I'm a big fan of the Xbox 360, but it sure is frustrating trying to use it to access all of my video content - I'm fighting my way through the transition from capturing and editing standard-definition video to high-definition video, and it's a bit of a struggle. I think very highly of H.264 as a compression format and have been using it to archive my content over the past year. Today I decided to put some effort into figuring out why my H.264 videos aren't showing up in my Xbox 360 when I browse for videos. At first I thought it was a matter of the H.264 videos I was creating not being in the right format - when you start digging into the guts of H.264 settings, you find a dizzying array of options, mostly around profiles. I found an Xbox team blog entry that said that H.264 support was limited to profile 4.1, and I'd encoded my H.264 test video as profile 4.2. But as I kept reading, I found the ugly truth: because my videos are stored on my Windows Home Server, the Xbox 360 will not play them back. What? Yeah, exactly.
It seems that when playing videos off a WHS, only WMV and AVI are supported. Talk about unimpressive. It seems that H.264 support is only possible if you're using Windows Media Player 11 or the Zune software as a proxy for the sharing process - it must do some sort of interpretation for the files, though I don't think it's doing actual transcoding, because when I used to share files that way I don't recall seeing the CPU cranking away at 100%. It looks like I might be able to hack something together by either installing Windows Media Player 11 or Twonky onto my WHS, but I really don't want to do that - nor should I have to. These are two Microsoft products, both designed for a home environment, and they don't enable consumers to access the content they want. That's a broken scenario, and Microsoft needs to do better.