Playing Movie DVDs on Computers (dvd_movie_doc.html)

Based on work with Nate Hall, Oct 10, 2007.

Instructors sometime want to play a commercial movie DVD on a computer. Some new computers are delivered with the appropriate software to do this. Some are not.

What can you do when a computer won't play a DVD movie?

Assuming you are more anxious to play the movie than to diagnose problems, the first thing to do is to consider using another computer. I was recently called in to help an instructor play a DVD movie on the instuctor's computer in the podium of a classroom. I was unable to get it to play. The instructor got her laptop and we plugged in the podium video and audio cables. It played fine through the projector and speakers.

However, let's assume you want to use a specific computer for the DVD and it won't play. What can you do?

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Step 1 : Make sure that this is actually a DVD drive. The DVD drive and CD drive appear almost identical. The door to the DVD drive will often say "DVD". Older machines have only a single CD player. Some machines will have two drives. One will play only CDs and the other will play both CDs and DVDs.

Verify that the disk is indeed a DVD and not a CD also.

Step 2 : Go into my computer and double click the DVD. If it won't play... read on.

Step 3: A common message is along the lines of "Codec for this DVD is not available". Read "The story" below

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The Story

Media players like "Windows Media Player" and "RealPlayer" do not have all they need to play a Movie DVD. A second piece of software must be installed. On many computers, such as the instructor's laptop mentioned above, are shipped with this software. However some are not.

If Windows Media player, or another piece of software, states that a "Codec" is needed, it means that the needed second piece of software is not installed. We use the "Power DVD" software for Dell for this purpose. Install that software from the DVD (available from E&H IT or Harry Baya) and then play the DVD.

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Step 4: Assuming you have installed the needed "Power DVD" software, you still may have to try a few things to get the DVD to play.

Here are some things to try:

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What else can go wrong?

Lots of things, including a defective DVD. However, I only know of one other specific, solvable, problem.

Region of DVD does not match Region set for Computer:

We went through the steps mentioned above and finally got the DVD player to attempt to play a particular movie DVD. We then got an error message stating that the DVD was from the wrong "region". Commercial DVDs are set for a particular region. The U.S. and Canada use region 1. Oddly, this DVD was marked as region 1 (there is a small globe on the face of the DVD and the region is shown in that globe) but our U.S. computer would not play it. We noted that the "Power DVD" player offered to change settings. We explored this and found a setting for "region". It was set for "Free", presumeably indicating that it would play all regions. Clearly it did not. We made choices to "change" the machine's region and it apparently picked "1". In any case the DVD then player.