Windows 8 is decidedly less optimized for use as a home theater PC operating system. Windows Media Center is still there, but it and the OS itself don’t seem to be as carefully designed to support the direct startup experience previously available in Windows 7. Should you upgrade your home theater PC to Windows 8? Here’s how our team weighs in. What will you do?
I’m beyond excited about Windows 8, and I thoroughly enjoy using it every single day. I think that it has the potential to be a fantastic home theater PC, but not yet. Of course I love Windows Media Center, but not much has changed within it for Windows 8 to justify an upgrade yet. If you need features like Storage Spaces though, that might make the upgrade worth while.
Of course by default you won’t be making a Windows 8 HTPC boot directly into Windows Media Center, but with a couple of hacks, like Start8, it shouldn’t be hard to accomplish that goal. As of this moment I won’t be upgrading my primary HTPC, but I don’t think it will be very long before I do. I firmly believe there will be too many great media apps in Windows 8 not to upgrade.
I’m not upgrading, and I’m not recommending that others do either. If your HTPC is a sole-purpose machine, and it’s working for you and the other members of your household, I see no benefits to upgrading at this time. If the development community figures out a way to build new apps that support basic TV viewing and recording functions using a remote, then I’ll reconsider it.
At this point, there’s too much unknown about Windows 8 Media Center to upgrade (especially in RTM mode where you should certainly hold off). Once the final version of Media Center makes its way out, and we can see if it has any upgrades (unlikely), it will be easier to know for sure. From what I’ve seen, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to upgrade a standalone HTPC (meaning, it serves the purpose of only being an HTPC). Other than storage pools, it seems like nothing has changed. Faster boot is nicer, but not a big deal for an always on PC. Lower power consumption might be attractive, but the way I see it, since my current setup is tuned and working great, I’m staying with it.
As I suspect many others will say, unless there is some new compelling Windows 8 software that makes sense for an HTPC you should probably hold off. From a media perspective Windows 7 does everything that Windows 8 can do and more in some cases. One could make some compelling arguments about Windows 8 making sense for every form factor except the HTPC. I’m looking forward to see how it will function on tablets, laptops and even desktops. That could change the millisecond someone manages to write some functional TV and media-centric software with the new design paradigm formerly known as metro. After all this time Media Center on Windows 7 still manages to look modern and it’s functionality is not found in any other device. I’ll be sticking around Windows 7 for my HTPC, but I’m also keeping an ear to the ground.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with the premise. As a professional optimist (and amateur visionary), I see Windows 8 potentially being a far more useful HTPC platform than any prior desktop OS in history. In fact, I now see Media Center representing a “1.0” design for HTPC interaction—with all the media apps locked into a proprietary gated community. With an elegant and 10-foot-interface compatible Start Screen with Live Tiles, I see my Win8 HTPC being turned “inside-out” where most, if not all, of my HTPC functionality can be developed and launched directly within the core OS. Windows 8 provides this possibility natively like no prior desktop OS.
In this “HTPC 2.0” future, I see my Windows 8 Start Screen being my Media Center—complete with all the on-line delivery apps that I’ve been craving for years (i.e., YouTube, Hulu+, Pandora, Rdio, Amazon Prime, etc.) combined with my traditional media management and DVR features from the 1.0 era. And organized just as I want in topic-driven Start App groups. This is not going to come together immediately, I understand. But I’ll wait. I’ll patiently enjoy my existing Win7 HTPC for now, and when the time is right, jump head-first in HTPC 2.0—where legacy and the future live together in perfect Start Menu harmony.