In spite of all of the innovation that has gone into Windows 8, Microsoft's latest desktop operating system has been widely criticized for a number of different reasons. Although I am certainly not out to add to the "Windows bashing," there are some areas in which I think that Microsoft needed to do some additional work. One of these areas is in the way of video playback.
Windows Media Player has been a standard part of the Windows operating system for quite some time. That being the case, it would be easy to assume that Windows Media Player has matured and should have no trouble playing standard video formats. However, Windows 8 (and Windows RT) are more than a bit lacking in their support for video playback.
At first, this issue is easy to dismiss as something that only affects consumers. However, digital video has evolved to the point that it is used almost as much in business as it is at home. Organizations that invest in Windows 8 might discover that they are unable to play things like training videos, sales presentations, or even technical support videos.
Out of the box, Windows 8 seems to have no trouble playing WMV files or web videos from sites like YouTube. However, you may be shocked to learn that Windows 8 lacks the ability to play DVDs. If you insert a DVD into a computer that is running Windows 8, Windows Media Player will open and will then display an error message stating, "Windows Media Player cannot find the file. If you are trying to play, burn, or sync an item that is in your library, the item might point to a file that has been moved, renamed, or deleted."
If your organization needs to be able to play DVDs through Windows 8, then there are a couple of potential options. One option is to install Windows Media Center. Although Windows Media Center is a native Windows component, there is an additional licensing fee if you choose to enable this feature. Furthermore, Windows Media Center is only available for Windows 8 Professional. Organizations running Windows 8 (Standard Edition) must acquire the Pro Pack before they will be able to install Windows Media Center. There is no option for installing Windows Media Center on Windows 8 Enterprise or on Windows RT.
Organizations that run Windows 8 Enterprise or that do not want to spend extra money just to be able to play DVDs can enable DVD playback in another way. There are several free media players available for download that feature DVD playback capabilities. One such free media player is VLC Media Player.
DVDs are not the only common video type that Windows 8 does not natively play. I have personally had difficulty playing back MPEG 2 files (.MPG files) and MPEG 4 files (.MP4 files). Fortunately, there are some good workarounds for this problem as well.
One of the easiest ways to fix the problem is to install the previously mentioned VLC Media Player. VLC Media Player has no trouble playing these and many other video file formats. If you do choose to fix the problem by installing VLC Media Player, then you will need to associate the various video file extensions with VLC Media Player. Otherwise, every time a user clicks on a video file, Windows will attempt to play the video by using Windows Media Player (which still won't be able to play unsupported video types).
Another option is to install a free Windows 8 app called Multimedia 8, available through the Windows Store. Although Multimedia 8 is not a perfect solution to the problem, it does add a number of video codecs to the Windows operating system. These codecs allow Windows Media Player to play videos that it would not ordinarily be able to play. However, even after installing Multimedia 8, I found that playback of MPEG 2 videos still seemed to be unsupported.
One last option is to download and install one of the freely available packages of codecs. The most comprehensive video codec collections for Windows 8 include:
Keep in mind that none of these codec packs are based on native Microsoft code. Each offers features and capabilities that are uniquely its own. As such, you will need to investigate each codec pack to determine which is most suitable for your own organization.
As strange as it may seem, Windows 8 has very limited native video playback capabilities. However, there are a number of different ways in which the OS can be augmented to remedy this problem.