VLC media player on Windows 8

VLC media player
VLC media player

When I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro I wanted to make sure that I could still play DVDs. Now that I have upgraded I’ve moved from using Windows Media Player to VLC media player. Here’s why.

Having read up a little about Windows 8’s support of various media I was fairly confident that if I installed the Windows Media Center then I would be able to continue to play DVDs in Windows Media Player, as I did in Windows 7. I was wrong.

Having bought the upgrade early (back in October 2012) I was offered a free upgrade to Windows Media Centre — woop! — which saved me a whole £6.99. However, as I discovered, it only enables DVD playback in Windows Media Centre, not Windows Media Player.

On my old Windows XP machine I used Cyberlink PowerDVD, which costs between £30-£70 depending; I got it free, bundled with my graphics card, if I remember correctly. It was fairly easy to use, and the controls were pretty intuitive. When I moved to Windows 7 I discovered that this version of the software wasn’t compatible with that version of Windows and I was reluctant to pay for an upgrade and so I started to use Windows Media Player, which had a really terrible, confusing interface but was free.

And so once again another Windows upgrade requires me to find another application that will enable me to watch DVDs on my PC. A quick Google search suggested that I try VLC media player.

VLC media player ticked both boxes: it’s free and it’s really easy to use. The interface is incredibly clear, much simpler than Windows Media Player 10 and 11, and it’s incredibly fast.

I also really like that the software is created by the VideoLAN organisation, “a project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions.”

I definitely recommend VLC media player, if you are looking for a free, user-friendly replacement for Windows Media Player on Windows 8 (or, indeed, any version of Windows from XP SP2 onwards).

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard on Windows 8 – a workaround

Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control
Creative X-Fi Platinum soundcard, breakout box and remote control

Having run the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on my laptop for about six months I was certain that when the final version was released I would definitely upgrade my desktop PC to Windows 8 Pro. And given that there is no good time to upgrade I did it at the latter end of last week, mainly to take my mind off the unpleasantness of recovering from the ‘flu.

I chose to do a ‘clean’ installation, reformatting partition C: in the process of the install, which worked nicely even with my upgrade DVD. At no point did I need to prove to Windows that I did indeed have a legitimate version of Windows 7 that I was upgrading from. (I do, by the way.)

No sound

It all appeared to be going swimmingly well until I suddenly realised that I had no sound. Which was strange as the Windows Vista soundcard drivers installed without fuss and… well, I say that there was a strange few minutes after I’d installed them and rebooted whereby the speakers were continually hissing.

Poking around in the Control Panel Sound applet I discovered that the “Recording” tab had Line-In 2/Mic 2 activated, which appeared to be the source of the hiss.

Reboot.

No hiss. In fact, no sound at all. This time on the “Playback” tab SPDIF Out had been selected rather than speakers.

I discovered that I could coax the sound back if I fired up the Creative Audio Control Panel application and manually change the playback mode. After each reboot the soundcard was ‘forgetting’ the settings and returning to game mode and 2.1 speakers, rather than entertainment mode and 5.1 speakers.

I uninstalled the drivers again, and this time discovered on the Creative website a Windows 7 and Windows 8 driver availability chart. There is currently no final Windows 8 driver for this soundcard, but they have a beta driver…

Uninstall, re-install. Same problem: a forgetful soundcard.

Workaround

It turns out I’m not alone in discovering this. A few forums have pages of discussion about the problem using Creative X-Fi soundcards under Windows 8. This thread was particularly helpful: Windows 8 Pro x64 Retail No Sound after Restart Creative X-Fi Titanium HD Driver.

The workaround I’m currently using is to use a free, third-party application called X-Fi Mode Changer from Spectra9 to automatically set the playback mode each time Windows reboots.

So far, for me, this has worked without fail. I do hope, though, that Creative are able to address these issues with the final driver for Windows, which their website says should be available in late-December 2012. I’m not holding my breathe for it, but I am thankful for this workaround.