Windows 8 and Windows Media Center

Confused about what's happening to Windows Media Center in the upcoming Windows 8 release? You're definitely not alone.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
2 min read

Confused about what's happening to Windows Media Center in the upcoming Windows 8 release? You're definitely not alone.

Windows Media Center: not quite entirely gone. (Credit: Microsoft)

As part of Windows 7, Windows Media Center — yes, we apologise for the spelling, but it's the correct name for it, according to Microsoft — was a fairly simple and quite thoroughly useful addition to the operating system.

Using Media Center, you could watch, record and even pause live TV. You could set up photo slideshows, play music and, combined with HomeGroup, easily share media to other devices around the home — even the Xbox.

Media Center supported a good range of audio and video file formats, including AAC, AVCHD, MPEG-4, WMV, WMA, AVI, DivX, MOV, XviD and more. Not surprisingly, it was a pretty popular feature, and particular handy on the bigger-screen all-in-one touchscreen PCs.

Many people are wondering what the deal will be under Windows 8, and it's a good question. It's important to remember that there are four flavours of Windows 8: Windows RT, Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise.

Out of these, only Windows 8 Pro has Windows Media Center capabilities. More importantly, Media Center doesn't come by default; it's a separate download. It was initially rumoured to have an additional cost involved as well, but Microsoft is now saying that it will be free for Pro.

It's important to note that this doesn't mean that you won't be able to play videos or listen to music with other versions of Windows 8; there's still Xbox Music and Xbox Video to handle playback of files, and you'll be able to add third-party players such as the popular VLC Player. You just won't get the additional Media Center functionality.

This is a pretty deliberate move from Microsoft. Media Center is getting a bit long in the tooth, and it's been a while since it got much of an update. It seems as though Microsoft is using the Windows 8 launch as a chance to clean house a little.

So remember, if you're a Windows Media Center user and want to stay that way, even after you upgrade to Windows 8, the Pro is what you'll want to purchase.