I have been using the Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) for several years and have had great success with it. My home built Home Theater PC (HTPC) was beefy and decked out (for the time). All in all it was nice. Then came our plasma HDTV which changed everything. I had to upgrade from 2 internal video capture cards to use 2 Comcast HD set top boxes. But to get HD out of it I had to use 1394, bubble gum and baling wire. It was as hacky as it got, but it worked — usually.

Several years later I finally broke down and purchased a Vista MCE. It’s a very nice Velocity Micro box and decked out with 2 internal cablecard tuners and a beefy video card. Again, it is very nice. Very nice, until I tried using my XBox 360 as a Media Extender.Long ago I purchased a Linksys media center extender so that I could watch news, movies and, of course, Law & Order while on the elliptical machine. The problem was that once we started recording HD I was screwed. The Linksys not only could not handle the bandwidth required for HD over its wireless network, but the machine itself couldn’t handle it even if it was wired directly with a cat 5 cable. Sad, very, very sad.

Well the XBox 360 was going to solve that problem. So decked out with my new Vista MCE, new XBox 360 and the wireless cable adapter I started testing HD content. Unfortunately the wifi network (802.11g or 802.11a) wasn’t going to give me the bandwidth I need. So I gave in and worked my way through our crawl space to pull a new cat 5 cable. Yippeee! I have HD flowing over the XBox 360 media extender! Yee haaa! Life was good….until I tried listening to music.We have ripped many CDs to a share on our file server. We store most of our data files, music, pictures and other stuff onto our server. It makes it super easy to access and to backup (this reason alone is worth investing in the Windows Home Server!). But there is a drawback to this:

  • Given: The file server is on my Active Directory domain
  • Given: The MCE is a member of the Active Directory domain
  • Given: The MCE has access to all music files on my Active Directory file server
  • Given: Media Extender accounts are created on the MCE machine, not the Active Directory domain
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  • THUS: Media Extenders do not have access to music files on the Active Directory file server.

What? Huh? How can this be?
Well, when a new Media Extender account is created it is created as a local Windows Media Center user account, not as a domain user. This means that the MCX account has access to everything on the MCE machine, but not anywhere else. DOH!

So to solve this I simply configured the shares on my file server to allow “Everyone” read access. Well, kind of. In Windows Server 2003 “Everyone” has been redefined as “Every one in the domain” but not anonymous users (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/278259). Well, my MCE’s local MCX accounts are definitely anonymous to the file server (since they are not members of the domain). I could try providing access to any request from the MCE machine by granting read access to the MCE machine account (MCE$). But that, too, failed to work for me.

Even if I granted specific access to anonymous I had yet another problem to solve. When using the MCX I could not add the file server’s music share to the media library; it could not discover the list of shares so that I could select it for inclusion in the library. This was because the MCX user account was not a domain member, thus could not discover domain resources. Why, oh why does the MCE team hate home users with domains??

The Solution
Well, to shorten this story I did eventually solve the problem. For each of the MCX accounts I configured them to run a logon script. That logon script is a batch file which issues a “net use” command to the file server specifying a guest account and password:

@echo off
net use m: \\server\share /user:domainname\guestaccount "guestpassword"

When the MCX logs into the MCE machine it will automatically run the logon script. Doing that provides an impersonated connection to the file server which essentially logs the account onto the domain. Once that is done, the MCX account sees all resources on the domain as if it was a full domain member.With this solution in place I was able to discover my music, picture and video shares on the file server. And now my MCX media library has been populated with all of my home content.

And they lived happily ever after.