Home Theater PC users have a new operating system to try out! Microsoft launched Windows 8 earlier this week to some small fanfare and quite a few people scratching their heads.
Unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 is a complete take off from the norm. With a new start screen and "Metro" user interface, there's going to be more than a few people who will have a hard time adjusting. While I've been using Windows 8 for some time on my laptop, my HTPC is still running Windows 7. There are several reasons for this but will I eventually install Windows 8 on the PC that controls our entertainment? Is it worth the trouble or should you continue to use what works now? As with other things, there are several factors at play here and we'll try and cover them all as we answer these questions.
Windows 8's New UI
The Metro interface of Windows 8 has a lot of people going insane. They're having a hard time dealing with the fact that the start menu is now a screen and when big changes are made, certain people do have a hard time adjusting. I've found that once you're used to it however, the start screen in Windows 8 is rather easy to use and does add to the experience with the ability to group icons, sort and delete ones you don't want, etc.
No matter what your opinion is on the new Windows UI however, it doesn't really factor into our reasons to upgrade or not. You simply won't see it much if you're using this PC for Media Center.
Media Center is Still Media Center
When it comes to Media Center, nothing much has changed. In fact, little if anything has changed. Microsoft apparently decided that Media Center is good enough the way it is and therefore didn't need to be changed.
Actually, what I think is happening here is that Microsoft is killing Media Center. The application makes zero money for them and yet has a small community of die hard enthusiasts who demand that things work which means MS has to support it. The fact that it's in Windows 8 at all is a bit amazing since they didn't even bother to convert Media Center into a "Metro" style app.
Not only did Microsoft not upgrade the Media Center experience to the "Metro" UI, they left it out of Windows 8 all together! That's right. In order to get Media Center working in Windows 8 you'll need to download a separate add-on package. For now, that add-on package is free but only for a limited time. Eventually, getting Media Center on your Windows 8 HTPC will cost you $9.99.
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade
So now we have to ask ourselves "Should I upgrade my HTPC to Windows 8 or keep running Windows 7?" The answer? As with most things, the answer comes down to what you want but my opinion is to simply stick with Windows 7. If you're not having any problems, Windows 8 provides almost no reason what so ever to upgrade an HTPC. Yes, I'm using on my laptop and I love Windows 8. As of this writing however, there's simply no compelling reason to move to Windows 8 on an HTPC. Ceton has stated that while they're currently testing tuner drivers in Windows 8, they encourage users to stick with 7 for now.
The fact is that while not perfect, Media Center in Windows 7 is pretty close to the perfect HTPC software. There's a lot that could be added but for DVRing content as well as access to network and (some) internet content, it's hard to beat. The only thing that could get me to switch is if someone were to develop an app for Windows 8 that allowed me to control the entire PC experience (IE: the Metro Start screen) with a remote control. I would then have the ability to easily jump from Media Center to various Metro apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
As more content apps get added to the stable, being able to use a remote control to access and control them would make a decent experience on an HTPC though you'll still have to start Media Center each time you want to watch live TV.
The case for upgrading to Windows Media Center 8 is a weak one. A lot more functionality or other abilities could make Windows 8 a great HTPC in itself but as of now, you're better off sticking with Windows 7.