Best Free Alternatives to Windows Media Center in Windows 8

In Windows 8, the only users who can get their hands on the Media Center are those with a copy of the ‘Pro’ version that are willing to pay $9.99 for an add-on.

The good news is that there are free alternatives that provide the similar or even more functionality than Windows Media Center ever did. And we’ve selected the top three out of those for ya.

Here we go.

Ditching the Media Center in Favor of a Start Screen Experience

If you have Windows 8, you are well aware of the new Start Screen. This full-screen start menu includes shortcuts to desktop apps and modern Windows 8 apps as well. Its big live tiles and simplistic design also makes it work well as a big TV interface and works well enough as an alternative to Windows Media Center.

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How can you use a Start Screen to replace Windows Media Center (WMC)? By using an air mouse and wireless keyboard to control the UI, and then utilizing new Windows 8 apps to replace WMC functionality.

As you already probably know, WMC allows you to watch and record TV, play DVDs and CDs, songs, view photos and can even use some basic apps like Netflix. To get a similar experience in the start screen you will need to download the following apps:

A Media Player

If you want DVD playback, you will need to buy an app, as there are no free DVD-compatible media players on the Windows Store.

We highly recommend TKS Media Player, as it has a rather clean interface and supports DVD file playback. Best of all, it’s only $1.99.

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Not interested in DVD support?

One free option for playing back all the most popular video file formats is SimPl@y. I LOVEthis player because it is designed simply, seemingly bug-free and easily finds all my multimedia by default. It also allows you to change the folder directory and connect to external drives easily.

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A Program for Watching Live TV

While I wasn’t able to find any apps that work with a TV tuner, there are plenty of free apps that connect to live TV programming channels from across the globe.

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One such free app is Live TV, which offers quite a few interesting channels, though none of the major US networks – if that is what you are looking for.

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Additional Service Apps

Now you’ll want to search around for all your favorite multimedia apps and services, such as Hulu Plus and Netflix.

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The good news is that most of the popular media services and movie rental apps exist on Windows 8, so there will be no shortage of great content that will play nicely on your television screen.

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Not enough features?

Feel like adding a few apps and media playback isn’t enough to replace your MWC experience? Then using the start screen as a complete replacement probably isn’t going to work for you, thankfully there are still plenty of third party programs that will fit the bill.

The Two Best Alternative Programs to Replace Windows Media Center

Can’t live without DVD playback or LIVE TV? Maybe you just want an interface that is more tailored towards a PC-compatible remote control.

Whatever your reason, two particular programs stand out above all the rest:

XBMC

This one is my personal favorite, and the program I use when I want to watch multimedia on my living room television (hooked to my PC via HDMI).

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XBMC features a clean interface that is easy to navigate and can be set to start automatically when you turn on your PC.

Originally the Xbox Media Center started as a project to create a media player experience for the old-school Xbox. Nowadays, XBMC exists on Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, Raspberry Pie, Android and iOS.

Note: To learn more about XBMC, you might want to check out our original review as well!

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While it takes a bit of configuration, once you point XBMC in the right direction – it easily finds and plays your media files.

Some of the cool features found in XBMC include the ability to watch and record live TV via a TV capture card, and a robust level of media format support.

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As you can see, XBMC’s in-movie controls are well designed and make it easy to fast-foward, rewind, pause, etc.

Even better, there are tons of add-ons out there that allow you to run programs like Hulu, YouTube, Pandora and Netflix.

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Here’s a list of just some of the many add-ons available to expand the functionality of XBMC even further!

MooVida

MooVida is a bit of a mixed bag of good, bad and ugly.

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It’s strengths?

  • It supports tons of multimedia files.
  • The UI is very detailed and automatically sorts and finds all your music, movies and other compatible multimedia files.
  • It can tell the difference between a downloaded TV show or an actual movie, and categorizes accordingly.
  • MooVida gathers movie/show-related thumbnails and other art to make the interface look even better.

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Weaknesses?

  • It doesn’t have the add-ons and extra apps found on XBMC.
  • It doesn’t support a TV tuner or live TV streaming.
  • It is loaded with bloatware. That’s right – probably the worst thing about it. Luckily, it is fully avoidable. Follow these steps during installation to ensure that no bloatware is added when installing:

Step 1: When installing Moovida, the first screen is for the Delta Toolbar. Make sure you check the Custom Installation box (red arrow), and then uncheck all three boxes below it. Additionally make sure you unaccept the License Agreement (blue arrow). Hit next.

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Step 2: Now you’ll want to once again click the Custom Installation (blue arrow) option and untick the two boxes below it. Once again unclick the License Agreement as well (red arrow). Again hit next.

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Step 3: Unclick the license agreement box for the final piece of bloatware. Push Install, and upon completion you will have a bloatware-free installation.

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Conclusion

While there are many other Windows Media Center replacements out there, these are three easy ways to replace the experience with a solution that could work even better for you.

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