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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  • JasonInofuentes - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I thought the user engagement statistics were throwing salt in the wound, so I left them out. I doubt that the cost of Win 8 will come down based on this change. They're calling the add-on one of nominal cost because it probably won't be more than the cost of the license, say $10-20. The nominal point also works to justify not lowering the price of Win 8 vs. Win 7.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    Even with you degradation of 6% by a quarter - you are still talking about 8 million frequent users.

    And any savings Microsoft sees from yanking licenses will be tossed on their pile of $60B in cash. You have no choice, you will pay what they want.

    I would also point out that POWER users frequently DON'T check 'send Microsoft feedback' - and that is where those numbers come from. I know I don't send anything to MS and I use Mediacenter every day.

    I hope Google is paying attention. With their continued efforts on GoogleTV despite limited success, I think they might use Win8's weaknesses to steal the HTPC market.
  • dextrous - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Actually RDP host is used for media center. An extender connects to the PC via RDP session. An extender even creates a new user account on your PC to use when logging in.
  • glugglug - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    It might have something to do with Remote Desktop. Extenders communicate with Media Center using RDP for the UI, but on port 3390 instead of 3389. (There is a separate RTSP connection for the video stream). One of the big features in Windows 8 is RemoteFX, which might even make the video stream work in a regular RDP session. Anyone with the beta tried RDP on port 3390 to see if you can use another PC as an extender?
  • ET - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Windows 7 already includes the licenses. If someone upgrades from 7 to 8 it will make sense to keep them and allow WMC to work out of the box.
  • gcoupe - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    No. According to Microsoft's Bernardo Caldas (in a comment to the FAQ post):

    "The usage rights to these codecs needed to play DVD do not carry forward to a new version of Windows after you upgrade. These terms are defined by the licensors of these technologies, not Microsoft or OEMs."
  • MonkeyPaw - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Talk about passing the buck. Feature removal seems to be the Windows 8 sales pitch.
  • Articuno - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    They seriously expect me to pay for the special version of the OS, pay for something that should have been in the OS in the first place on top of that and then have the audacity to tell me it can't even play DVDs?

    It's insane. Simply insane. They made Windows 7, which has sold 525 million copies and is the fastest selling OS in computing history, yet they do a complete 360 degree turn and make this Windows 8 garbage... and for what? They're just going to lose money when people buy even more copies of Win7.
  • daniel142005 - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Unless Windows 8 is priced closer to other software. If Windows 8 is half the price of Windows 7, people will buy Windows 8 and just get some $20-$30 DVD software (most consumers don't know about the free alternatives)
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    Also have buy Win8 Pro, which replaces Ultimate as the top Windows version.

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