Using Your Xbox 360 As A Media Center – Is It Worthwhile? [Opinion]

Matt Smith 17-02-2012

xbox 360 media centerAbout two years ago I decided to “cut the cord” on my television service. Or to be more precise, I decided to switch cords – moving my entertainment needs from my cable to my Internet service.


I already had accounts with online movie and television services like Netflix and Hulu, but I also needed a way to access these services on my television. My Xbox 360 has ended up becoming a major part of my media center. But has it been worth the effort and cost?

What You Can Watch

xbox 360 media center

Putting Microsoft hardware in the living room was a primary goal of the original Xbox. But it’s only recently that this has translated into a device that can serve as a media center Cool Windows Media Center Alternatives Read More . That’s because the Xbox 360 has received frequent software updates that adds access to new services.

As of the latest update it’s possible to watch content from the following services:

  • Crackle
  • DailyMotion
  • EPIX
  • ESPN3/
  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Syfy
  • TMZ
  • The Today Show
  • YouTube
  • Zune Marketplace (video rentals)

To be honest, I probably missed a service or two, though I’m trying to be as comprehensive as possible. There’s also a number of other services “coming soon”, such as Bravo and VEVO.


Are these options sufficient for most people? I think the answer is yes, but only if you subscribe to both Netflix 9 Tips & Tricks To Get The Most Out Of Your Netflix Subscription Read More and Hulu Plus How To Download Free Hulu Movies To Your Computer Read More . I’ve spent most of my time getting by with only a Netflix subscription, but I also tend not to be concerned with watching current TV shows. If you are thinking of going this route I recommend giving Hulu Plus a whirl and then dropping it if you do not use it.

The User Experience

xbox 360 media server

There’s more to a media center than the content you can access. How you access it is also important. A frustrating, slow or unstable user interface can ruin everything. Just ask people who bought the Boxee Box the day it came out.

Unfortunately, Microsoft seems to have served the current rendition of the interface before it was fully baked. It uses the Metro UI Why Microsoft Should Not Be Pushing Their New Metro UI Onto Their Other Products [Opinion] With the introduction of the Windows Phone platform in 2010, Microsoft unveiled the Metro user interface, designed to make accessing information quick and easy. Rather than litter their new mobile platform with endless rows of... Read More , and it certainly looks good. However, navigation could be more responsive. I find the Netflix app to be particularly frustrating because the interface often freezes as it is loading a video, which is a problem if you hit the wrong option and want to go back.


Another issue that might burn your bottom is the presence of advertisements. As we’ll discuss more in a moment, using the Xbox 360’s online features isn’t free. Yet you still are presented with advertisements for movie trailers, games and services.? These ads are not intrusive, but the presence of them in a service you’re already paying for is a bummer.

Microsoft’s terms of service might be aggravating, as well. Their most recent version declared that anyone using the service is entirely subject to arbitration and can’t participate in class action lawsuits. So if Microsoft messes up and loses your data to some third party, you’re out of luck.

Despite all of these issues, the Xbox 360 is still entirely adequate. Most of the competition suffers from similar issues, as well.

The Price

xbox 360 media server


One of the main reasons why you might be interested in kicking your television service out the door is the price. Even basic plans with a limited channel selection are often priced at $20 or $30 per month.

Is the Xbox 360 cheaper? Let’s assume that you do not have an Xbox 360 and that you want to sign up for Netflix and Hulu Plus. We will also assume that the cost of Internet is not included, since you would have it anyway. Here’s how the pricing breaks down.

  • Xbox 360 4GB Console: $299.99
  • 12-month Xbox Live Gold membership: $39.99
  • Netflix streaming-only membership (yearly): $95.88
  • Hulu Plus membership (yearly): $95.88
  • Total first-year cost: $531.74

That works out to about $44.31 per month, which isn’t much more than the price of basic cable or satellite service. And that’s factoring in the hardware cost. Without the hardware, the monthly cost of this service is less than $19.31.

You may end up with some other hardware costs if you decide to buy peripherals like the miniature keyboard or the media remote, but they are not massively expensive. Even Kinect, which can be used for gesture-based navigation, is only $99 on its own.


The Competition

xbox 360 media center

So far the value of the Xbox 360 as a media center is looking good. But this is where it gets dicey.

There are competitors, and some of them are extremely good. One crowd favorite is the Roku. At a price of $99 for the most powerful version (the Roku 2 XS), the hardware is much less expensive. It also offers a wider range of service. The Xbox 360 may have Netflix and Hulu Plus, but it is missing Amazon Instant Video. And it will always be missing Amazon Instant Video because the service competes with Microsoft’s own Zune Marketplace.

There’s also no need to sign up for an additional service (Xbox Live) on top of your individual content subscriptions.

The Verdict

So, is the Xbox 360 worthwhile as a media center?

If that is your only goal, my answer is no. The Xbox 360 has access to a fair amount of content, but it also requires an Xbox Live subscription and the hardware is expensive. Competitors like Roku are less expensive.

You shouldn’t ignore the Xbox 360’s other features, however. Most obvious of these is the fact it plays games. Even if you’re not a hardcore gamer you may find a couple of titles that are appealing to you. This can easily tilt the scales back in the console’s favor. There are benefits to the 360, as well. It can play media files from computers on your network or through built-in apps, it can be used as a DVD player, and it offers nifty peripherals that enhance your experience.

The decision really comes down to games. If you like to play console games, buying an Xbox 360 instead of a Roku is obviously a better choice. If you don’t, save yourself some dough and go for a purpose built media center. You’ll receive more for less. Do you agree?

Related topics: Media Player, Opinion & Polls, Xbox 360.

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  1. Selfed
    July 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    LoL at Xbox never using Amazon Instant

    Talk about your all time selfing.

    • Matt Smith
      July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      Yeeeeeeeeeep. I did not see that one coming

  2. Melody
    June 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    XBox 360 now supports Amazon Instant Video (10 days after my free 1 month trial ended). Hulu+ and Netflix give pretty good coverage so I doubt we'd ever sign up for it unless we're able to ditch the dish. The sticking point for us with ditching our satellite TV provider is that hubby is a big football fan.

  3. how to sync wii remote
    April 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Hi, i feel that i saw you visited my blog so i came to return the desire?.I am trying to find issues to improve my site!I assume its good enough to make use of some of your concepts!!

  4. M.S. Smith
    February 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    How's this for irony? My old Xbox broke just yesterday, and now I'm faced with the decision to buy a new Xbox 360 for my media center needs, or use a Roku instead.

    I'll probably go with the Roku, though it will mean giving up Forza 4, which is the only Xbox 360 game I play frequently. 

    • Rei
      May 10, 2012 at 3:17 am

      Now I love my Roku, I've had it since they first were released and they are cotntasnly making improvements and upgrades. Doing a search on comparisons will bring you this review from Computer world Apple TV vs. Google TV vs. Roku . The link below is if you want to read the whole article with the pros and cons. ________________________________Apple TV is great for tapping into your iTunes library and the iTunes Store, and has a slick interface. But beyond YouTube and some great podcasts, most of its emphasis seems to be on pay-to-view content.The Roku XD|S and its sister products offer current standards like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, but also let you delve into an online videophile community that is sometimes amateurish but occasionally turns up a gem like's Prelinger collection.

  5. Swanny246
    February 19, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Might be worthwhile in Australia if we could get access to Hulu or Netflix! This country is so far behind -.-

  6. kainunable
    February 17, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    You can also use Tversity to stream media from your pc, without needing an xbox live account. I would say that this makes the xbox a very useful media centre - both for online streaming and for streaming from your hard drive. 

    • M.S. Smith
      February 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      I'll have to check in to that, looks like something I could use.

  7. bioadam
    February 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Matt Smith (if that is your real name), how did you get $299 for the cost of a 4GB Xbox 360? You can almost count on finding one on sale for $150 at any give time. At least you manged to snag a good price for 12 months of Xbox Live.  

    • M.S. Smith
      February 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      I'm sorry, I meant the 250GB bundle, that you usually see for $299. I think I mixed that up with the 4GB Kinect bundle which is also $299.

      • Dave Parrack
        February 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

        Yes, but is that your real name? Hmm? Hmm?

  8. Dave Parrack
    February 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    If you already have an Xbox 360 then it's a no-brainer. But otherwise, yeah, there are better options available. The PS3, on the other hand, gets you a Blu-ray player as well and no annual online costs.

    • M.S. Smith
      February 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Yes, but the PS3's support for online content isn't as strong, is it? I do not own one myself, but on paper it looks much weaker. Also, the past history the Playstation Network leaves much to be desired. 

      • Dave Parrack
        February 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm

        I'm not sure about in the U.S. but in the U.K. it's pretty good: Netflix, Lovefilm, iPlayer, 4oD etc.

        PSN has improved massively over the last few years. There isn't enough differences between the two to justify the Xbox Live subscription cost IMHO.

        • Analyn
          May 8, 2012 at 3:06 am

          We recently got the Roku2 Angry Bird Edition as a gift. We were plsnaaetly surprised to see how easy it was to setup. There are so many channels to select from. The content is amazingly well-constructed. The Netflix player functionality is quick with no lag. The kids have lots of fun playing Angry Birds. More importantly is that the portability is awesome!!! We took it on a family trip and hooked it up to the hotel's TV. It worked out well for the kids. Roku rocks!!!

        • Gylson
          May 10, 2012 at 3:49 am

          I have no idea why some rate this unit so low. It's no harder to setup than a roku. But seems to elude some. Purchased this box 2 mtnhos ago, and it always works great. Using it wireless with a Zyxel X-550 and I can stream 20M from my pc full hd and 5:1 dolby from a dvd I converted for testing the DLNA support. Video and music from windows 7 works great. Just need to setup the videos and music in windows media player and they all show up on the SMP-N100. Internet video works flawless also. I use it with Netflix and Huluplus. I have a 15M cable connection so bandwith isn't an issue. I canceled my cable after getting this working. I can get news, etc over the air, everything else over the internet. I also picked up a Roku XD/S. The Roku is much easier/nicer to fast forward and rewind. I like the Netflix browse list on the Sony over the Roku, it shows 18 selections rather than the 5 on the Roku. The interface is quite a bit better for Hulu with the Roku, the Sony is pretty crude. There are other small advantages in one interface over another. As for the hardware, there is no question which one is on top. The Sony is much better built, with a full component, composite, optical audio and hdmi jacks. The Roku you need to buy there cable for component support which is a pretty low grade cable. I need component support cause I'm not ready to give up my DLP tv. I like the projection screen rather than looking into a light bulb. The HDMI connections work well on both units when connected to my LCD tv. The remote for the sony is excellent. Put the code in for the tv and it runs both the box and tv great. The video quality on both units is very nice. Better than what I use to get on cable. The main reason I gave it 4 stars is the lack of software updates and I suspect it won't get much if any attention in the future.

  9. Aeryche
    February 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I built a purpose-made computer for this use. it cost under 300, will play EVERY media i throw at it, and is controlled neatly from a universal remote. For the same costs as an Xbox (which i also have), I have the best of all possible worlds.

    • M.S. Smith
      February 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Building your own is a good idea if you can. But for most people a Roku is a much better idea.

  10. Jason
    February 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    I use my PS3 ;)

  11. wdtv
    February 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I use the Western Digital WDTV Live Hub for downstairs on my main entertainment center, and also have a Western Digital WDTV Live upstairs on my other one.

    I have a Netflix account and am in the middle of a Hulu Plus 3 month trial.

    I think the WDTV offers a lot more for the user experience - plays more of your files, has just as much online content, ZERO monthly charge, cheaper cost in hardware and you can network back and forth between devices.

    If I have a hard drive with my daughter's favorite movies plugged into my WDTV Live upstairs, she can come downstairs and we can access that hard drive from the WDTV Live Hub downstairs, via streaming, and never disconnect the hard drive. And vice-versa.

    The networking and the apps are really good and the cost is very reasonable. They're also very portable for travel. No reason to use discs anymore.

    I'm sure there are other devices that do most, all, or even more than the WD, but compared to the X-Box, I'd go with WD for Home Entertainment.

  12. Jessica Peters
    February 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I love my Roku! I used to use XBOX for Netflix, but I did the math, and I didn't use Gold for gaming, so it wasn't worth it to pay for Gold membership. I love my Roku so much, and it came with Angry Birds!

  13. John Wood
    February 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I have an xbox 360 in my bedroom that I used as an extender, but got a Roku for netflix - no way I'm going to pay a subscription fee on top of a service that already has a subscription fee.

  14. Robert
    February 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    It's been 2 months and I've been using XBOX Live (free).  Hate the fact that I have to pay for the Gold version in order to use Netflix when I'm already paying for it.

    That being said, if they provide apps to broadcast live TV, then I'll dump my cable subscriber within minutes and become a Gold subscriber for life!