I wrote yesterday how EncodeHD can help you convert your video files for use on your portable devices. It’s perfectly suited and with the list of supported hardware, it should work for just about anyone. The one issue with using it for Media Center or playback on the Xbox 360 is the limitations imposed by the 360 on the mp4 format which EncodeHD converts your files to. The 360 doesn’t support AC3 audio and therefore you lose surround sound.
Luckily there’s a solution for this and it’s located in the same place. EncodeHD replaced Encode360, the first conversion application from Dan Cunningham. Encode360 converts your files to wmv using ffdshow and Windows Media Encoder. Using wmv is the (pretty much) perfect solution due to the fact that it’s fully supported in MCE and on the 360 as an extender. Where the problem comes in is that MS is no longer developing Windows Media Encoder which is used in the conversion process. This has rendered Encode360 a bit dated (so it seemed) and forced Dan to move forward with the replacement app, EncodeHD.
Having loved using Encode360, I decided it was time to give it a try in Windows 7 to see if the application could still work. I use EncodeHD for converting files for my Zune since it’s quick, easy to use and and the output files play perfectly. When it comes to my 360 and MCE however, I want my surround sound. That’s why I was so happy to find out that Encode360, while no longer supported, is still available for download.
Installing the application is a pretty straight forward process. There are a few things you’ll need first though. Windows Media Player 11 is required but we’re up to 12 in Windows 7 so you shouldn’t have to worry about upgrading that. You’ll also need Windows Media Encoder and a Hotfix that is available. After you’ve installed these two executables, you’re ready to install Encode360. Something to keep in mind here: Unlike EncodeHD, Encode360 is an installer package. When you run the installer, the package installs K-Lite codec pack on your machine (optional but codecs are required). We all know that codecs can be absolute havoc with video playback in Media Center and other applications. I’m lucky enough to have a laptop to use for file conversions so that nothing touched my main MCE machine. Be sure you know what you’re doing before installing Encode360.
Once you have the app installed, it looks a lot like EncodeHD as far as layout. You can drag and drop files for conversion and then choose your settings. You can see at the top of the app that you can choose your resolution. I typically try to match the input file so there’s no change. The only time I lower it is if I happen to be converting a file for the Zune.
Before you start converting files you’ll want to be sure and head into “Advanced Settings”. This is where you can choose your bitrate, exact wmv encoding you want along with a plethora or other settings:
While Encode360 is no longer supported, if you either know how to manage codecs on your PC or if you have a spare PC you can use for conversion, it’ll work in Windows 7 and provide you a way to get different video codecs to play nicely with Media Center and extenders.
I’ve discovered with more testing that Encode360 has issues with DTS audio streams inside of MKV files. To resolve this, you need to add an extra step but luckily it’s quick and easy. What we need is to extract the audio, convert it to AC3 and then place it back inside the mkv container. Ben Drawbaugh of EngadgetHD has worked this out using DVRMSToolbox and you can find the profile and files you need on his personal blog. Enjoy! Thanks Ben!