Previously only available in special SKUs, or the ultimate edition, Windows 8 will let any customer upgrade for a price.

Windows 8’s Media Centre upgrade path

Microsoft has shed some light on how customers will acquire Windows Media Centre within the upcoming Windows 8 OS.

Windows Media Centre is the application within Windows that controls hardware for watching and recording live television, cable, satellite and for playing back of DVDs and music. In the past the software was typically bundled as special Windows 7 SKUs pre-installed on PCs that have remote controls, TV output features and so on.

In keeping with the simpler Windows 8 SKU plan, Microsoft will apparently offer a way to add Windows Media Centre via the built in "Add Features to Windows 8" function, as a chargeable upgrade. The reason for the charge is because it also bundles video and audio codecs which have license royalties such as H264.

It seems that there are two paths depending on whether the customer has Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. Essentially Windows 8 Pro is required to gain the Media Centre, so Windows 8 owners need to upgrade with the Windows 8 Pro Pack. This is presumably costlier than the Windows 8 Media Centre Pack which is needed for Windows 8 Pro owners.

Ultimately, whatever the path, the result is Windows 8 Pro with Windows Media Centre. This will include DVD playback, broadcast TV recording and playback (DBV-T/S etc) and VOB file playback. Microsoft didn’t say how much these packs will cost, saying only that it would be "in line with marginal costs."

No, we don’t know what that means either. What we do know is that Windows 8 will actually offer proper English as a localisation language so we no longer have to refer to Centre using American spelling.

Microsoft also revealed which decodes and containers will be included in Windows 8 by default. This includes H.264 video and Microsoft’s usual VC1/WMV while Dolby DD+, AAC and MP3 are included for audio. Container formats include AVI, MPEG-2 TS, MP4 and ASF files. No MKV, it should be noted, although Microsoft said this could be bundled in Metro style apps packages.

Not particularly exciting but the price tag on the head of Windows Media Centre will, we suggest, effectively set a price benchmark for third party software offering the functionality. This is particularly likely to appeal to those customers that are facing an unwelcome costlier upgrade to Windows 8 Pro.

It also makes the job of selling TV/cable/satellite hardware as an upgrade considerably easier since Media Centre can simply be added to Windows 8 after the fact.

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