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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  • Wolfpup - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Yikes...removing Media Center is lame, removing DVD support is even lamer. Instead of adding native Blu Ray, the remove DVD? Umm....

    Add that to the removal of the start menu,. and I've gotten super, super leery about Windows 8. The ONLY the that doesn't have me calling it a complete disaster is just that the changes in Windows 7 sounded scary, but ended up not being that major.
  • GoodBytes - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    What sucks the most, is that even though you purchase the add-on pack of Windows 8 Pro, you STILL can't play DVD in Windows Media Player. Only Media Center will be able to play them. That sucks.

    I like Windows Media Player 12 a lot, especially the 64-bit version, instantly load large video files, with itself, clean and nice look, and provides excellent playback of DVD's.

    Now I have to purchase PowerDVD or similar codec pack, and use their ugly, badly programed special player. Or use VLC and enjoy my DVD with a high frame skip, which is does on all my systems.
  • Dracusis - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I've never noticed any issues with DVD playback through VLC for either PC or Mac.

    DVDs are a bit of a dead medium now though. Just rip them onto a TB drive using x264 and be done with it.
  • dananski - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Looks like all the DVDs I ripped to vob files won't work either, and hard disk space is so cheap I never bothered to transcode them.

    I'm not a big fan of VLC for everyday playback, (though I appreciate its versatility) but I'm sure there'll be plenty of alternatives.
  • jeffkro - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I have found that GOM works pretty well
  • Watwatwat - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    also has better audio during time stretch than vlc, vlc is a nice fall back at times but their developers are only interested in their own interests, they can't be bothered to fix stuff that has been broken for 10 years, like global hotkeys or anything else, so gom will have better time stretch sound quality for years to come...
  • MySchizoBuddy - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    You can always donate to VLC and have them fix the problems you find troubling.
  • Ignatius - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I've ripped plenty of DVDs with Anydvd. Can you tell me what can be used to rip them to x264?
  • Tallin - Thursday, May 10, 2012 - link

  • Denithor - Thursday, May 17, 2012 - link

    Best method I've found is use AnyDVD to do the initial rip onto the hdd and then use Handbrake to recode into x264 mp4 format. Nearly the same quality as the original disc but much less space taken for each movie.

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