As you may recall, when Microsoft was preparing Windows 8, the company announced that it had decided not to include Windows Media Center in the operating system anymore and instead would make it available as a separate download for a nominal fee once Windows 8 was released. While this raised the ire of quite a few long time Windows Media Center users, Microsoft made a fairly reasonable case for removing the application from the operating system in this blog post on the Building Windows 8 web site. After reading this post, many folks that I spoke with at the time shifted their point of contention from the removal to the cost of the add-on pack, which Microsoft vaguely described as in line with marginal costs.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Fortunately, Microsoft did remain true to their word. If you go to the Add features to Windows 8 tool in Windows 8 Pro, you’ll see that the Windows 8 Media Center Pack will cost $9.99, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Under normal circumstances, the Windows 8 Media Center Pack will cost $9.99.

However, between now and January 31, 2013, if you are running Windows 8 Pro, you can download and install the Windows 8 Media Center Pack for FREE. While you won’t have to spend a penny to get the Windows 8 Media Center Pack during this period, you will have to spend some time waiting.

In this post, I will show you the steps involved in downloading and installing the Windows 8 Media Center Pack in Windows 8 Pro. As I do, I’ll explain why you must be prepared to wait.

Windows 8

Just in case you are wondering, if you have the Base edition of Windows 8, you can get Windows Media Center by getting the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which will upgrade your operating system to Windows 8 Pro and add Windows Media Center. You can get the Windows 8 Pro Pack for the discounted price of $69.99. (It normally would sell for $99.99) This is also a limited time offer that expires on January 31, 2013.

Get your product key

Getting your free copy of the Windows 8 Media Center Pack is pretty straightforward procedure. On your Windows 8 system, launch Internet Explorer and point it to the Add features page on the Microsoft Windows 8 site. When you arrive at the page, read the introductory information and then scroll down to the Windows 8 Pro section as shown in Figure B. Then, enter your email address, type the BotDetect CAPTCHA characters, and click the Send my product key button.

Figure B

Just provide your email address and type in the BotDetect CAPTCHA characters.

Once you click the button, you’ll see the message shown in Figure C appear on the screen. (I’ve magnified the message so you could read it.) When I first read the message, I was confused. Thinking that it must be a just in case disclaimer type of message, I went directly to my email and clicked Send/Receive a couple of times, sure that the email would appear. But it didn’t. In fact, I didn’t receive the email containing the product key for close to 48 hours.

Figure C

The message informs you that you will have to wait 24 hours to receive the product key.

I found this extremely annoying! I’ve never had to wait 48 hours just to get a verification email message – they always appear within the few minutes. For instance, when I filled out the request for the $15 Windows 8 Pro Upgrade Offer, I received the email containing the Promo Code almost immediately.

So, my advice to you is to plan ahead. If you want to install the free Windows 8 Media Center Pack on a Saturday when you have time to play around with it, make sure that you order the pack on a Wednesday to allow plenty of time for the email to arrive.

All griping aside, I must admit that being able to get Windows 8 Media Center Pack for free is a very nice little perk.

Using the Add features wizard

When you do receive the email, you’ll find your Windows 8 Media Center Pack product key, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The email message will contain your product key.

You’ll use the Add features to Windows 8 tool in the Control Panel to download and install it. To do so, just press the [Windows] key, type Add features, select Settings, and click Add features to Windows 8, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Accessing Add features to Windows 8 from the Start screen is easy when you use the [Windows] key.

When you do, you’ll encounter a UAC, as shown in Figure F. To continue, just click the Yes button.

Figure F

Just click Yes to work through the UAC.

You’ll then see the first screen in the Add features to Windows 8 wizard, as shown in Figure G, which asks you whether you need to purchase a product key or you already have one. Just click the “I already have a product key button” to continue.

Figure G

You can just click I already have a product key.

You’ll then enter the product key on the next screen, as shown in Figure H. Then, click Next.

Figure H

Enter the free Windows 8 Media Center Pack product key and click Next.

On the next screen, you have to accept the license terms, as shown in Figure I, and then click Add features button.

Figure I

You have to accept the license terms to continue.

The installation

In a moment, you’ll see a progress bar in the Add features to Windows 8 wizard screen, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J

You can sit back for a few minutes while the installation occurs.

As the installation progresses, Windows 8 will shut down the user interface and display a screen like the one shown in Figure K, before it restarts. You can sit back for a few minutes while the download, installation and several of these restarts occur.

Figure K

Windows 8 will restart several times as the installation progresses.

After the last restart, you’ll logon normally and will see that Windows Media Center appears as a tile on the Start screen, as shown in Figure L.

Figure L

Windows Media Center appears on the Windows 8 Start screen.

Once you return to the Desktop, you’ll see the last screen in the Windows Media Center installation wizard is waiting for you to click Close, as shown in Figure M.

Figure M

Click Close to complete the Windows Media Center installation wizard.

When you launch Windows Media Center in Windows 8, as shown in Figure N, you’ll find that it works exactly as you would expect and you can begin recording TV programs or watching DVD movies.

Figure N

Windows Media Center works just like you would expect.

I immediately inserted one of my favorite DVD movies, as shown in Figure O, and sat back and enjoyed the show.

Figure O

The DVD codec allows you to immediately begin in watching movies.

Things to keep in mind

When you download and install your free copy of the Windows 8 Media Center Pack, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind.

  • Just like the offer expires on January 31, 2013, so too does the product key. So, if you download it today, make sure that you install the Windows 8 Media Center Pack before the expiration date.
  • The Windows 8 Media Center Pack adds all Windows Media Center functionality back to Windows 8 Pro including broadcast TV recording and playback and DVD playback. This means that the Windows 8 Media Center pack comes with a codec for DVD, but not Blu-ray. If you want to play Blu-ray in Windows Media Center, you will need to get the appropriate codec from a third-party.
  • The DVD codec that comes with Windows 8 Media Center pack only works with Windows Media Center, it does not work with Windows Media Player.
  • This free promotion is limited to one product key per email address. So if you have more than one Windows 8 Pro system on which you want to install Windows 8 Media Center Pack, you will need to fill in the form again with different email addresses.

What’s your take?

Will you be downloading a free copy of the Windows 8 Media Center Pack? Have you done so already? If so, what has been your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.