You might have heard that Windows 8 won't come with Media Center, but that's not the only missing multimedia piece of the puzzle. This week, Microsoft revealed that the new operating system won't have any kind of DVD playback, unless you specifically purchase Media Center or use third-party DVD software.
At the official Building Windows 8 blog, the company justifies the move by claiming that television and DVD use on personal computers is "in sharp decline," and says that it would have to spend "a significant amount in royalties" to offer support for optical media going forward. Microsoft says online media is the focus for Windows 8, and will include H.264, VC-1, MP4, AAC, WMA, MP3, PCM and (as announced earlier today) Dolby Digital Plus codecs, as well a variety of container formats to make that work, but oddly the primary use case for Dolby — those DVDs — won't be supported out of the box.
How do you play DVDs on a Windows 8 PC, then? Actually, it probably won't be very hard: if Windows 8 machines are anything like Windows 7 ones, every consumer PC that comes with an optical drive will probably have bundled DVD software. The other alternative is what the rest of the Building Windows 8 post is about: if you buy an add-on pack for Windows 8 (either the Pro Pack, or the Media Center Pack) via the new "Add Features to Windows 8" control panel, you'll get DVD support in Media Center as well as broadcast TV recording and VOB playback. Microsoft hasn't mentioned any prices for those add-ons quite yet, but says they "will be in line with marginal costs," which sounds promising.
Update: As some are pointing out in the comments, free third-party software for Windows DVD playback is exceptionally easy to come by. VLC and Media Player Classic rank among our favorites.