Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

Summary: In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky confirmed that Windows Media Center will be in Windows 8. But the code won't be in early releases, and it's still not clear how this little-used feature will be delivered.

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In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky confirmed that Windows Media Center will be in Windows 8.

“I want to reassure customers that Media Center will definitely be part of Windows 8. No doubt about it,” he said.

But don’t expect to see this feature in early releases such as the one widely expected to come out of the BUILD conference in Anaheim.

Media Center will not be part of the first pre-release builds. Some other features/capabilities will not be in the first pre-release builds including: Windows 7 games, DVD Creator, upgrade setup, Dot Net 3.5 (I will leave room for perhaps a couple of other relatively low profile items). These are engineering decisions as well as business decisions.

According to Sinofsky, Microsoft’s developers “still have work to do to make sure the quality and compatibility with add-ins is what you would expect even in pre-release … when we work on the underlying video engine, as one example, we have to make sure features that push these areas receive adequate coverage).”

Sinofsky also delivered some telemetry data to document how much – or how little – Media Center is actually used.

Our opt-in usage telemetry shows that in July, Windows Media Center was launched by 6% of Windows 7 users globally with the heaviest usage in Russia, Mexico, and Brazil (frequency and time). 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). TV was the most common scenario we observed, and not surprisingly, traditional media (DVD and CD) are less common (and declining over time) than streaming and file-based content.

In this case, a small percentage of a large number is still a large number. With 400 million or so Windows 7 customers, that equates to about 24 million occasional Media Center users and 6 million who use it regularly. That group tends to be extremely enthusiastic, with an influence well beyond its numbers.

One detail that Sinofsky pointedly left out was how Windows 8 users will get their hands on Media Center. “Interestingly,” Sinofsky said, “the feedback about Media Center was predominantly ‘we will pay extra, just include it’ based on the input directly to me.” Currently, Media Center is a feature in premium editions of Windows 7, which means OEMs (and by extension, their customers), are already paying for it.

It’s possible that Media Center could be delivered as an add-on for Windows 8. Microsoft has already confirmed that it’s working on an app store for Windows 8. A downloadable Media Center app wouldn’t have to cost much to contribute to Microsoft's bottom line.

We already know that some video codecs and Dolby Digital capabilities will be left out of the base Windows 8 product. At a buck or two per copy, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses for Microsoft over the life of a Windows release—and it's difficult to justify those outlays if 94% of users don’t want or need the licensed components. Shifting the cost directly to enthusiasts via a $5 download would take care of those issues completely.

Update: there's precedent of sorts for en extra-cost delivery. In the early part of the last decade, Microsoft included only a bare-bones MP3 codec in itsWindows Media Player. If you wanted the capability to rip tunes using MP3 format at higher bitrates, you had to pay for a third-party program. You also had to pay extra for DVD decoder capabilities. One vendor sold the MP3 decoder for $10 and a bundle with the DVD decoder for $20.

What you were really installing was a set of codecs. Microsoft's decision to distribute them in a third-party add-on package let them offload the headaches of accounting for and paying the necessary license fees.

Meanwhile, Media Center enthusiasts will, to their great relief, be able to stay tuned.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software

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23 comments
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  • What about the kitchen sink?

    In there too?
    GoPower
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    Great news. Media Center has been my main media player since I first had it after I bought Vista. I simply love the UX it gives users, compared to Media Player or even Zune.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Dolby Digital has been around forever. When are it's patents up?

    Thats something I expected to see from you Ed, you're usually good about being complete...
    Johnny Vegas
    • 2018-2026

      @Johnny Vegas

      Dolby has a large number of patents in this space. Assuming that Windows 8 launches in 2012, it will end the mainstream support phase in 2017, before any of the Dolby Digital patents expire.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    I use XBMC so doesn't matter to me but it is great from users of Netflix. The Netflix addon for media center rocks.
    Randalllind
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    well they best include media center in win8 i need ot for my Xbox 360 / windows 7 network..
    moondookie@...
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    or maybe i will stick with win7 for 10 years like the other win xp clingerz...LOL
    moondookie@...
    • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

      @moondookie@... I agree there really no rush to upgrade windows has a 64bit version so I don't see the need to go get windows 8 right away. I loved XP but with 64 bit chips and stuff I saw a need to upgrade to 7.
      Randalllind
    • media Center

      I am one of the XP clingers, it works, why change it? Unless you are going to tell me that W8 or W7 is so much faster, that I need to change. It is not so much MC, but also the inputs/outputs that my HPMC PC has. I looked at an HP PC yesterday at the $450 point or so it had no HDMI connector, no TV tuner, little IO ports except for USB. My current machine has S-Video, two ports with RCA connectors (before HDMI was popular-so no HDMI), 6 USB ports, a memory card reader, two CD/DVD drives (One records the other just plays), fire wire port, none of the new cheap computer have all of these. I wonder if I were to change mother boards and upgrade the OS, would I still have the use of all of these IO ports or not.
      dhays
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    I just want zune!!
    mike2k
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    Anyone else get the feeling that Microsoft relies too much on telemetry data? The users that allows this type of info to be sent to Microsoft shouldn't set the agenda for future releases. It's the new lazy cheap way across Microsoft products. I would love to know how Sinofsky reached the conclusion that users are willing to pay more for media center when most users I know think that windows upgrades are already to pricey.
    windowseat
    • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

      @windowseat
      I would pay a small fee for full media centre if the alternative was no media centre.
      kstap
  • I'm a huge huge fan of Media Center fan, but...

    ... I feel like Microsoft has an opportunity here that they might easily screw up, with us (Media Center fans) paying the price. Pardon the lengthiness of this post, but take it as evidence of how much I care about the product. An a la carte Media Center that doesn't sell well is one major step closer to a retired Media Center. So if you're going to make it a la carte, do it right. First off, if I had to start paying hefty subscription fees for guide data (like Tivo owners), I would probably (with a heavy heart) have to move on to something else. The only reason guide data is currently free is because the cost is subsidized by every copy of Windows sold. I would be more than happy to pay extra (within reason) for Media Center, but not as a subscription model. If the guide data won't be free, make sure we have choices on providers, even if that means coming up with a standard, and/or conforming to any existing standards.

    Also, if I'm going to pay for MC a la carte, I would expect Microsoft to pay more attention to it. Kudos to them for finally getting us "there" with CableCard (four years late, but better late than never) ... but there are other areas where they've fallen short. For example, anything that works from Media Center (e.g., Netflix) better darned well work from an extender! This has frustrated the heck out of me. I don't care how hard it is to deliver the bad news to the Xbox "720" dashboard team, they need to stop shooting MC in the leg like they did repeatedly with the 360. If it's a feature that falls in media center territory, only allow the feature in the dashboard if you can also deliver it in the extender app. I think MS should have done more to encourage/support/entice Dish and DirectTV with their MC tuners (not too late to undo that mistake...). Also, an OS shipping in 2012 better have good .mkv support (including for all common audio and video codecs found inside the container).

    Microsoft needs to quit ignoring their customers on things like being able to use a PC as an extender. Why wouldn't they want to sell more copies of Windows? Allow us to build our own small/quiet extenders! The Xbox is too hot/loud, I'd rather spend more to build my own extender PC. Or maybe spend less -- even very low-end PC hardware is more than up to the task of being an extender with even a full-blown Windows install. I almost hate to use the "S word" (Softsled) because I'm sure it makes some Microsofties roll their eyes and dismiss it as clinging to an overrated idea, thinking they know better than their fans and that they can satisfy that demand with things like DLNA/Homegroup. They're wrong. There's a big difference (e.g., scheduling new recordings, guide, resuming a show in another room, the simplicity, consistent experience, etc. ... basically every selling point of extenders before MS effectively gave up on them). This is a perfect opportunity to polish the product and remove complexity. Extenders are blissfully simple to set up. Adding library locations, dealing with authentication, shares, UNC paths, managing media server settings, troubleshooting firewalls, etc.... not so much. Why not just give the extender new life by finally giving us Softsled? We'll do the rest. Or allow independent PCs running Media Center to act as a pool or "team" (the DLNA tuners feature rumored for Win8 makes this possible, but will they do it?). As people build these kinds of extender PCs, I think pre-made hardware tailored for this purpose will spring up organically and we'll finally have what Linksys almost gave us (before pulling the plug).

    Microsoft, if you're reading, listen up: You have a history of having great things within your grasp, where you just don't quite put the "polish" on it that you should, give it the treatment it needs/deserves, take it to the next level. And then someone like Apple comes along, and does just that (even if you're left in the dust with something technically better, more capable, or with more potential). Tablets, mobile OS, phones, etc. Ask any Media Center fan, and they'll tell you this is the next one you're letting slip through your fingers. The 6% number isn't evidence of low interest, it's evidence of you having not yet taken it where it needs to go. Apple and Google have dipped their toes in this water, but haven't had much success yet because they haven't yet figured out that we want streaming _AND_ DVR! You have nearly mastered the latter (seriously, better than ANYBODY else, cable companies, Tivo, etc.) but are weak on the former. Google and Apple haven't yet figured out the need for the DVR half of that equation. But they will. Will you (Microsoft) give your customers what we want with the product and figure out the streaming half first? Or will Google / Apple figure out the DVR half first? Time will tell...

    What does it take to succeed in streaming? First, local streaming is as important as internet streaming! Support the most popular modern containers and codecs (audio and video ... even if it means dropping older stuff if that baggage creates expensive complexity). Make sure all the subtle variations (e.g., compressed headers) also work. On the internet side, you've got to compete with the variety of streaming services (both paid and free) supported by other media streamers and what Google and Apple provide. Again, the Dashboard has a video rental store, why the heck doesn't media center? Quit letting the dashboard team sabotage MC!

    If you wait to take MC to the next level (letting Apple or Google win the race by figuring out the DVR half), then once again you will have let a fantastic opportunity slip through your fingers, and will be in another mad scramble to regain your OWN territory, a position in which you always seem to put yourself. You think traditional TV delivery is going away any time soon? For all TV watchers and DVR owners? Streaming has its place and is trendy, but ask yourself if you really think traditional (OTA/Cable/Sat) TV delivery is nearing an end any time soon. I don't think so, but you can hedge your bets and be great at both. (You'd have the market cornered with that combination!). You need to pay attention to the enthusiasts and figure out how to give them what they want and also put on the polish to the point where ANY average Joe can use it, love it, be enthusiastic about it. Media Center is very close. Think simplicity (not just for some use cases, but for the whole set of capabilities, you make this mistake frequently). Apple is great at this "polish", even if thier supposed "revolutions" are never original ideas, just very good evolutions. They're great at finding existing diamond-in-the-rough/unpolished ideas (i.e., that are ALREADY SITTING THERE, squandered), dusting them off, polishing them, making a fortune off of them. Don't let them do it with this one. Feel free to charge us, but make sure we're getting our money's worth, and treat it like something that's ready to be polished and make you a fortune. I.e., give the enthusiasts what they want and make enthusiasts out of millions of others.
    spec07
    • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

      @spec07 @spec07 Great write-up. One of the things that is not being looked at is with SDV and digital delivery MC has become almost useless until SiliconeDust and Ceton finally got their tuners through CableLabs testing. I am waiting for my quad USB tuner and will be using MC for a long time once I get it. This does change my plans to test Win 8, but that PC won't be my primary MC DVR. One thing I am not reading in this rush to "psuh" content is who is going to pay for the bandwith at the last mile. I am not sure Verizon is going to carry the burden if I dropped my cable subscription from them. If Netflix is already taking up so much bandwidth, how many other IPTV providers can the internet support?
      xds9mm
  • No confirmation about Dolby

    Note that Microsoft themselves haven't said yet that they are going to leave out the Dolby codecs. Because this is a royalty-incurring component, it may be that only the final RTM version includes it. MS often take apart stuff in test builds but include it in the final version.
    xp-client
    • The confirmation was from Dolby

      @anonymuos

      Dolby executives confirmed that on their earning report.
      Ed Bott
  • Microsoft and TV

    rock my world. Hard.
    Monkeypox
  • RE: Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

    There's a good reason non-TV is not widely used. Media Center is adequate for movies and other video, but nothing spectacular. BluRay must be supported through a third party add-on, which will almost definitely have a stand-alone interface for those who want one. On the other hand, for those with a Media Center remote, the integration makes sense.

    Getting more users to take advantage of those features would require improvements. Yet deciding not to improve it because of lack of use creates a negative feedback loop.

    Adding improvements to MC compared to Vista's implementation was a positive step. Improving Media Player at the same time and leaving it as another integrated yet incompatible component is a confusing proposition for users. Leaving features out of each, and requiring the other in order to make use of those features, steers users away from both.

    For those who use media center, it provides an out-of the-box solution to get Tivo like functionality with a simple tuner card. And having eight tuners and 3TB of storage is trivial to implement. It's not that a typical user would need that, but an integrated solution that blows away what comes bundled with tuner cards makes for a compelling component. For that, Media Center is strong.
    wresnick
  • Where was I?

    Really, where was I? My windows products have a checkmark in the "send information to Microsoft" checkbox. I am a heavy media center user, and I love it. To make users pay for it is ridiculous. It is a beautiful program, and well integrated with windows media player. I can start playing something with windows media player, and then go into media center, add songs to the playlist or whatever, and vice-versa. I, and I think I can speak for a majority of users, am not ready to pay extra, though. Yes, theoretically, it would make my windows liscence cost less, but I am still not interested in opening my wallet for something like that, especially in an age of loads of free media players. I would be a lot more confortable with it being a free add-on, so it wouldn't need you to open your wallet. Windows media center is a program that turns heads. It makes people go "Wow, what is that?" In fact, some of my classmates were playing music on their blackberries and ipods, when I mentioned my laptop speaker was louder. I pulled it out, and I got that "What is that?" remark pretty quickly - from someone who is rarely impressed when I do something - and normally when he is, it is sarchastic. But this time, it was the real "What is that". Windows media center turns heads - it is great advertising for microsoft. And to make people pay for it is a big mistake, because you will reduce the users. If it turns heads, do not reduce the number of users. On top of that, windows media center just seems to scream out "touch me!" It would be great for touch screens.
    trainman261
  • Not many people use Media Center?

    Having given up cable TV, then satellite, I now rely exclusively on TV over antenna and internet sources all managed with Media Center. It's a great product and yes, I would pay extra for it if it were not included with the OS.
    jserrat