DVD video discs (like those included with most of my books) can be played on standard "set-top" DVD players connected to a television. They can also be played on PCs, as long as the proper hardware (e.g. a DVD drive) and more importantly the necessary software
is installed. Unfortunately many people are unaware that the software required to play DVDs is *not* included by default with most versions of Windows. This means that in order to play DVDs under Windows, additional software must be installed. This article will explain what additional software is needed to play DVDs, and where to get it.
First a little history: The first versions of Windows to have any sort of DVD playing capability built-in were Windows 98, 98SE (98 Second Edition) and Me (Millenium edition), all of which included a funky command line utility called DVDPLAY.EXE. The version of DVDPLAY.EXE included with Windows 98 could only play DVDs if one of only two supported hardware DVD decoders http://support.microsoft.com/kb/188513
were installed, which were physically in the form of a PCI card. The DVDPLAY.EXE application included with Windows Me was the first to support a software decoder (i.e. no special card required) http://support.microsoft.com/kb/272985
as long as the PC had a 333MHz or faster processor. But few people used the DVDPLAY program, as most retail PCs and DVD drives sold at the time included commercial DVD playing software such as WinDVD (Intervideo/Corel) or PowerDVD (Cyberlink). Many people assume Windows Media Player can play DVDs, but this was not always true. The first version of Windows Media Player (WMP) capable of playing DVDs was WMP 8 http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306318
, which was included with the original release of Windows XP in 2001. Of course Windows Media Player 9 and later versions have DVD playing capability as well.
While WMP 8 was included with Windows XP, later WMP versions have been available as free downloads for XP and other versions of Windows as well. For example, Windows 98SE, Me, and 2000 support up to WMP 9 (note that the original Windows 98 release only supports up to WMP 7.1, which is not capable of playing DVDs). Windows XP and Vista support up to WMP 11, currently the latest release.
But just having Windows Media Player 8 or later isn't enough, in order to play DVDs you must *also* have a WMP compatible MPEG-2 decoder installed. An MPEG-2 decoder is included with all Windows 7 editions except Starter. Microsoft includes an MPEG-2 decoder in Vista Ultimate and Home Premium editions, but *NOT* with any other editions of Vista, nor has one ever been included with Windows XP (not even Media Center Edition) or any earlier versions of Windows.
If an MPEG-2 decoder is the missing piece of software needed to play DVDs, then where do you get one? Normally you get an MPEG-2 decoder bundled with stand-alone commercial DVD player programs such as WinDVD or PowerDVD, however you can also purchase a decoder separately, or even download one for free. To see if you have a DVD decoder currently installed, you can use the following program:
In Windows XP you can also enter the command "DVDupgrd /detect" at a command prompt. Note that the DVDupgrd command may only list the first decoder it finds, while the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility will list all of those that are installed, and allow you to set which one is preferred. Here are some articles with more information on MPEG-2 decoders and Windows:
You can purchase stand-alone MPEG-2 codecs (coder/decoders) that are compatible with Windows Media Player for about $15:
You can also get MPEG-2 codecs as a part of several free "codec packs". My favorite codec packs are:
Bottom line: If you have the proper hardware plus a compatible MPEG-2 decoder installed, you can play DVDs using Windows Media Player 8 or later. For more detailed instructions on playing DVDs using Windows Media Player, see p. 44-49 of the WMP 10 manual: http://tinyurl.com/nyzyt