Streaming High Def over a Wireless Network

Streaming High Definition Video over a Wireless Network

With the Xbox 360 Flash Fall 2006 System Update, we've added support for WMV video playback from new sources.  If you've read the video format post, you'll see that your Xbox has the ability to playback high definition (HD) video encoded in the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile (VC1) codec.  This means that you'll not only be able to watch High Definition video from external sources like a USB drive, CD, DVD, but also PC.


However, when you decide to stream HD content over your home wireless network, you might see performance degradation in the form of choppiness. This post is to provide you with some workarounds and suggestions to fix the choppiness.



Generally the performance degradation happens due to issues like interference, assuming you have an 802.11g router. The easiest, most cost-effective way to get around this is to wire your Xbox to your router via a LAN cable. Doing so will provide the best streaming quality bar none; although that probably was not the answer you wanted to hear.


A second (albeit more expensive) workaround is to purchase a router capable of 802.11a. Choppy video performance is likely due to either too much interference on your wireless’ operating frequency due to home appliances (i.e. the microwave, the cordless phone, or Bluetooth devices) or too much interference on overlapping g wireless channels.


802.11a has clear (non-overlapping channels) and operates on 5Ghz, a frequency that doesn’t have as many home appliances running within it, which makes it a better mode to stream anything that requires a lot of bandwidth. For more information on the differences between 802.11a and g, jump down to “802.11a vs. 802.11g.”


Through testing done by the Windows Media Center Team, it was determined that 802.11a is almost on par with 802.11g in terms of barrier penetration and range. Even so, it’s advised that you should only pass 802.11a through at most one wall for the best performance. If you still run into problems, even with 802.11a, you can read more about 802.11a drawbacks and an optimal environment by jumping down to “An optimal wireless streaming environment”


I wasn’t trying to stream HD content; I was trying to stream standard definition content over my 802.11b network!

You’ll probably notice that there wasn’t really mention of 802.11b in the workaround discussion. While it’s still a valid wireless mode, it’s the weakest of the three modes, capable of only providing ~6Mbps in ideal instances on an operational frequency of 2.4 Ghz. This mode will likely have problems even streaming non HD content, and is unable to stream HD content. If possible, for all content, use at least 802.11g which will give you good performance with standard definition content; 802.11a will likely give the best results for both standard and high definition content.


How do I know what wireless mode my 360 is connected to?

Start up your 360 without a game and it will boot to the dashboard. Go to the System Blade and scroll down to Network settings. Press A to see your Basic settings and you should see what 802.11 Wireless Mode your 360 is connected on be it a, b, or g.


802.11a vs. 802.11g

Yes, 802.11a and 802.11g have the same max throughput (25 Mbps not 54 Mbps as advertised due to WiFi being half-duplex communication technology). Streaming High Def usually requires about 19-24 Mbps, which means that your WiFi mode, be in a or b/g needs to be running at max throughput through the course of your video. Interference on a g network can compromise the performance of your WiFi network and thus cause degradation in performance.


The operational frequency of 802.11g is 2.4 Ghz, which is a common operating frequency for devices such as the microwave, all Bluetooth devices, and cordless phones. This means that if you have any of the above devices running, your home network could take a hit in performance due to the interference generated by your household appliances. The operational frequency of 802.11a is 5 Ghz which is a more uncommon operating frequency, mitigating it from interference caused by other devices.


IEEE 802.11 a/b/g all communicate in their respective operational frequencies by splitting their frequencies into several channels. A major difference between b/g and a is that the channels in b/g overlap, creating interference whereas the channels in a do not. In general, channel 1 on a b/g network overlaps with channels 2, 3, 4, and 5. This means that if your home network is on channel 1, but your neighbor’s home network is on channel 2, your WiFi signals may interfere, causing a degradation of performance for both networks (WiFi pollution). Contrast to this is 802.11a which has 12 clear channels meaning there’s less of a chance that you will incur a performance hit.


An Optimal Wireless Streaming Environment

We’ve found that optimal streaming performance occurs when you have either your PC or your XBOX connected to your router via a LAN and the other connected wirelessly over 802.11a. If you connect your PC to the router, then connect your Xbox wirelessly via Wireless Networking Adaptor to the 802.11a router or vice versa, do not connect both the PC and the Xbox to the router wirelessly.


Your 802.11a router should be in less than 20-feet with a clear line of sight to the device that’s connected to it wirelessly. This is especially important for 802.11a which theoretically has less range and worse material penetration than 802.11b or 802.11g.


The end goal is to reduce the amount of devices on the WiFi network to reduce any possible factors that might degrade performance.


Compiled by: Jun Ma (GT: shunsoku)



Netgear’s Wireless Networking Basics Manual


Wikipedia’s entry on Wireless Networking

Comments (20)

  1. interscape says:

    What about those PowerLine bridges out there, like this one:

    Have you guys tested it with those yet? I’m looking at networking my Vista Media Center & Xbox 360 that way, and would like to know how good it is before shelling out the cash.


  2. SouthPaw says:

    Each Wifi device on the Router / Access point take a time slice of the availability. So if you have a 360 and  a laptop you will increase the latency of the 360’s connection. It would be best for other WIFi devices that use the Router / Access point to be powered of when attempting to stream HD content.

  3. Jun_Ma says:

    We’ve done limited testing with the powerline bridges and have found networking issues that may prevent you from having a good experience when using them.

  4. Mitch Wissler (Killa Priest-Gamertag) says:

    What program do you suggest to convert mpeg4 to WMV?

  5. Steve519 says:

    why don’t MS come out with a wireless-n adapter, wouldn’t that work out the speed issues and also help provide more coverage?

  6. How about trying to stream video from a portable HD?  I was under the impression that you could stream WMV video from a USB 2.0 HD but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    I loaded up my Western Digital 120GB Passport USB drive with some Samuri Champoo I had converted to WMV 9 and the 360 dashboard doesn’t even show I have a "Portable Device" plugged in!

    I can understand if there are limitations to the supported devices, such as nothing greater than 100GB, nothing formated as NTSF, only flash drives, etc. but it would be nice if that information was posted in the Fall Update release notes.

  7. Backwar says:

    I have tried streaming HD content to the 360, both with Media Center Vista, and with the new streaming feature of Windows Media connect.

    I have no issue streaming 720p content to either of the 2 xbox 360s that are in my house.  One has line of sight pretty much with the router and the other one has to get the signal through 2 floors.

    There are 4 other 802.11g networks that are visible in my immediate area as well.

    All content that I have streamed has come from either the WMV-HD content showcase or from trailors

  8. Timur Tabi says:

    Yes, 802.11 is half-duplex, but that isn’t the reason why it maxes out at 25Mbs.  The reasons are protocol overhead, interference, and other similar issues.   When streaming data one-way, there aren’t a lot of packets that are sent back.  Most of the traffic will be used to send the data, but 802.11 just isn’t efficient.

    And FYI, 802.11a has a lower range because it uses a higher frequency.  That’s just a physics thing.

    Another thing: if you’re on channel 1, and your neighbor is on channel 2, then you might actually get better throughput if you switch to channel 2 also, because then the two access points can use 802.11 negotiation to reduce the interference.  However, this is somewhat of a moot point because 802.11b/g networks should really only use channels 1, 6, and 11.  Using anything else is stupid.

  9. Duncan Strong says:

    Regarding Powerline – what were the issues? 802.11a is not an option for me, 802.11g is not working reliably, and Cat5/6 is pretty expensive….

    I’d like to give Powerline (HomePlug 1.0 with Turbo – advertised as 85 Mbps) a go..

  10. Melchezidek says:

    I was THRILLED when video streaming was announced.  Now my 360 serves as my hub for all my music, pics, and home movies, awesome.  I was curious if it woudl stream HD content so I enabled my games videos folder on my hard drive, which contains TONS of 720p videos.  All of them have worked flawlessly.  I have a wirelss g router and matching wirelss bridge.  They are d-link "extreme g" and are several years old.  Got them back when Pandora Tomorrow came out.  Needless to say, I am stoked about this new feature.

  11. pizzapizza says:

    While I love the ability to stream WMV from my NON-MCE computer, whoever was too lazy to add in DIRECTORY STRUCTURE should be take out back … well you get the picture.

    When I browse PHOTOS and MUSIC both honor and display the directory structure.  Good thing too … I have seven or eight YEARS worth of digital photos and as many years worth of unprotected MP3’s…

    So who thought that wasn’t necessary for the WMV video?

    Give me a freaking break.  I have over 80 GB of video with around 25 to 30% of it being WMV.  And I’m considering converting some of the rest.

    Lotta good it’ll do me.  This stupid update dumps ALL the videos into one flat directory.

    Dumb Dumb Dumb.

    Would it have really been THAT hard to show the directory structure?  Geez…

    Well guess I get to wait another SIX MONTHS to see if it get fixed.  Thanks for nothing.

  12. don says:

    I am using the 200 Mbps (DS2 chip based) powerline solution from Netgear (the one from the previous comment) and it is the best wireless option available, without any doubt. It is expensive but it worths the price.

  13. Steve519 says:

    why no N networks?  its a whole hell of a lot faster and it has a crap load more throughput?

  14. Ali says:

    Hey man, I just bought the powerline bridges and I’ll let you know my findings shortly.

    I’m trying to do exactly that, xbox360 to media center HD streaming.

  15. David says:

    "Your 802.11a router should be in less than 20-feet with a clear line of sight to the device that’s connected to it wirelessly. This is especially important for 802.11a which theoretically has less range and worse material penetration than 802.11b or 802.11g."

    This has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.  If the device was less than 20 feet, with a clear line of sight, why would need the router?!  We’d run a cable.

  16. TheStig says:

    I’m having chopiness and pauses in the video stream when streaming HD content (12Mbps) on a wired network (ethernet, 100Mbps)!  I’ve looked and asked for help on the official forums, but unfortunately no one answered so this leads me here.

    Can anyone help?


  17. McDonuts says:

    Make sure all your equipment (router, network card, hub/switch) is set to run at 100).  I believe, if any piece runs at 10, then it will force everything else on that segment to run at 10.  Also, make sure you do not have any device, except DSL/Cable modem or other Internet connection, plugged into the router’s WAN port (disregard if you are just using a hub/switch), as most consumer grade routers only run at 10Mbps on the WAN port.  If you have more than two devices running through a hub, consider replacing the hub with a switch, especially if those devices are frequently active on the network (downloading, online gaming, IMing, voice chatting, etc).

    Best wishes.

  18. Update says:

    This i crap, this needs to updated somehow. Sometimes I have pauses in the song I am playing. Okay I dont have it set up with 20-feet clear line of sight. But this is just BS. Itunes streaming has worked good for many years now. Also streaming in a windows network has worked good. That this is so slow is just BS.

  19. RC says:

    Connect360 doesn’t have any of the problems you mentioned above over wireless, and it’s available for the Mac.

    Why don’t you ditch the Windows Media Centre idea and see if you can buy up and port the Connect360 code across to Windows?

  20. The latest routers are just so much more powerful than the old ones.

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