Have you ever attempted to play a DVD on your laptop for a cross-country flight, only to find that it just won’t play no matter what you do? In that moment of frustration you ask yourself, “How do I watch a DVD on my laptop?”
DVD movies have been around since the late 1990’s and offer superior quality to their predecessor, the VHS tape. Though Windows does not ship with a built-in DVD player that plays DVDs you can rent, there are software solutions you can employ that are completely legal, some of which are free.
In reading the following, we will take a brief look at the history of the DVD, and then discover why people sometimes have a problem playing a DVD on their laptop. We will then look at 7 DVD players that you can play DVD’s on your computer, and even show you how to watch a DVD on a Mac.
A Brief History of the DVD
Before the release of DVD’s in the late 1990’s, people used the widely accepted VHS video tapes as a means of watching full length movies. Prior to that, people were using laser disk players that were literally the size of a record, (the kind that you would play on a record player to listen to music).
When the DVD became mainstream, stores such as Blockbuster Video replaced every VHS tape in stock with a DVD. Fujitsu and Toshiba were the first to release the first DVD-ROM-equipped computer, followed by Pioneer, Panasonic, Hitachi, and Sony.
3 1/2 inch floppy disks became a thing of the past and DVD players completely took over, replacing multimedia drives. People could save computer data to the DVD, instead of saving to their hard drive. Let’s not forget that hard drives we’re not very large it all, and only were made in megabytes, not gigabytes back then. I remember my Packard Bell computer came with a 345 MB hard drive, and that was a big hard drive back then!
Eventually, the need for a DVD player in a laptop became necessary, so laptop manufacturers started putting them in every laptop. The three major operating systems of the time were, (and still are), Windows, Mac, and Linux. All three operating systems fully support the DVD player to this day, though not every laptop ships with a DVD player these days, they are still widely used in spite of the streaming online services that have now become mainstream.
People generally use DVD players and laptops these days to watch the DVDs they had collected for the past 20 years.
If you have ever had children, you would know that they like to watch the same movie over and over again. As a result, parents of little kids are quite fond of DVDs because they can play that same movie again and again for them. Using an old laptop that is used for little else, these parents can take that old laptop with them when they travel. It is the perfect solution to occupy their kids time on long trips or even over to grandma’s house.
The Problem With Playing DVDs on Windows
Microsoft Windows has a built-in “media player” that only plays Windows Media Player files. This is incredibly frustrating, because people naturally end up placing a DVD in the computer DVD player, expecting it to work. But it doesn’t. For whatever reason, (no doubt to due to licensing fees), Windows Media Player has never played commercial DVDs, which is why it is necessary to install a third-party media player.
In other words, if you were to try to use the default media player that ships with Microsoft windows, you would need to jump through a whole lot of hoops in order to get it to work properly. If you were to try to watch a DVD from a different country, you would need to find a codec that would work for that DVD in order to watch that particular movie.
What an incredible pain. There are a lot of people who have collected DVDs for the past 20 years, and they don’t want to give up their collection in the face of streaming online services. A movie collection is something that is important to people, something that they may want to pass down to their kids as an heirloom. Not to worry, as there is hope. Where Microsoft failed to step up, third-party vendors have jumped in to fill the need.
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What Are Codecs and Why are They Used?
A DVD “region code” is a technique designed to allow the distributors of the DVD to control how and when that DVD is distributed throughout the world.
The way that they do this is by creating region-locked DVD players, which will only play DVDs that are encoded for that given region. This “solution” worked for a while, until companies started marketing region-free DVD players which are commercially available. If you don’t have a “region-free- DVD player in your laptop, (you almost certainly do not), you can install commercial software so that you can play any DVD you put in your laptop.
The purpose of implementing region codes is to prevent movies from being released to movie theaters, or from being sold prematurely. For example, if a DVD could be sold while the same movie is still playing at the movie theaters, users would forego the movie theater altogether and buy (or rent), the DVD. That would completely undermine the entire movie industry, which is why encoding DVD’s exists in the first place.
If you have a DVD that you wish to play on your laptop, and it just won’t play, the reason is almost certainly due to the fact that the DVD in question has been encoded with a region code on it, and the only way to play that DVD on your laptop is unlock it by providing the region code. Once provided, it will then unlock the DVD allowing you to play it.
Another reason why region coding exists is become the copyright for a given title may be held by different stakeholders in different countries. By encoding DVDs with region coding, it allows copyright holders to attempt to prevent a DVD from being played where they do not derive royalties from. This also makes it more difficult to import DVDs from one region to another.
Sounds pretty complicated, right? Well, there are software solutions that will allow you to play any DVD you throw at it, (and it’s all legal). Most of them are free. Some of them allow you to import region codes, while others simply go fetch the code for you. There is one software application that costs $50, but takes care of all of the region codes for you. Finally, there is one DVD player (software), that will play anything you throw at it and it’s also completely free.
What About Blu-Ray Disks?
Blu-ray regions are very different from DVD regions in that they are verified only by the player software, not by the hardware. The region code can easily be hacked to reset the region counter of the player software.
If you wish to bypass region codes, you can do so by using software that supports Blu-ray disks or purchase a commercially available multi-regional player.
There is a new form of Blu-ray region coding that tests for the country code. For example, although both Africa and Australia are Region B, some Australian discs will not play on devices or software installed in Africa or vice versa, since both countries have different country codes.
Because there are only three Blu-ray regions, precision control of the regional distribution of Blu-ray discs is stronger, but again, there are commercial software packages available that will play Blu-ray disks for you.
Below is a list of 7 free software programs that allow your to play DVDs on your Windows PC. Let’s take a look at each so that you can decide which solution is best for you.
7 DVD Players for Windows
Below are 7 Media Players you could use for Windows 10, beginning with the worst, to the best solution. What you are looking for is a DVD Player that is lightweight and won’t slow down your computer.
Microsoft’s Windows DVD Player
The Microsoft Windows DVD player is a very basic DVD player that does not come with any bells and whistles whatsoever. Additionally, this particular piece of software is available through the Microsoft Store for $15.
Personally, given that this is a bare-bones DVD player, it is my believe that it really should have been bundled with Windows, not sold separately. It just feels like you’re getting ripped off because Microsoft is charging for something that doesn’t really doesn’t offer much, and it should have been bundled with the operating system anyway. Very disappointing.
DivX focuses on quality. They always have. They have been around nearly 20 years. It supports most of the popular video formats today, along with its own codec, DivX. Some of its features include the ability to easily jump to chapters within the video and allows you to organize your content in it’s built-in media library.
It also has a resume play feature that will let you come back to the point in the movie where you last left (very nice feature). Unfortunately, it is supported by ads, meaning that any time you launch the player, you will see an ad. Also, short videos will launch and play quickly, but if you have a large video file, it will take longer to start playing those files. Other media players will start playing large media files much more quickly. Additionally, when installing the software, they try to get you to install bundled software, (like WinZip for example).
They offer two versions of DivX. The free version is ad-supported, but it does give you access to all of the key features. The paid version, DivX Pro, gives you access to advanced features and removes the ads. DivX Pro will set you back about $20, and some of the “advanced features” are already freely available in other media players that I will show you.
Outside of an odd name for a DVD player, Pot Player will play DVDs, audio and video, along with other media formats but most impressively, this free DVD player plays Blu-ray disks. It uses techniques like Quick-Sync, Cuda and DXVA which make it stand out. Most of the popular video and audio codecs are already included with it, and it supports Open Codec, so that you can add any additional codecs you want.
Pot Player has a great looking interface and offers 360 degree output, 3D video mode, pixel shader, along with online streaming and again, Blu-ray support. It even allows you to preview a given scene by providing snapshots for you to view, and you can even bookmark your favorite scene or chapter so that you can watch it later.
Another great thing about this particular player is that you also get their companion service which gives you access to live streaming content and even videos on demand.
The 5KPlayer, created by DearMob, can play high-definition videos, DVDs, of course, and even online radio stations which is a nice touch. You can also stream audio and video from your iPhone using the built-in Apple airplay feature.
Once installed, you will be asked to enter your name and email address in order to download videos using Apple’s airplay feature, but once you enter the registration code that they email you, you will be all set. It comes with all the standard features that you would expect, including the ability to play, stop, move both forward and backward while playing the DVD, and change the volume. But it also packs a lot of other features as well.
With the 5KPlayer, you can do all of the following:
- Play 4K/5K/1080p HD videos, DVDs and radio stations
- You can play all of the following audio format: MP3, AAC, APE, FLAC
As mentioned earlier are you going to wirelessly stream audio or video of the airplane and DLNA with no quality loss. It will even allow you to download online videos from YouTube, DailyMotion, and Vimeo.
GOM Player Free
The GOM Player comes with built-in support for many of the popular and audio formats. One the biggest strengths of this media player is that it can play some broken files and can find some missing codecs with its codec finder service.
With GOM Player, two really nice feature that it offers, is the ability to play 360 degree video (for DVD’s that provide this feature), and playback speed control. It also has screen capture capabilities, and you can even give the player an entirely new look by changing skins.
Unfortunately, when installing the GOM Player, it attempts to install bloatware, such as “Adaware web companion”, and it tries to set Bing as your default search engine. You can easily choose not to install these features, but it just stinks that you have to even bother with that.
The GOM Player has a very clean interface, is lightweight and has a minimal interface. It also works on all versions of Windows going all the way back to Windows XP.
What’s that’s BlazeDVD a part is that it boasts that it is a region-free DVD player for Windows 10. There is no need to go searching for Codecs, as BlazeDVD is an all-region-free DVD player that plays movies in regions 1,2,3,4,5 or 6, all without changing the region code.
BlazeDVD does have some really nice features. For example, they have something called a “Learning Mode”, which allows you to set a starting point and an ending point in a given video clip so that you can repeat that video clip. I suppose that if you were watching a video tutorial over and over again at a kiosk, that may be of some benefit.
This video player also allows you to auto resume. If you were to watch a DVD or a video file and stop for some reason only to come back later, you could pick up where you left off. This is a really nice feature, because you can pick up where you left off even after you have shut the player down and closed your laptop.
My favorite feature of this particular video player is the parental controls that are offered as one of the features in this player. This may not necessarily be something that you would take advantage of on a laptop, but perhaps you would on a family computer. This feature allows you to restrict a specific movies, such as R-rated movies, or you could set a password on R-rated movies, for example.
Mind you, all these features do come at a cost. $49.99 to be exact.
Parents Who want parental controls set on the DVDs that their kids watch while they are not home, may be willing to fork out that kind of money, but given all of the other media players out on the market that offer many of the same features offered by BlazeDVD, I personally find $49.99 a hard pill to swallow.
VLC Media Player
The VLC media player was originally created as part of an academic project in 1996, and in 1998 it was officially released, after having been completely rewritten from scratch.
If codecs scare you, this is the player for you.
In my opinion, the VLC media player is the mother of all free DVD players. It is an extremely mature product and is available not only for Windows, but also for the Mac, Linux, Unix, IOS and Android! That’s just downright impressive.
If codecs scare you, this is the player for you, because it can play almost everything you throw at it without having to install any additional codecs. It’s very customizable in that you can add extensions, add skins or even create your own with the “VLC skin editor”.
The clean interface makes it feel as fast as the audio and video files load. It just looks elegant and runs that way too. Additionally, you can create playlists, convert files, and of course, play DVDs and Blu-ray disks.
Not only does VLC play on all operating system platforms, but it plays everything as well, including files, DVDs, CDs, webcams, and even streams video. Check out all of the video, music and file formats below that VLC will play.
VLC will play all of the following video formats:
- DivX® (1/2/3/4/5/6)
- MPEG-4 ASP
- 3ivX D4
- H.263 / H.263i
- H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC
- Dirac / VC-2
- MJPEG (A/B)
- WMV ½
- WMV 3 / WMV-9 / VC-1
- Sorenson ⅓
- On2 VP3/VP5/VP6
- Indeo Video v3 (IV32)
- Real Video (1/2/3/4)
VLC will also play all of the following music formats:
- MPEG Layer ½
- MP3 – MPEG Layer 3
- AAC – MPEG-4 part3
- Vorbis, AC3 – A/52
- MLP / TrueHD>3
- DTS, WMA ½
- WMA 3
- Musepack / MPC
- ATRAC 3
- Real Audio
- AMR (3GPP)
- Universal Subtitle Format (USF)
- DV Audio
As if that were not enough, VLC also supports all of the following file formats:
- Text files (MicroDVD, SubRIP, SubViewer, SSA1-5, SAMI, VPlayer)
- Closed captions
- SVCD / CVD
- ID3 tags
- Vorbis comment
On top of that, the VLC is completely free and does not have any spyware or malware in it. Additionally it does not have any ads, built-in tracking software, or bloatware offered when installing VLC.
VLC is fast and powerful and will play anything you throw at it. Did I mention that it is free? Gotta love it.
How To Watch A DVD On A Mac
Playing a DVD on a Mac Is an entirely different experience than trying to play a DVD on a PC. With a Mac, you simply insert the DVD and push play and it plays the DVD. One thing that’s really nice about playing DVDs on a Mac is that when you insert the DVD it’ll automatically start playing by itself and the screen controls will disappear as the player envelops the entire screen. When the movie is over, simply press the eject button on your keyboard and the DVD comes out. It could not be easier.
Frankly, if the experience were any different, I would be very surprised given that the number one priority of Apple has always emphasized the user’s experience.
Today, all new Macs do not have DVD SuperDrives, (which is what Apple calls a DVD player). . In other words, the new Mac’s do not have a physical drive for you to play CDs or DVDs on. This is where purchasing an external SuperDrive comes in to play.
Apple sells an external USB SuperDrive it for about $80 USD. You can easily connect that to your Mac and play any DVD you like with apples built-in DVD software. There is no need to download anything or install any application. It just works.
If you are a Windows user, and you want to play DVD’s on your laptop, you will need to either purchase or obtain free software that will allow you to play DVD’s on your laptop. There are several options available to you but the most widely used DVD software available today is the incredibly versatile application called VLC, which will run on multiple operating system and play pretty much anything you throw at it. It is minimal, reliable, plays nearly every file format available on the market, and at the same time has a minimalistic look and feel to it.
If you are a Mac user, assuming you have a non-retina display, you can easily play DVDs by inserting the DVD into your laptop. If you have a newer Mac, you can spend $80 and pick yourself up an external SuperDrive.
What is the Best Way to Clean a DVD?
The best way to clean a DVD is to place the disc face up, (label side down) on a soft cloth. You will then want to spray the disc with isopropyl alcohol. Only use isopropyl alcohol. Additionally, only use a microfiber cloth to wipe the alcohol from DVD and be sure to wipe with the grain.
What is the Best Way to Care for DVDs?
The best way to prolong the life of a DVD is to store it at temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, you will want to store your DVDs in an environment that is 20% to 50% humidity which will protect the label on the DVD itself. Also, do not allow sudden temperature changes.
What is the Shelf Life of a DVD or a CD?
To be honest, no-one really knows because of the manufacturers to have done “testing”, they claim that the CD-R, DVD-R, and DVD+R discs could potentially have a life expectancy of 100 to 200 years or more, while CD-RW, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM discs could last for 25 years or more.
Tim ChesonisTim has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Tim, click here.
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