Firefox). On The 360, I fired up media extender functionality and entered Cinema Now’s app. After logging in and futzing around for several minutes, I realized this version only supports movie rentals and doesn’t tie into movie or television purchases. Next, I tried looking in the My Videos section of the Xbox’s extender. No movie there. And why would it be? I saved it to the Desktop folder. So my next step was to move it (on the PC of course) to the My Documents/My Videos folder. Still no love via the 360 media extender. Back to the PC, I went… moving the video to the shared My Documents/My Videos folder. Success, the Xbox sees it. I hit play and get a security error. But I’m stubborn, so I hit play again.. and it works!
Sleeper Cell streamed no prob over my WiFi network. But boy was the video quality iffy. I spent the first five minutes or so complaining about the dark, grainy picture and tweaking the brightness and contrast on the 30″ HDTV. There’s no way I would recommend watching this on anything larger. (In the past I’ve watched iTunes shows and MovieLink movies via the 32″ bedroom SDTV, so the lower quality downloads weren’t a visible issue.) Once I got into the show (content is king) I did find it enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised they provided it in 16:9 — a nice perk, well maybe once they bump the resolution.
So, what did I learn? Non-geeks won’t bother and high-def aficionados shouldn’t. Having said that, there’s a fairly high probability I will go this route (CinemaNow -> PC -> Xbox 360 -> TV) to watch the remaining Sleeper Cell episodes — but folks like me make up a tiny niche within the content-download niche, and we surely cannot sustain this business model. Which goes to show that Apple could own this market with iTV if they execute on the usability end. Given their past successes, it could be a safe bet. Of course, Microsoft would help itself by adding more content to the Xbox 360 so we can bypass these third party hacks.
By the way, it may be possible to use this method without an MCE PC. Windows Media Connect (now bundled into Windows Media Player 11) on XP might properly pass the credentials and protected video to the 360.