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The De-Obfusc8r: Windows 8 Support for Audio and Video

I should have done this a long time ago: Microsoft writes ponderous, lengthy, and hard-to-understand blog posts about Windows 8. So now I’m going to explain what they’re saying in plain English. In the first of such deconstructions, I look at today’s Building Windows 8 blog post about Microsoft’s “rich and extensible media platform.”

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Steven Sinofsky writes:

“Windows provides a broad set of technologies for consumers to experience video and audio and for developers to tap into these technologies through rich APIs. This post goes into depth on both of these aspects of the Windows media platform, which has been substantially improved for both desktop and Metro style apps. The landscape for media playback has changed significantly since Windows 7 was released, with an increased focus on streaming, and the desire for content owners to offer playback of their content on a broader array of devices, all while significantly reducing the battery power required for playback. With these new capabilities, which are part of both Windows 8 and Windows RT of course, we worked to provide industry-leading support for consumers and developers.”

Paul explains:

Windows 8/RT can play audio and video, is optimized for streaming, and does so with better battery life than before. The emphasis is very much on new Metro-style apps, not legacy desktop applications.

Obviously, it would be ponderous (if hilarious) to do this for the entire blog post. Instead, I’ll use the same section-based approach used by the post, summarizing each.


People like watching movies and TV shows, video chatting, and playing music, so you can do all this and more in Windows 8.

Developers will extend the capabilities offered by the built-in media apps with their own solutions.

Faster, more responsive media experiences

Windows 8 plays common video formats more efficiently than Windows 7.

Windows 8 maximizes battery life (and/or reduces power consumption) during audio playback.

Windows 8 makes trade-offs between the quality of played content and the bandwidth that content uses while being streamed. This is quite a challenge for Microsoft.


Real-time communications (Skype, etc.) is very popular so Windows 8 has been optimized for these uses, for both audio and video.

Windows 8 supporting HD video calling.

Windows 8 is optimized for H.264 and VC-1 video formats, but can play many popular video formats, including Divx and Xvid.

As a reminder, MPEG-2 and DVD playback is only available in Windows 8 Media Center, which is an add-on, low cost item for Windows 8 Pro only.

Video will auto-rotate with the screen on touch-based portable devices like slates.

Windows 8 is optimized for AAC, MP3, and WMA audio formats, but can play many popular audio formats.

Premium content

Premium content—i.e. audio or video content that you pay for—gets special attention from Microsoft.

The adaptive bitrate streaming feature that Microsoft has used in previous Windows versions and on the Xbox 360 now supports more video formats.

Developers can build their own content protection schemes (i.e. DRM) into Metro-style apps.

Windows 8 tries to transition seamlessly between multiple apps that are fighting each other with separate audio streams. The foreground app gets priority.

(Not noted: Windows 8 does not offer any manual device audio “mixing” capabilities, as do desktop applications, so you can’t manually change the volume level of, or mute, individual apps.)

Local and streaming audio, and Skype and other VoIP-based chatting services, can play audio in the background. Other app types—movies, games, and so on—cannot.

Play To is being enhanced in Windows 8. Compatible devices are accessible through the Devices charm, and it works with Xbox Music, Xbox Video, Photos, and Internet Explorer 10 (Metro).

A coming Xbox 360 update will add DLNA/Play To capabilities to Microsoft’s console, as I previously disclosed.

Emerging media capabilities

Windows 8 will support new content types including stereo 3D video, new accessibility features (subtitles, multiple audio tracks) for videos, and DSP effects such as image stabilization and horizontal flipping.


Windows 8 is designed to deliver a fluid and responsive media experience with great battery life. It works well with voice communication, audio and video playback, and streaming content.

Shocking, I know.

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