How to watch the BBC iPlayer on the Xbox 360

23 Nov 2008

Ever since the BBC announced that its iPlayer works perfectly happily with a couple of Media Center Extenders (NetGear’s EVA8000 and the Linksys DMA2200), I’ve been determined to get the service working on my Xbox 360. After all, if the iPlayer works on third-party MCE devices, why the hell shouldn’t it work on Microsoft’s own?

The BBC’s Where To Get iPlayer page suggests getting the service to run on any MCE (or Home Media Hub as the Beeb calls them) should be a piece of cake. Simply download the programmes as normal on your PC, open Windows Media Center and add the iPlayer downloads folder to your Media Center library, then jump on to your MCE device and simply play back the relevant files from the comfort of your TV. Robert is your dad’s brother.

Except it doesn’t work on the Xbox 360. Well, at least not my Xbox 360, nor those of a couple of colleagues I’ve spoken to. Although judging by numerous internet forums, it seems to work flawlessly for some people. When I click on downloaded programmes using the Xbox 360’s MCE, however, I’m presented with a blue screen displaying the message:

"Video Error. Files needed to display video are not installed or not working correctly.”

This is, of course, complete bunkum. Other, non-DRM protected videos stream perfectly happily from my Vista laptop to the Xbox 360 MCE. It’s only those pesky iPlayer files that produce the error message.

So I’ve found a couple of ways around the problem. The first is a doddle. Instead of choosing the Download To Computer option from the iPlayer service, go for Download For Media Players. This bypasses the iPlayer App on your PC and simply downloads the video like any other file. Save the video to a folder that’s monitored by your Xbox MCE (the default Videos folder should work fine) and it plays back perfectly.

media-player-download1

The problem with choosing the Media Player files is that they are designed for portable players, so the video is heavily compressed. Even on my relatively modest 28in screen in the lounge, the picture quality is horribly patchy.

So, with the help of a couple of internet forums, I’ve found a way to watch the higher quality Computer downloads on the Xbox. Here’s how you do it:

1.  Make sure you have Windows Media Player 11 downloaded on your PC.

2. In Windows Media Player, click Library | Media Sharing and make sure that it’s set up to share video with your Xbox 360.

3. Download the programme of your choice using the Download To Computer option from the iPlayer website.

4. Once it’s downloaded, play the programme for a few seconds in the iPlayer app on your PC so that the appropriate DRM licence is downloaded (make sure you play past the BBC ident, or the licence won’t be downloaded).

5. Now for the bizarre part. Make a copy of the programme you’ve just downloaded (you will find it in C:\Users\Public\Videos\My Deliveries on a Vista PC) and plonk it in your Videos folder (or any other folder monitored by your MCE).  Now rename it to something a little more friendly – the iPlayer downloads are given hideously long filenames by default.

6. Navigate to the folder you just copied the video to on your Xbox 360 MCE, and the video should play.

7. The video will be in the old-school 4:3 format, but if you click on the X button on the Xbox 360 controller and select the Zoom option, you can fill the screen.  Whilst not quite Sky+ quality, the video is perfectly watchable.

So there you have it, the iPlayer on the Xbox 360 – albeit with a little bit of faffing around. I’d be interested to hear your experience of watching the iPlayer on the Xbox 360, particularly if you can get it to work without the seven-step procedure outlined above. One theory I’ve seen floated on forums is that it works flawlessly with Windows XP MCE PCs but not Vista. Let me know your thoughts on the comments below.

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