AnandTech has been covering the Home Theater PC space since those halcyon days when Windows XP Media Center was rolling out, and the era of dual-core Pentiums promised tolerable playback of DVD-quality AVI files. Despite our, and your, enthusiasm, Microsoft dropped hints throughout the product’s various iterations that Media Center’s role in Windows 8 was minimal. As the Building Windows blog was updated we saw promises that Media Center would be there, but with little in the way of details. And in their latest post, the Windows 8 team reveals the new face of Media Center. 

Yeah. We know. The new Media Center is the old Media Center, wholesale. In the post regarding SKUs, the Windows 8 team announced that Media Center would not be included in any of the Windows 8 releases, but would be available for Windows 8 Pro users as an add-on. The add-on will be the same experience found in Windows 7, with no apparent additions. Why take such an apathetic approach to Media Center? Usage.

In data Microsoft published last year, Media Center was launched by 6% of Windows 7 users. For a feature to have such low usage, 10 years after it was first introduced, means that whatever efforts to gain traction have failed, and further efforts are unlikely to have great success. So, deprecating Media Center to the level of a near-orphaned feature is not surprising in the slightest. What was unexpected was the deprecation of audio codecs and DVD playback to the Media Center Pack as well. Codec licensure is something the public can generally ignore, but it’s the reason DVD players will never cost a penny, and why the original Xbox required a dongle for playback. Since Windows XP Media Center, users have been paying for MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital decode support. With Vista, the audio side was bolstered with Dolby Digital Plus, and this was maintained in Windows 7. Windows 8 will not have DVD playback out of the box, though with the addition of the Media Center Pack will gain the appropriate licensure. 

mage courtesy of WinSource

News isn’t all bad on the media front for Windows 8, though MPEG-2 for the DVD containers is omitted, it is included for H.264 decoding, alongside Dolby Digital Plus support; all this intended to extend video streaming support. In the era of Ultrabooks and tablets, optical drives are on the decline, so omitting support for DVD-Video playback, and entirely ignoring BluRay support, is sensible. 

We had been considering doing a quick “State of the HTPC”-style piece, with a focus on the state of MCE and what changes to expect in Windows 8. Now we know, there’s not much to expect. So, instead we’ll plan to explore what competing software has been able to accomplish, particularly MythTV; and how well the latest CableCARD experience pans out. Don’t be surprised, though, if our HTPC software of choice remains Windows 7, well into the future. 

Source: Building Windows 8

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  • guidryp - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    I didn't like Win8 even before this announcement. As one of the 6% I like it even less.

    I don't like the changes to the desktop. I don't Metro, and I wouldn't want to be charged extra for Metro (which likely involves online credit card transactions with Microsoft).
  • guidryp - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    No edit?

    I meant charged extra for WMC.
  • MonkeyPaw - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Ironically, the only purpose of Windows in my home is for WMC on my HTPC. I use Linux on my desktop. I have no interest in Windows 8 whatsoever, and have a total lack of confidence in MS, save their Xbox division.

    It does beg the question--if Windows 8 is not paying the encoding royalties, does that mean the consumer sees the savings? I bet I know the answer to that, unless MS plans to compete with Apple on OS pricing.

    Speaking of Apple, I guess they won the BluRay battle. They never supported it in-house, and it looks like BluRay is just going to be relegated to the sub-$100 set-top box option. Maybe the next format will go on memory sticks. I sure don't want to download/stream all my content, since ISPs bill by the bit.
  • ananduser - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    As long as you payed for a Win license Ballmer loves you.

    Perhaps W8 will be a tad cheaper or maybe not. I don't think there is room for comparison between Apple's 30$ upgrade and MS' stand alone OS.

    There never was a battle between Apple and MS for BluRay. Unfortunately people that have an innate lack of confidence towards all things MS have a contrarian attitude that makes them see "battles" all over the place. And BR and DVD playback *will* be supported just not by default, only through the Media Center add-on; Apple still doesn't support it(not that is good or bad, just their choice).
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Windows has remained pretty reasonably priced over the years. Look back towards the WinXP days, and then figure in 10 years of inflation. Not too bad, all things considered, and Win8 looks to be the most efficient version yet.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    I would also point out that WMC and codecs are only available to those users that purchase the most expensive tier of Windows. Premium users CANNOT HAVE MEDIACENTER OR CODECS.
  • MySchizoBuddy - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    there are plenty of third party Bluray players for Macs. So you are covered. Apple doesn't have to support everything.
  • jeremyshaw - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    To compete with apple in pricing, one must consider how many OS releases apple makes in the same time it takes MS to do one.
  • jontech - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    We also have to take into effect MS's 50 percent rule as seen below

    Windows ME
    Windows XP
    Windows Vista
    Windows 7
    Windows 8
  • vnangia - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Yup, ditto. We use Windows for two purposes around the house - HTPC (WIn7) and file storage (WHS); we're otherwise an all Mac household. If there was a decent way to decode Cablecard on a Mac (Elgato, you listening?), that would be the end of the HTPC. And then I'd be completely happy to move up to Mac OS X Server for the mass storage.

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