Windows 8 “Play to” Restrictions – And Overcoming Them

I’ve written about Microsoft Windows and its “Play to” feature before. Back in the days of Windows 7, it caused a number of headaches, but the problems got resolved over time. Then with the introduction of Windows 8, it seemed that we all took a step back, and a new issue appeared.

In Windows 8, it is not enough to have a piece of equipment (e.g. an amplifier or a TV) that is DLNA-certified for “Play to”, oh no; it also has to be Microsoft-certified before you can use it with a Modern UI (Metro) App in Windows 8. That means that although I can use the desktop Windows Media Player to “Play to” my trusty Denon AVR-3808 receiver (as I could under Windows 7), the new Xbox Music App in Windows 8 doesn’t even recognise the Denon as a “Play to” device.

In a post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft states:

Metro style apps work only with Windows certified Play To receivers [my emphasis]. These devices are validated to support modern media formats, are DLNA standards-compliant, and have great performance (including the updated Xbox 360 available later this year). The desktop experience first introduced in Windows 7 has been added to the Explorer Ribbon and will continue to support all DLNA DMR devices.

Windows 8 bleats that my Denon is not Microsoft-certified, so it can’t be used by any Modern UI App. Gabe Frost, a Microsoft employee, gives these reasons for introducing this Microsoft certification:

Since Windows 7, we have been certifying Play To devices (DMRs) for Windows. This certification program doesn’t invent any new standards or use any Microsoft proprietary technologies. Here is what our certification program does:

1. DLNA guidelines have a bunch of optional requirements. An example is for a device to support volume control. These things that are optional in the guidelines have an impact on the user interface both within new Store apps and in Windows UI (such as providing a user the ability to control device volume using the app volume slider, or seek into a video, or update the state of transport control buttons (play/pause/etc.) in the app UI when a user uses the TV remote control). We think this stuff is important, so Windows certification makes mandatory a specific few requirements that are optional in DLNA.

2. DLNA guidelines have mandatory requirements that they themselves don’t test. I won’t get into the details here, but the absence of a test for mandatory guidelines means that some devices implement things wrong, or don’t implement them at all, which causes weird behaviors that are hard to work around. No doubt, this isn’t on purpose (the device manufacturers always fix the issues when we bring them to their attention). Because the user experience can break because of this, we think it’s important and Windows certification actually tests the few specific requirements that are also mandatory in DLNA.

3. Expanding on #1, DLNA makes optional certain media formats that are very popular today and expected by users. The primary example is MP4 video (M4V) and audio (M4A), or more specifically  H.264 (AVC) and AAC respectively. Windows 8 has a strong focus on HTML5 for sites and apps, which depends on MP4. If DMRs don’t support MP4, we wouldn’t be able to deliver on the promise of streaming HTML5-based audio and video from apps and sites to your TV or speakers. You might think transcoding to MPEG-2 is the answer, but Surface and other Windows RT tablets don’t have MPEG-2 encoder hardware in them (and even if we did decide to do this in software, the experience would be terrible and drain your battery).

4.  Playback latency. To be competitive and to deliver a great user experience, we think a TV should start playing a video within 6 seconds and audio within 3 seconds when connected via wired Ethernet. I’d be surprised if anyone thought this was controversial.

That’s it. UPnP/DLNA is our foundation technology. Remember though, DLNA means lots of things. A TV that only implements a media player (DMP) and a TV that implements a media renderer (DMR) both have the same DLNA logo, but only one of them is even capable of working with Play To (the DMR).

While new apps from the Store won’t work with un-certified devices for reliability, performance, and other reasons, all your devices continue to work the same way they did in Windows 7. From File Explorer or Windows Media Player, these certified and un-certified devices will be shown in the context menu. We also added a button to the Ribbon to make it more friendly on touch screens. Try it on Surface or other Windows RT devices for example.

However, despite all these fine words attempting to justify this new hurdle that Microsoft has placed in our way, it all boils down to:

…new apps from the Store won’t work with un-certified devices…

And if your device has not been put through the certification process, then, tough. My Denon receiver is positively ancient – five years old – and now discontinued, so absolutely no chance of getting it certified.

However, help is at hand. Barb Bowman has been doing some detective work in the innards of the Windows Registry. She has discovered where the keys are stored that specify whether a DLNA device is Microsoft-certified. Better than that, she describes how to define your own key to “certify” your DLNA device so that it can work with Modern UI Apps.

As she points out, there are precious few vendors (only five) currently certifying their devices, and Denon isn’t one of them.

However, I followed her directions, and have now successfully created a key that enables my Denon receiver to work as a Microsoft-certified device with Modern UI Apps.

My thanks to Barb and her detective work. No thanks to Microsoft for what I feel was an unnecessary hurdle.

Update 16 July 2013: Barb has a new post up on her blog. Microsoft’s Gabe Frost has revealed that there is a simpler way of getting non-certified devices to work with Apps. Barb gives the details in her post.

Update 21 October 2013: Well, now that the final release of Windows 8.1 is available, the Play to experience seems to be broken again. I applied the registry fix given by Barb Bowman (and which came originally from Microsoft’s Gabe Frost), and that no longer seems to work for me. One step forward, two steps back yet again. Thank you Microsoft.

Update 24 October 2013: I posted the Windows 8.1 issue in a Microsoft forum, and got some useful feedback from Gabe Frost. The issue is not resolved, but at least we now know what’s going on. See https://gcoupe.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/play-to-and-windows-8-1/

Update 8 April 2014: As of today, Microsoft has released an Update to Windows 8.1 that makes it unnecessary to perform any registry edits to enable a DLNA Digital Media Renderer (DMR) to work with Modern Apps on the Start Screen. Devices will no longer appear as “uncertified” when Play is selected within an individual app (but if not certified will appear as such in the PC and Devices menu).

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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2 Responses to Windows 8 “Play to” Restrictions – And Overcoming Them

  1. redjos says:

    I have not commented before on Windows 8 on this blog because all of the postings are much more technologically advanced than I am capable of. For the record, I am 86 and am struggling with Windows 8 on my desktop PC.

    I bought an Acer Aspire PC last year and it came with Windows 7 but with a special discounted offer of an upgrade to Windows 8 by a few months later. I thought I would be up to date and decided – without knowing anything about Windows8 – to get the upgrade and have regretted it ever since – about 4 months already.

    I have tried to uninstall Windows 8 and revert to Windows 7 but it seems virtually impossible for somebody of my limited ability.

    It also seems as if it is almost impossible to download linux onto Windows 8 without being a super geek – which of course I am not!

    As far as I am concerned, the sooner I am rid of Windows 8 the better, and if I can find a way to install linux on my old computer which runs Windows XP I will forget about Microsoft forever without too many regrets.

    I am managing to do most of my web pages without too many hassles but every now and again I am caught out because Windows 8 doesn’t allow certain programmes to download. I work with Mozilla firefox and thunderbird and I am unable to download my usual firefox search page.

    This remains one of my biggest problems.

    I haven’t trusted Microsoft for some years now, and won’t ever again after Windows 8!

    Mannie De Saxe

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Hello Mannie – sorry that you’re having so much trouble. For someone who is not technologically advanced as you say, I’m somewhat surprised that you would want to try and install Linux on your system. My limited experience of Linux told me that it was an ideal system for people who love to tinker with their system.

      For all my complaining about Microsoft and Windows 8, I personally would never want to go back to Windows 7, or, heaven forfend, Windows XP. I realize that it’s a major change, and it will never “click” with some, but for me it’s the way forward.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “Windows 8 doesn’t allow certain programs to download” – I’ve not seen this. Everything that I use from my days of Windows 7 and earlier is installed and running on my Windows 8 system.

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