The future of Windows Media Center as a legacy app may only be 24 months away from shutting down, and Microsoft isn’t speaking yet.
As many are aware, Windows 10 will not include Windows Media Center. For many, that’s fine… Windows 8.1 really didn’t change much, if anything in Windows Media Center. It is largely unchanged from Windows 7 Service Pack 1, aside from some semi-cherished bug fixes.
In fact, most people stuck with Windows 7 Home Premium, where Media Center was a free app – unlike in Windows 8 where it was a $10 extra… unless you got one of those original freebie keys from Microsoft’s launch.
But, the announcement that Windows Media Center is being phased out starts a ticking timebomb… on one key thing. The Electronic Program Guide Data, or EPG data.
For a DVR to work, it has to pull down EPG data from the cloud. That tells it when TV shows are set to air, and allows you to schedule recordings based on show, episode, etc. Until now, most versions of Windows have pulled down the same guide data. Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 use the same EPG file, hosted exclusively by Microsoft.
But now, Windows Media Center is being phased out. So, the big question is, when will Microsoft stop publishing this file? Because that, for all intents and purposes, is when Media Center will stop functioning as a DVR.
There are three possible dates. The first is the end of Mainstream Support, set by Microsoft for January 9, 2018. Mainstream Support is when Microsoft stops publishing non-security fixes and most general product updates and support ends.
The second date is the end of Extended Support, January 10, 2023. That is when Microsoft stops committing to offering security updates, downloads, and certain services are offered on a fully-unsuppored basis. For example, Windows Update may continue to function – but no new updates will be published on it. Theoretically, Microsoft could shut down the Windows Update server, ending the availability of old updates. To date, Microsoft has never gone that far.
That said, the end of Extended Support is most likely date the EPG Data server would be shut down, in my opinion. Unlike publishing Windows Updates, Microsoft has to spend money to maintain and run that server exclusively for Media Center.
There is a third option, and that is EPG Data continues indefinitely. How you might ask? Xbox.
Since Xbox One, the Media Center team was absorbed into the Xbox team. And many portions of Media Center were merged into Xbox One. For example, you can now plug in a USB ATSC TV tuner and use Xbox One as a TV receiver. DVR services too have come (or are coming) to the platform. Many expect cable operators will open up their coming IP gateway platforms, and allow Xbox One to act as a DVR too.
Since Xbox One may (emphasis may) utilize the same guide data file as Windows Media Center, there may be no reason to shut down the server, since it wouldn’t cost Microsoft any money.
The big X-factor in that, is that we don’t know if Xbox One is using WMC EPG guide data. If it doesn’t, Extended Support on January 10, 2023 is the most likely date EPG data will end.
That all said, it’s disappointing that Microsoft will not confirm that, at the least, EPG data won’t end in 2018 with Mainstream Support. Most in the community think that’s pretty premature, particularly if the alternate solutions in development (like SiliconDust DVR) fail to reach stable fruition before then. 2018 may sound like a ways off, but it’s only a little over two years off. It’s quite possible if SiliconDust encounters trouble, that no other solution emerges before then.