One final and possibly unwelcome clarification on media options in Windows 8. If you don’t install Windows 8 Pro and also buy into the Media Center upgrade, your computer may not play DVDs any more.
Microsoft explains its logic in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog. Essentially, with an increasing number of PCs and ultrabooks shipping without a DVD drive, licensing the codecs required to play DVDs for inclusion in Windows Media Player (which every edition of Windows gets) increases the price (by around $2 a copy, Microsoft says). Since online media is now dominating, Microsoft figured cutting out DVD playback makes sense.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to pay for an upgrade to get DVDs. Many vendors include licensed DVD playback software on their machines, and many external DVD drives also come with software that includes licensed copies of the codec. (That’s one of the few rational arguments for vendor crapware I’ve ever heard.)
If you have an existing machine running Windows 7 and are planning to upgrade to Windows 8, the situation is a bit hazier:
If there is existing third-party playback software the Windows Upgrade Assistant will help determine if this software is compatible with Windows 8 and you will have the option to keep it during the upgrade to Windows 8. Otherwise, you will need to acquire third-party playback software after the upgrade to play DVDs.
In other words, you’ll be relying on an OEM manufacturer to update its software, which is an unpredictable scenario.
The big lesson? If you buy a new machine with Windows 8 on it and it includes a DVD drive, check that software is included. Microsoft has made it clear that it won’t be licensing Windows Media Center for shipping on hardware — you’ll have to buy it yourself as an upgrade — so you’ll need to know this before buying if you don’t want unexpected expenses. While VLC is a capable media player and is what we use for DVDs whenever possible, it can have occasional issues with commercial DVDs, so it’s good to have a backup.