Remote control Xbox 360 music using a cell phone (or PC)

Since my AT&T Fuze is basically a portable computer, I’ve been trying to find cool (if not entirely useful) uses for it. For my latest project, I wanted to use it as a remote control for my Xbox 360′s music playing. Ideally, I’d like to use my 360 as a music player during a party and have the ability to remotely control the song selection without navigating the clunky Xbox interface which lacks any search features. What follows is a guide on what works (and especially what doesn’t work) for accomplishing this.

The Xbox 360 doesn’t have any built-in methods for being remotely controlled. This immediately narrowed down the possibilities to one apparent option: internet streaming radio. If the 360 could play a streaming radio station, then I could probably remotely control that.

Unfortunately, the 360 doesn’t natively support streaming radio internally (i.e. you can’t just copy a .asx or .pls file onto it or manually enter a web address). It does, however, support streaming radio when accessed from a DLNA capable server. I tested a sample radio stream from with both TVersity (a PC app that acts as a DLNA server) and my Buffalo LinkStation NAS which has an embedded Twonky DLNA server. Both work pretty well, but I noticed that the 360 seems to buffer streaming radio from TVersity (i.e. if you choose to stop listening on the 360, then soon after start listening again, it will begin playback from when you initially started listening). For this reason, I give a slight edge to using a NAS/Twonky if you have the option.

Now that we can stream radio, we need our own radio station. I used Winamp with the edcast plugin and DNAS application. This basically allows you to create your own shoutcast station. I won’t go into much detail on this, since the guide here is pretty straightforward. You *should* be able to use the Shoutcast DSP plugin from the guide, but I instead used the edcast plugin available here. Note that Winamp/DNAS will need to be continually running for the 360 to access the music stream.

The 360 will need to access this station through a playlist file. I created a very simple .m3u file with the following contents (you’ll need to change the IP address to that of the PC running Winamp/DNAS):

#EXTINF:-1,[connecting to host]

Make this file accessible from either TVersity or your NAS, and play it on your 360.  I won’t go into detail on this because there are already plenty of guides found on Google (such as this one). At this point your 360 should be playing whatever Winamp is playing (with a 5-30 second delay). If you simply want to control your 360′s music from your PC, then you’re all set; simply choose your songs in Winamp.

For me, this was all just a setup to use my phone to control the music. Ideally, I now wanted to remotely access Winamp from my Windows Mobile phone. I found some Windows Mobiles apps that claim to do just that, but they were all commercial, and I strongly prefer free software (either open source or plain freeware). (Note that I’m using my phones WiFi connection to get a local IP address, you can do this over the data connection, but you’ll need to forward the appropriate ports on your home router).

If I can’t use a native Windows Mobile app, then the next best thing would be a Winamp web interface to access using my phone’s browser. This also has the added advantage of being inherently cross-platform. There are many existing Winamp plugs that give remote access via a web interface. Unfortunately, none of the ones I tried fully met my needs. I’d used AjaxAMP before, and while it works pretty well when used on another PC, the interface doesn’t work so well on a small mobile device. It is technically usable and very simple to setup, so I would still offer trying this before moving on. I had very high hopes for WWWinamp which seems similar to AjaxAMP but even supports a skin for mobile devices! But after an hour of tinkering with it, I still couldn’t get it communicating with my Winamp installation.

In the end, I gave up on the Winamp web interfaces and settled for a whole PC web interface using VNC. I used the Windows Mobile VNC viewer here (direct link to cab on and UltraVNC on my PC. The Winamp interface can be a bit hard to navigate using it, but it does allow me to use all Winamp features such as searching my library and accessing playlists. The obvious downside to this is that the PC shouldn’t be used locally while being accessed by VNC. If this were to be a commonly used setup, I’d strongly recommend running this on a separate server PC if possible.

And there you have it! You can now control the music played by your 360 from anywhere using your phone. It’s currently not simple enough to be all that practical, but it was definitely fun to set up and play with!

Current issues/annoyances:

  • Requires an ‘always on’ PC for running the streaming server and being remote controlled
  • Changing songs isn’t noticed for up to 30 seconds or so due to the buffering. I’d much prefer the instant satisfaction of choosing a song and hearing it immediately.

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