Microsoft has outlined a number of the big changes coming in Windows 8, including the addition of a touch-friendly Metro UI. Metro’s big fonts and tiled design were obviously concocted with tablets in mind, but they seem just as well suited to home-theater PCs that put users across the room on the couch, often with little more than a remote for navigation.
Rather than equipping Metro for the living room, it looks like Microsoft is going to keep the 10-foot Media Center interface included in Windows 7—and severely limit its reach. The Verge has heard that Media Center will be restricted to special editions of Windows 8. Although Media Center is currently included in all but the Starter edition of Win7, Microsoft reportedly wants to concentrate its TV efforts on the Xbox. Media Center requires additional licensing fees, the site says, so dropping it from the core OS should lower costs. This move is something of a return to form for Microsoft, which first launched Media Center as a special edition of Windows XP.
With PVR-equipped set-top boxes gaining in popularity and consoles increasingly being used to stream video, I can see why Media Center might be relegated to a smaller role in Windows 8. Unlike a few years ago, when PCs were really the only way to enjoy a range of content on your television, the market is now flooded with media players that cost a lot less than even the cheapest Windows-powered nettops. While they can’t handle PVR duties, these devices play HD content and often support popular services like Netflix, Pandora, and Facebook.
The rise of encrypted digital cable has made the PVR side of the home-theater PC equation more complicated, as well. Gone are the days when assembling a TiVo-killer for the living room was as easy as slapping a TV tuner into a PC.