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Post-XPalypse: Surviving a world changed by Windows 8.1 features

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Microsoft omits DVDs from Windows 8 media player, but it's fixable

There is no DVD playback capability included standard in the Windows 8 media player, so our expert suggests some alternatives.

Each new version of Windows has dropped some features and added new ones. New Windows 8 features include its touch-centric interface, the Modern UI, and everything associated with it. It's obvious when new things come in, but not as obvious when things go missing, such as a Windows 8 media player.

One of Microsoft's major omissions in the operating system has been the Media Center app -- and along with it, the coder/decoders (codecs) that allow for DVD playback in Media Player and in "vanilla" Windows 8 generally.

First, let's look at some background. DVD playback on Windows requires a codec, software that provides the system with a way to decode the encrypted audio and video. The codec also performs navigation across the disc.

Windows XP didn't include such things by default, but there were many third-party applications, such as CyberLink PowerDVD. The Windows Media Center app was also developed in part as a way to add DVD playback to Windows desktops.

With Windows 7, the DVD codecs were included as a standard part of the OS, along with Windows Media Center. However, the codecs have been omitted for Windows 8 DVD playback, and the Windows Media Center app is no longer provided by default, either.

More about Windows 8 features

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Debunking myths about Windows 8 features

Windows 8.1 preview makes the OS fitter for the enterprise

Be aware of potential Windows 8 drawbacks before moving to the OS

Windows 8.1 tightens security over Windows 7

Don't let slow sales, UI hate distract you from Windows 8 pros

Windows 8 Pro doesn't include features found in Enterprise edition

Why do this? There are several reasons, the first of which is cost. When Microsoft included the codecs for DVD playback in Windows, it had to pay a licensing fee -- not a huge one, but it was one of the many small things that could drive up the price of a copy of Windows. Eliminating the codecs for a Windows 8 DVD player kept costs down and made for more parity across the different OS versions.

Another reason for the omission of a Windows 8 media player was lack of use, according to Microsoft. "Our telemetry data and user research show us that the vast majority of video consumption on the PC and other mobile devices is coming from online sources such as YouTube, Hulu, Netflix or any of the other myriad of online and downloadable video services available," said a Building Windows 8 blog post. "Globally, DVD sales have declined significantly year over year, and Blu-ray on PCs is losing momentum as well."

Longtime students of Microsoft's decision-making process will recognize the same reasoning as for the company's removal of the Start button: Microsoft's telemetry said it simply wasn't being used.

This won't reassure users (myself included) who still watch DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs as well, on their PCs. Fortunately, there are a few possible solutions to this Windows 8 problem:

1. Buy Media Center for Windows 8 as a separate add-on.

Media Center wasn't completely discontinued as a product. Rather, it was simply removed from Windows as a bundled item. A user can always add Media Center back into Windows 8 by way of the "Add features to Windows 8" Control Panel option, albeit at a cost. For a limited time (before Jan. 31, 2013), the Media Center add-on was offered as a freebie, but now it's available for $9.99. Media Center is also available as part of the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which costs $99.99.

Note that Media Center only allows Windows 8 DVD playback through Media Center, so this might not be the best option for many users.

2. Buy a third-party DVD playback application.

Many third-party commercial applications exist for DVD playback on desktops and laptops. Chief among them are CyberLink PowerDVD and Corel WinDVD, whose codecs can also be used by Windows Media Player to play back DVDs in that application as well.

The disadvantage with these applications is that they're fairly costly -- far more so than Media Center's $10 list price.

3. Use a noncommercial program that provides DVD playback.

Some free and open source applications, such as the VLC media player, can perform DVD playback. However, they have their own pitfalls. In VLC's case, they don't make their codecs available to the rest of the system.

Also, the legality of the program may be questionable in some areas, since VLC is developed in France, and laws about intellectual property vary between jurisdictions.

Another possible reason for why Microsoft has been scaling back and repackaging multimedia support in Windows is because it's positioning the Xbox 360 and Xbox One as its main media device in the home, especially for disc-based media.

PCs are taking a backseat, and many notebooks and even desktop systems now ship without an optical drive. Whatever the reason, it helps to know that you have options for restoring Windows 8 DVD playback if you need that capability.

This was last published in August 2013

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Essential Guide

Post-XPalypse: Surviving a world changed by Windows 8.1 features

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Do you use Windows devices to view DVDs or Blu-ray discs?
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I use my home PC for all of my entertainment options. I do not have a TV.
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There are time when my wife is using the TV and I want to watch a DVD. There are times when I need to watch a DVD quietly, which I can do on a computer with headphones. I find it very annoying that Microsoft has decided for me what I need and what I don't.
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More control over a wide range of settings, and often for archive media no longer available from the original source - and I'm so glad I still have Win XP systems running, instead of the latest garbage to come out of Redmond.
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All my DVDs and Blu-Rays are stored on Windows Home Server, this coupled with Win 7 Media Centre and My Movies, is awesome. Every visitor who has seen it has got me to setup the same for them, can't understand Microsoft dropping this. What other box can do this and also record all 4 HD channels at the same time?
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When my wife is watching the TV and I don't like the programme I watch a DVD on my computer if I can that is. That's the reason for reading your article. Just got windows 8.1 and cyberlink stuff has expired now they want a shed load of money to get me back.
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I have videos, etc. on DVD that are not available on-line. Family videos, etc.
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got to have blu -ray cause sometimes red box wont have the regular dvd version of a new movie, only blu ray. Like the new lego movie my kids want to see right now only available in blu ray
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I play Blu-Ray dvd on my laptop all the time...
I always take a few discs when I'm away from home.
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My laptop is pretty much the only place I watch DVDs anymore...and that'll probably change with my next laptop which likely won't have an optical drive. No Blu-Ray support, but that doesn't bother me at all. 
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I can't believe I paid extra to have DVD/CD players in both of my computers (laptop and desktop Windows 8.1 & desktop updated to Windows 10) only to have someone decide I didn't need it. I use the DVD players to play DVD's for work and studies. I have tried downloading free sites but they don't work either. I had working DVD's and now they have been eliminated. Not happy with whoever decided we don't need it or now need to pay a lot extra to have it reinstalled. Really??  Why bother with these upgrades if important capabilities are taken out of our computers?
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I used to watch a lot but the Blu-ray player software expired and I cannot justify the cost to renew it. Now I use another player but the features are a lot more limited.
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I love Windows8
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I bought a system with a blu-ray player so I could see movies on a larger screen while RV traveling on vacation.
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Why would I watch Blu-ray on a small computer screen when I have a large TV screen. I want to get away from computers at the end of work.
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well, gee, why do you want to know that Microsoft will generally find a way to put the customer last? Or a way to annoy as many people as possible? How is that news after 13 years of Ballmerism?
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I am so ready to dump Windows and attempt to stick with Linux for my main computer as well as my htpc
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so much for full backwards compatability. In Win7 I get DVD playback, but not in win8, just another reason to avoid win8, I prefer not to be told how to consume my entertainment, sure I use and love Netflix, but I'm not always online, and I don't want to be told "I have" to use such services for something I have been doing for year son a laptop
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One more reason to start dating some other platform. Oh well, it's been a pretty good 30 years. Now, where'd I put my iPad?
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Poor choice on MS part to not include a player.
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Another Windows 8 failure where they have a lousy survey making their decisions. Just because I watch 1000 YouTube videos does not mean I don't want to play all the DVDs I own.
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I have stand-alone DVD players, but all Blu-rays get played on PCs that have Blu-ray drives. More importantly, all my TV viewing and recording is done across my network with Windows 7 Media Center, supported by a pair of Silicon Dust network tuners that provide 4 independent OTA channels. Media Center is an entirely satisfactory DVR for me. I started with Windows XP Media Center Edition which was barely functional, but Media Center was just fine in Vista and improved in Win 7. I have installed Windows 8 with the Media Center option on one box, but that system is so irritating I can't advise on its MC functionality.
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Where do they get their data from? Obviously their market research is producing the wrong results.
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I am using also the Start button, but MS will never ask those like myself if we are using it.
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It's convenient and my PC is on most of the time
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Even though I use Windows Media player occasionally for DVDs, I do get some level of satisfaction with my Windows 7 Professional OS.
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Well I do not know what telemetry was used as we are at 81%
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Never use Windows Media player ... always use VLC and it works perfectly! -- Jean.
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What a scam! If they had offered WMC as a freebie? I'd have bought it, charging to have what once was free? Scam. And we saw how good their "research" is when it came to the start button, didn't we?
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I think the DVD producers should start including a PC playback program with the disc, and let them pay the "small" codec charge. They are already including digital copies and adding all those additional features that want to autorun when I insert the disc.
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Ability to play CD, MP3, DVD and Blu Ray should all be built in.

I think the EU also have a lot to answer for the unbundling of core useful features.
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Very frustrating to be missing this simple feature, even if only rarely used. Particularly because it is relatively rare, spending another $100 on Media Center seems excessive. Question: does the Media Center-add on apply with standard Windows 8?
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It should be there.
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I use PowerDVD 13
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I infrequently use Windows to view DVDs, but Windows 8/8.1 cannot play back the .mpg files that my Sony video camera creates. I have downloaded various free applications to convert them to .avi, .mov, and .wmv, but it's inconvenient and uses up precious hard disk space.
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Microsoft seems to be trying real hard to drive everybody to switch to a MAC????
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I use VLC
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I connect my laptop to a mini-projector from Brookstone & project onto a large screen in the backyard.
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Not very often but I will miss the feature.
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I used this and now use VLC.
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I still think this is an essential function I cant stream on a Plane.
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to watch DVDs on your PC (ie connected to ur 80in smart TV and other DLNA devices )
you need to avoid windows 8!!!!!!
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