Microsoft: Media Center not part of 'the future of entertainment'

Microsoft: Media Center not part of 'the future of entertainment'

Summary: A new blog post from Microsoft fills in details about how Media Center will fit in Windows 8, as an extra-cost option. And it's pretty clear that Media Center is not part of "the future of entertainment in Windows."


In a new post at the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft starts with this emphatic promise: “Windows 8 will deliver a world-class video and audio entertainment experience.”

The post concludes on a similarly upbeat note: “We are incredibly excited about the future of entertainment in Windows.”

In between are a few paragraphs guaranteed to disappoint old-school Windows media enthusiasts.

Microsoft already announced that Windows Media Center will be an extra-cost option in Windows and that it will require Windows 8 Pro. (Those details were part of a longer discussion about the Windows 8 editions, back in mid-April.)

If you’re running the base Windows 8 edition, you’ll need to upgrade the OS and install the Media Center Pack. Today’s post fills in a few more details:

Acquiring either the Windows 8 Media Center Pack or the Windows 8 Pro Pack gives you Media Center, including DVD playback (in Media Center, not in Media Player), broadcast TV recording and playback (DBV-T/S, ISDB-S/T, DMBH, and ATSC), and VOB file playback.

That parenthetical note about the absence of DVD playback in Media Player is not a mistake. DVD playback options will not be included with the new Windows Media Player, even if you install the Media Center Pack.

Windows Media Player will continue to be available in all editions, Microsoft says, but for DVD playback you'll need to use Media Center or third-party software: “For optical discs playback on new Windows 8 devices, we are going to rely on the many quality solutions on the market, which provide great experiences for both DVD and Blu-ray.” the post says. Translation: You’ll need to buy your own DVD software, or count on your OEM to supply it.

Mechanically, the Windows 8 Media Center Pack will be delivered using the feature formerly known as Windows Anytime Upgrade. Its new name: Add Features to Windows 8. That implies that the bits are included with the Windows 8 installation files and simply need to be unlocked.

There will, of course, be plenty of decoders included with Windows 8. The goal is to “cover all key playback scenarios for mainstream content such as YouTube video, Netflix video, Amazon audio/video, H.264 web browsing/streaming, Hulu video, MP4 video, AVCHD video from camcorders, Ultraviolet video, and the HTML5 video tag.”

Decoders for H.264, VC-1 (WMV), and MP4 video are included, as are audio codecs for MP3, WMA, AAC, PCM (Wave), and DD+. Metro style apps are free to add their own decoders, the post says, using FLAC, MKV, and OGG as examples.

Make no mistake about it: this decision is about the money. Specifically, it’s about the desire of OEM partners to want to keep costs down. In previous versions, technologies like the Dolby decoders that are part of Windows Media Center were included in premium editions. The decision to drop them completely from the base edition and make them a paid upgrade means those who want them will pay more, while OEMs will be able to cut a few bucks off the cost of each Windows license. Multiply that by millions of PCs and you see why big PC makers are content with this option.

Microsoft did not release pricing information, saying it "will be announced closer to the release date."

But there is a hint: "To give you some indication of Media Center Pack pricing, it will be in line with marginal costs." I think that means Microsoft will try to recoup the cost of the codecs but not treat them as a profit center. (But the wording is vague enough that I'll accept alternative interpretations; leave them in the Talkback section below.)

Update: In a comment on the Building Windows 8 blog post, Steven Sinofsky adds more details about the projected cost. In it, he says, "marginal is small, honest, and we just haven't determined the final prices yet ... we are aiming for single digit dollars but we don't control the truly marginal costs."

This move creates an opportunity for third-party software companies like CyberLink, which supply versions of their DVD playback software for their OEM partners to install on new PCs—with, of course, plenty of upsell opportunities.

As for “the future of entertainment in Windows,” it’s pretty clear what they’re not talking about. Microsoft disbanded the Windows Media Center development team years ago, with many of its members going to work on the Xbox and Zune projects.

Normally, these Building Windows 8 posts are written by a product manager or an engineer on the team responsible for delivering a feature. It's telling that this post was authored by Softies from the Windows Business Group and the Developer Experience team.

For Windows 8,  Microsoft seems to be saying, we'll keep Media Center's legacy alive. But I sure wouldn't bet on a similar option being there in Windows 9. And hey, maybe you should think about those new Metro apps instead. They're the real future.

See also:

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

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  • Yep

    Honestly, the only thing I wash was a Metro app was live TV itself. Music and video functionality is already in a separate app anyway. And eventually, I suspect we'll see apps from cable and satellite providers that provide direct access to content in your home, much like the iPad apps that exist today.
    Jeff Kibuule
    • Metro for media = yay!

      Separate programs for media = nay!

      What happened to the concept of connected hubs, ala Windows Phone? The Metro UI is awesome for media playback, but I'd rather have something more like the Zune software for a big media jukebox app rather than smaller separate apps. I'd rather have music just integrated into the Xbox app....and podcasts too! Don't forget podcasts!

      Speaking of Xbox, why is there going to be an Xbox (Live?) app for media and such, but a separate app called Xbox Companion for connecting to your Xbox hardware? Shouldn't these things be seamlessly joined together? If "Xbox" is the media service, why wouldn't the "Xbox 360" be a part of that experience? This sounds to me that the next Xbox console will actually be more like just a Windows 8 PC.
      • Metro for media = nay!

        Sorry, I generally have video running "in the background", as I am doing other tasks. That means Metro is a total non-starter for about 90% of my "viewing".
  • here's a thought

    Maybe they could make the Xbox media player for files not suck? Then I could give up Media Center with only a small pang...
  • I'm not sure I really care about DVD playback anymore

    Last time I used DVD playback was probably a few years ago. More and more systems are shipping with no optical drive. I think even Blu-ray on PC is dead too, and Microsoft doesn't want to sublicense Blu-ray playback when software vendors are already content about covering that market. I think they're smart to get out of that niche that's quickly drying up.

    I still think what Microsoft should do is offer a type of Windows install on USB stick for retail and deprecate optical media distribution. Optionally, the USB stick should include a version of Windows PE that also downloads a copy of Windows 8 from their distribution servers so that when you install, you get the latest service packs and security updates included. If a customer wants optical media, they could burn discs from the USB stick in Windows PE, or order them separately. Doing this for the System Builder channel would be greatly welcome too because it looks dumb when I build a machine with no optical drive, but Microsoft won't allow me to offer the software on USB due to license restrictions. I include the hologram DVD as I'm supposed to, but the customer can't use it without buying a USB optical drive. I know I've run into far too many situations where customers get a different OEMs machine with no discs and the hard drive fails and they haven't made a backup copy of the media. They have no way to install Windows without ordering the discs from the OEM, but if the OEM doesn't offer them, the customer is stuck. Including the installation on an additional medium is important IMO. Not being able to use that additional medium, however, is just plain stupid. Everybody has USB ports though, so a USB stick for installation seems like the most logical option. System Builders aren't allowed to include any additional copy of the installation on removeable media besides the DVD though, and that's just wrong if they keep the System Builder License Agreement the same when Windows 8 ships.
    • DVD Playback...

      I know a lot of people... my parents come to mind... that still buy laptops with big screens and DVD players just so they can take it with them to watch DVD's when they travel or go to their house boat. With Windows 7, they need nothing special to do that. With Windows 8, they now need Windows 8 Pro and a media pack (at extra expense), or they need a 3rd party app (at extra expense). It's pretty crappy, although I totally get the rationale they're using.
      • sayi what?

        I've never bought a windows xp, windows vista, windows 7 machine that the OEM that I bought it from didn't include software to playback DVDs, etc, so in reality it doesn't matter if Microsoft include this or not because OEMs have been including it for years, why would they stop now?
      • An option so popular...

        that it shouldn't be in the OS?

        A media centre for professional not home?

        And still they have their apologists:-) Who's running the show at MS?
        Richard Flude
      • It'll be covered

        Don't for get, DVD playback was an additional cost before Vista. We're just reverting to that. It was pretty hard to buy a name brand machine with a DVD after about 1999 that didn't include something like the CyberLink DVD playback support.

        This is driven by two things. The coprorate market that wants to cut costs on stuff it doesn't want and the growth of consumer systems that don't have any use for it either. But so long as the hardware is there you can bet the bundled software to drive it will be there from the OEM as well.
      • I suppose you could pay for it...

        ...or you could just download a free player like KMPlayer (better than Media Player) and a free codec pack.
      • Who is in charge of your department

        at Apple, Richard Flude?
        John Zern
      • DVD Playback...

        Or they need a Kindle Fire and Amazon Instant Video or anything with Netflix streaming. And serving movies you own is easy with something like Plex. But recording over-the-air TV is something you kinda need Media Center for. There are a lot of alternatives though. Frankly, Win 8 seems a bungled mess from Start (or lack of it) to finish. When Win 7 has to be retired, I hope there is an adult back in charge at MS or I'll have to go shopping at some other store.
      • No extra expenses needed

        VLC player will play pretty much any type of media and it's free. Microsoft should make a deal with VLC to include it with Windows 8. Everyone wins that way, and VLC can get some needed publicity. Besides, VLC player is a LOT better than the MS DVD player.
    • Ripping DVD's works great

      You don't have to actually play a DVD disk, but having the DVD files is MUCH better than streaming. You get Extras, subtitles and things like that. Windows Media Center handles them we. I've got 650GB worth of DVD's that I can watch any time, never have to hunt down the DVD, just use the remote. Also, Media Center does a pretty good job of upconverting to 1080p on my 58" Samsung Plasma. Unless you get real close to the screen, DVDs look great.
      John Hanks
  • "marginal cost" guesstimate

    Sounds like $/??/??? 20-30!

    If they had said "nominal cost" it would have been $/??/??? 10-20!
  • Open Source

    Why not release media center as an open source project and let the community take over. MSFT is all about OSS these days and this move would be a win-win for everyone.

    either way, the only way the Xbox would replace mce for me is if it allows live tv + dvr
    • It's not free software

      You can't open-source something whose core components are relatively expensive licensed technologies.

      Nice try, though. ;)
      Ed Bott
      • re: it's not free software

        I don't think he understands that concept....he doesn't get why it can't be open-sourced because he doesn't get what licensed software means.
      • Still that doesnt change the point. Not providing the licensed codecs etc

        is fine. Open source the MS source code to the media center product so we can license the codecs (maybe even by buying MC) but so we can fix all the bugs that MSs disbanded team isnt there to fix anymore. And tweak/replace the ui. And make the setup more automated. etc. etc. etc. I really couldnt be any less interested in xbox. as long as we have data caps streaming video will be a non starter.
        Johnny Vegas
      • But there is a way....

        Ed, the codecs and the DRM technologies are costly and proprietary, but if the Media Center component is a separate application, they might open sourced if they plan to get rid of it anyway.

        I use Media Center in W7 for my stored movie collection using mymovies database, and the convenience of Media Center remote, but it seems that I will have to transfer everything to work with XMBC now that Boxee left us in the dark. If Microsoft insist on this road, even my HTPC will become another one of my Linux boxes.....