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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  • jwcalla - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    Definitely an XBMC fan.

    Maybe it's missing some features compared to WMC (don't know since I don't use any of the PVR stuff), but the library functionality seems a lot better IMO. The fact that you can build an HTPC around Linux and save some $$$ makes it nice too.
  • ArenaNinja - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I, for one, am glad on Microsoft's decision to get rid of Media Center (and I believe Media Player as well?) It bugs me because the software is overtly DRM friendly, mildly unstable (I've had it crash on me several times with simple DVD playback) and to be honest confusing. Since I downloaded Media Player Classic I haven't looked back. It lets me skip the ads that are now standard on DVDs from Redbox, Media Center does not. I can play just about any file extension, Media Center cannot. If I have a file I've ripped from a DVD and I want subtitles (for my foreign friends), MPC will find them, Media Center does not.

    I may be in the minority here, but in my opinion their short-sightedness is beneficial in the long run for the state of creative digital content on Windows.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    WMC doesn't really shine until you add Media Browser to it.

    See, WMC has been for the most part ignored by MS, so you either use other software like MPC, VLC, Myth, or XBMC. Adding Media Browser to WMC helps a lot. Full MyMovies support and works seamlessly across all formats/containers/VOBs once you update your codecs.

    MS really doesn't know what it is doing with media. It hit a potential gold mine with WHS and then killed it when they bundled it into the development group responsible for SBS.
  • Penti - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    Nuff said. Much to rant about some other time. Will not improve the situation if it actually don't work seamlessly. Which more or less nothing does or will on Windows 8, which seams to border around creating new Tools/toolkit or application framework that is still only abstracting old technologies and dividing the platform to no avail.
  • mcquade181 - Sunday, May 6, 2012 - link

    I am a big user of Media Center.
    I have tried both MythTV and MediaPortal and find MC much more simple to use i.e. "wife friendly".

    I suspect the 3-6 million big MC users will not be happy with this Microfail decision, and will of course explore other options, one being Apple. I bet Apple are rubbing their hands with glee.

    The decision to remove DVD playing from WMP is absolutely crazy, everyone I know with a PC has played a DVD on their PC at sometime, and people with laptops (those that have an optical drive) do it all the time. I guess there is alway Media Player Classic (and Apple).

    It looks like the era of using a TV connected PC running a Microsoft OS is fast drawing to a close.

    I wonder if in 20 years time historians will look back at this decision as the beginning of the end for Microsoft?
  • ET - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    I'm sure they won't. Microsoft's decision is rational, based on the increase of online movie viewing vs. DVD's, and the general usage figures of the software. Most people obviously don't buy Windows for its media playback software, and that's reasonable because there are very good alternatives. As an example, I have a very large DVD library, and I still play them sometimes using default Windows software, but I find that ripping them is getting more alluring, because having them on disk does have its benefits. If it wasn't for the relatively high price of hard disks (compared to the past) I might have been converting many of them.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - link

    Actually it will.

    The PC has been so dominant because it really could be all things to all people.

    Right now, with Metro, it appears that the PC is going to be a tablet. MS got their ass pounded in the tablet business, but has apparently decided to make their entire OS tablet-based. That is where they will fail.

    As MS is peeling away a PC's ability to do everything people will have to find a replacement, and trust me on this, the market doesn't but MS products because they love Windows or Office. They buy them because they have to. Once they won't have to anymore, they won't. And so ends the Windows/Office cash cow. Killed by stupid management.
  • mcquade181 - Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - link

    Well said mcnabney.

    Once Windows cannot do everything (including play DVDs) people will migrate to other options (Linux, Android ect).
    Microsoft really needed to add Bluray support to Windows 8 - not remove DVD support!
    I'm predicting Windows 8 will be a massive flop, and the beginning of the end for Microsoft.
  • glugglug - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    "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".

    What efforts? Seriously, has anyone here ever seen an ad about Media Center. Do *any* of your non-techie friends or family members even know it exists? If they had actually made **any** effort, it would have gained traction, as it is the best DVR out there.

    And it was finally gaining traction in the past 2 years despite the lack of marketing, since the crazy OEM-only restrictions on CableCARD were lifted with Windows 7.

    So sad....
  • glugglug - Monday, May 7, 2012 - link

    With Motorola suddenly demanding $22.50 for their 50 H.264 patents (while everyone else wants a combined $0.02), I can definitely understand the removal of the codecs if it adds $22.50 to the price.

    But then again, the primary preferred codec for tuners to use in WMC is MPEG-2 not H.264. The stripping out H.264 would affect European & Satellite TV tuner users, but not most WMC users in the U.S. (other than for Blu-rays & downloaded videos). And those affected could download free 3rd party codecs.

    Also, H.264 is not needed for DVDs. I hope MS reconsiders this decision if that is the case, and maybe just removes the built in H.264 support.

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