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The Sad Tale of Play To and Windows 8

Like so many other legacy technologies in Windows 8, Play To is present but deprecated. It's also seriously hamstrung

My “Windows Secrets” co-author Rafael Rivera has spent much of the past week investigating Play To, the streaming media technology available in Windows 7 and Windows 8. And perhaps not surprisingly, this is another example of Microsoft doing the right thing—supporting a standards-based interoperability solution—and then going absolutely nowhere with it.

Play To debuted in Windows 7, and Rafael and I documented how it works in Windows Media Player in “Windows 7 Secrets”. In Windows 8, Play To still exists, in both Windows Media Player as before and now in a handful of Metro apps. It's terrible in both.

(There’s also a semi-related Metro feature called Play On Xbox that works quite a bit differently. You can find out more in my post, Xbox Music Feature Focus: Play on Xbox.)

Rafael’s post, Tinkering with uncertified Play To devices on Windows 8, explains how Play To has changed in Windows 8, and the conclusion is hilarious: Play To, which has never achieved great success because of an utter lack of compatible devices and an inscrutible UI, is in fact even more restrictive in Windows 8—in Metro only, it’s identical in the desktop-based Windows Media Player—because Microsoft now requires that Play To devices be certified before they will work in any Metro app.

That’s right. Play To, almost completely worthless in Windows 7, is now even harder to use in Windows 8.

I have exactly one certified Play To device, the Western Digital WD TV Live Hub Media Center, and it does indeed work fine with both Windows 8 Metro apps and Windows Media Player. But if you were actually using a Play To device in Windows 7 and upgraded to Windows 8, you may discover that your previously working device suddenly doesn’t work anymore.

That’s where Rafael comes in. He’s got a quick and dirty PowerShell script that may help you use uncertified Play To devices with Metro apps in Windows 8. I used this to get a non-certified device—my Google TV-based Sony Internet TV—working with Play To, for example.

Long story, short, Microsoft is doing things differently in Windows 8 and it is perhaps not surprising that it is supporting a new, proprietary technology—Play On Xbox—alongside a deprecated but more open technology, Play To. If you’re familiar with AirPlay in the Apple ecosystem, you’ll recognize features in both Play To and Play On Xbox that map to AirPlay features. But as is the case too often, neither is as seamless and simple as AirPlay. Neither “just works.”


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