Deadlines loom for cheap Windows 8 upgrades and Media Center Pack keys

Several important deadlines for Windows 8 early adopters are looming next week.

Most importantly, the opportunity to order upgrades to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 ($69.99 if you want a physical disk) will end on January 31. Beginning February 1, the price of that upgrade goes up to $199.99.

Likewise, the opportunity to qualify for a $14.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade for any new PC you buy with Windows 7 preinstalled ends on January 31, 2013. You have until February 28, 2013 to redeem that offer. But remember, this only applies to a new PC preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate and purchased from June 2, 2012 through January 31, 2013.

Finally, if you are running Windows 8 Pro, either as an upgrade or purchased on a new PC, you qualify for a free Windows 8 Media Center Pack. Installing this upgrade unlocks the Windows 8 Media Center component and the codecs required to play back DVDs in Windows 8. This offer ends on January 31, 2013 as well, after which the price for that add-on goes up to $9.99.

You can find the details of the no-charge Media Center Pack upgrade on this promotional page at The page contains installation instructions and notes that the offer is “valid from October 26, 2012, until January 31, 2013, and is limited to one product key per email address.”

If you ordered multiple free product keys via this offer, you might have seen this wording in the terms and conditions:

Your product key must be activated no later than January 31, 2013. Microsoft will only contact you at the email address you provide to send you your product key and to remind you when the activation period for your product key is ending.

And if you haven’t yet gotten around to using one of those keys, you’ll likely receive a message like this one, which reiterates those terms:


Does that warning mean your Media Center Pack key will no longer work beginning February 1?

I checked with a Microsoft spokesperson and was told that the keys will continue to work after the deadline passes, and that they will work later if you need to reinstall Windows. The e-mail messages are mostly a reminder to upgrade, I was told.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson contacted me with additional information on this issue. Yes, you must activate those copies of the Media Center Pack by January 31. It’s possible (even likely) that the activation servers will continue to honor those keys for some period of time after January 31, but at some point in the near future an unactivated Media Center Pack key that was issued as part of this promotion will not be honored. (They will be usable for reinstallations, however.) Keys that are paid for, either before or after the deadline, will not expire.

My guess is that this legal requirement had to do with Microsoft’s payments to Dolby Corporation and others for licensing rights to the codecs that are included with the Media Center Pack. Each Media Center Pack key that is activated triggers a payment to those rights holders (my guess is the amount is somewhere between $7 and $10), and for accounting reasons Microsoft would really like to clear as many of them off its books as possible before the deadline passes. (If you’re curious about the background, I covered it in this post.)

There are a few cautions to keep in mind before you do this otherwise simple upgrade.

First, the new license key replaces your existing Windows 8 Pro license key. Make sure you keep a record of the existing license key so that you can use it if you need to reinstall Windows 8 Pro. You’ll find that key in the e-mail you received if you ordered the upgrade from Microsoft. If you can’t find that e-mail, use a tool like the free KeyFinder (get the version “without toolbar offers”) to locate and save it.

Second, some people have reported activation hassles after installing the Media Center Pack. The symptom is an error code 0xC004C4AA, which blocks online activation. I encountered this error on one of five test systems here and had to use a manual activation code from Microsoft Support to return my system to a properly activated state. If this happens to you, check out the Microsoft Community support forums.

For what it’s worth, I am continuing to use the Windows 7 version of Media Center with my CableCard-equipped tuners here. There’s nothing new in the Windows 8 Media Center, and it breaks support for some features, including compatibility with extender devices other than the Xbox 360.

12 thoughts on “Deadlines loom for cheap Windows 8 upgrades and Media Center Pack keys

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I have really been on the fence about this. My HTPC is running Win7 beautifully, and frankly the implementation of Windows Media Center in Win8 was so poorly done, I just don’t see the value in “upgrading” to Win8 on that machine. With the essential WMC modules still being quarantined to their own ecosystem, the idea of popping in and out of the WMC world to run Win8 apps for media has an incredibly low WAF.

    As far as my work laptop (primarily dental office software) goes, I don’t see what improvements I’d get there, either. Tablets are a different story, and I love teh Win8 experience there. However as for traditional laptops and HTPCs, I’m just not identifying a compelling reason to change the operating system, even if it were free.

  2. Thanks for the information. It is good to know later reinstallation is possible. I’ve updated my Media Center machine late December, and I’m quite disappointed after few weeks of use with the driver situation: HDMi scan disabling in my HD5770 drivers doesn’t work as it was in Windows 7. As a s result, each time the AV receiver is going on power off, resolution of the media center changes, and sound is not working anymore when you resume power on the AVR. After some search, I’ve read somewhere it would be possible to override the EDID message somehow (to let my HD5770 the AVR is still on), but i’m not really satisfied with this situation, as I had to add a “Restart” button on the start menu to allow quick restart of it (Oblytile+hiddenstart are good complements for Media center in Windows 8)… But still, I’m waiting next driver releases, and in the meantime I’m seriously considering going back to Windows 7 for my media center…

  3. I tried activating the media center pack key on a “windows pro 8 n” system but I was unable to figure out how to do it. I tried following the instructions but the menu options simply wasn’t there. I’ll be staying with Win7.

    1. Um @Chr, why the hell did you have a “Windows Pro 8 N” system to begin with? The N means that system has no media features. It’s a SKU that the EU required Microsoft to make available, but as far as I know it is not sold anywhere. The only way you can get it is from TechNet or MSDN.

      So I’m going to call you for trolling and penalize you fifteen yards and loss of down.

  4. Dana – you might find the extra battery life useful on your laptop and you might want the extra security (better kernel security, malware protection through SmartScreen in the OS, earlier malware protection at boot) as it’s a business system.

  5. I have already activated media center, but I still got a reminder to activate. I think this was because microsoft had tried numerous keys, when I was having a problem with it.

  6. I apologize Ed. I’m not trying to offend anybody. I got the win 8 pro n image from my technet account. I actually thought I would be able to install the media features on it myself. I was able to download windows media player as a stand alone install and get that working.

    But it’s good to know that the media pack keys will also work in the future.

    1. OK, #Chr, then I stand corrected. Upon further the review, the penalty is rescinded. 😉

      But what did you think the N version was? You might be the first person I’ve ever met who actually installed it outside of the European antitrust authorities.

      Also, use that key ASAP!

  7. Is it safe to assume that my Recorded TV will still be playable after upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro? I found some mention of potential problems with “premium” shows but that’s it (i assume that’s like HBO, etc). I’m ready to try the upgrade and use my key and this is the only thing holding me up at this point.

  8. Could someone answer this please. I bought 3 Windows 8 Pro keys and for each one I got 3 Media Center keys from the free promotion period that expired on 31st Jan.

    I only installed one copy of Windows 8 Pro and didn’t have time to install the other 2. I then added the first Media Center key to the installed installation.

    Now, I used the slmgr/ ipk and slmgr /ato to change the Media Center keys so that the other 2 keys could get activated before the 31st Jan deadline.

    Did these two keys get properly activated? Will they still work if I use them on the other Windows 8 Pro keys that I bought? Is there a time limit to use them if I have activated them in the way I described?

    1. @Zd,

      You probably made a mess of the extra Media Center keys, but we will not know until you try to activate them later. You will almost certainly have to activate them via phone or agent. Worst case is you will need to pay $9.99.

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