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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  • A5 - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    The #1 issue right now (as far as live TV goes, anyway) is that it won't let you watch or record anything that isn't flagged "copy-freely" by your provider. The channels that this covers varies widely by provider (apparently Time Warner marks everything "copy-once", for example).

    WMC will let you watch copy-freely, copy-once, and copy-never (think PPV events) and record the first two. So if you want to replicate the telco DVR experience as much as possible, WMC is pretty much the only choice. A damn shame, since WMC7 is actually really good.
  • jeffkro - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    This is why I stuck an antenna on the roof instead of going with cable. I can record and transfer everything that my antenna can pick up. If I want to watch any HBO programs (Game of Thrones) I can stream or download them from Amazon or itunes.
  • Watwatwat - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    WMC had the foundation to be something great, but they gimped it as usual, you have to add plugins and the rest and still navigation is a chore, support for popular file formats, things like subtitles are not right and the rest, they never took it beyond its original functionality, stuff they should have added through the years they never bothered with, they let it play the wmv's and dvds and perhaps a tv tuner and called it a day when most people want more, especially folks with media libraries and the rest.

    Now if they make it optional they will just drive the rest to use xbmc.
  • CoreDuo - Saturday, May 5, 2012 - link

    You're pretty boned with CableCARD if you're with a cable provider where most of the channels are encrypted. At that point, Windows Media Center is your only good option.
  • ant6n - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    It'd be cool if they could put the TV playback functionality (with subtitles and epg) and just put it in a stand-alone app.
  • kmmatney - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I don't get why this is an add-on for the "Pro" version - having this for the Home version would make more sense.
  • ahinson - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    If I recall, this was answered on the Windows blog and it's because in order for WMC to work you'll need access to things that are part of the license pack included in Pro.
  • gcoupe - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Not so. The seven additional features of Windows 8 Pro (BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, Boot from VHD, Client Hyper-V, Domain Join, Encrypting File System, Group Policy and Remote Desktop (host)) have absolutely nothing to do with helping WMC to work. They are totally irrelevant for an HTPC.

    This is purely a marketing decision. And one that deliberately restricts the take-up of WMC 8. That way, Microsoft will be able to kill it off and say: "See? We told you that no-one was interested in it..."
  • ET - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Agreed. I'm sure what it will achieve is put people off using it, and have them move to other software or stick with Windows 7.
  • B3an - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Pro still has different licensing. And while 6% LAUNCHED WMP to see what the heck it is, less than that actually used WMP. From Microsoft:

    <i>"However, most people are just looking around; only one quarter (25% of 6%) of these people used it for more than 10 minutes per session (individual averages), and in 59% of Media Center sessions (by these 6% of users) we see almost no activity (less than a minute or two of usage)."</i>

    @Jason, maybe add this to the article?

    I just hope the costs saved from licensing codecs reduces the cost of Win 8 slightly.

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