[4.1] Can I play DVD movies on my computer?
Yes, if your computer has the right stuff. Almost
all Windows and Mac OS computers with DVD drives come with software
to play DVDs.
The computer operating system or playback software
must support regional codes and be licensed to descramble copy-protected
movies. If the computer has TV video out, it must support Macrovision
in order to play copy-protected movies. You may also need software
that can read the UDF file system format used by DVDs. You don't
need special drivers for Windows or Mac OS, since the existing CD-ROM
drivers work fine with DVD-ROM drives. In addition to a DVD-ROM
drive you must have software (or extra hardware) that knows how
to play the DVD-Video format and decode MPEG-2 video and Dolby Digital
or MPEG-2 audio. Good-quality software-only playback requires a
350-MHz Pentium II or a Mac G4. Almost all new computers with DVD-ROM
drives use software decoding instead of hardware decoding. Hardware
upgrade kits can be purchased for older computers (usually minimum
133 MHz Pentium or G3), starting at $150.
Mac OS X 10.0 (Cheetah) had no support for DVD
playback when released in March 2001, and also did not support Apple's
DVD authoring applications (iDVD and DVD Studio Pro). (More info
Support for DVD playback was added to version 10.1 (Puma).
If you're having problems playing movies on your
computer, see section 4.6.
Certain MPEG decoding tasks such as motion compensation,
IDCT (inverse discrete cosine transform), IVLC (inverse variable
length coding), and even subpicture decoding can be performed by
special circuitry on a video graphics chip, improving the performance
of software decoders. This is called hardware decode acceleration,
hardware motion comp, or hardware assist. Some card
makers also call it hardware decode, even though they don't do all
the decoding in hardware. All modern graphics cards also provide
hardware colorspace conversion (YCbCr to RGB) and videoport overlay
(some graphics card makers make a big deal about this even though
all their competitors' cards have the same feature).
Microsoft Windows 98, 2000, Me, and XP include
DirectShow, which provides standardized
support for DVD-Video and MPEG-2 playback. DirectShow can also be
installed in Windows 95 (it's available for download). DirectShow
creates a framework for DVD applications, but a third-party hardware
or software decoder is required (see below). Windows NT 4.0 supports
DVD-ROM drives for data, but has very little support for playing
DVD-Video discs. Margi DVD-To-Go, Sigma Designs Hollywood Plus,
and the related Creative Labs Dxr3 are among the few hardware decoders
that work in NT 4.0. InterVideo WinDVD software works in NT 4.0
(National Semiconductor DVD Express and MGI SoftDVD Max also work
in NT 4.0, but they aren't available retail.) Windows 98 and newer
can read UDF discs. Version 6.1 of Windows Media Player enabled
scriptable DVD playback in an HTML page (see 4.9 for more on DVD playback control). Version 7 of Windows
Media Player dropped all DVD support. Version 8 of Windows Media
Player added a user interface for DVD playback, but no scripting.
Roxio provides a free filesystem
driver, UDF Reader, for Windows 95/98/NT. Software Architects sells Read DVD
for Windows 95.
6 is partially ready for DVD-Video and MPEG-2 but does not yet have
full decoding or DVD-Video playback support in place. Mac OS 8.1
or newer can read UDF discs. Roxio provides a free utility, UDF Volume
Access, that enables Mac OS 7.6 and newer to read UDF discs.
Software Architects sells UDF reading software
for Mac OS called DVD-RAM TuneUp. Intech's CD/DVD SpeedTools software allows
most any DVD drive to be used with a Mac.
QuickTime MPEG Extension for Mac OS is for MPEG-1 only and
does not play MPEG-2 DVD-Video.
DVD player applications (using either software
or hardware decoding) are virtual DVD players. They support DVD-Video
features (menus, subpictures, etc.) and emulate the functionality
of a DVD-Video player remote control. Many player applications include
additional features such as bookmarks, chapter lists, and subtitle
Microsoft Windows includes a DVD software player,
but does not include the necessary decoder. You must have a third-party
software or hardware decoder in order to play a DVD. Most PCs that
come with a DVD drive include a decoder, or you can purchase one.
See 4.11 and 4.12 for more info.
Software decoders and DVD player applications for
Microsoft Windows PCs:
- ATI: special
version of CineMaster software for certain ATI graphics cards
- ASUS: ASUSDVD
(custom version of InterVideo WinDVD software or CyberLink
CoolDVD (DirectShow [Windows 98/Me/2000/XP])
PowerDVD (DirectShow [Windows 98/Me/2000/XP]; NT 4.0; available
- ELSA: ELSAMovie,
WinDVD (DirectShow [Windows 98/Me/2000/XP]; NT 4.0; available
special version of CineMaster software for certain Matrox graphics
Semiconductor: DVD Express (DirectShow [Windows 98/Me/2000/XP];
- NEC (NEC PCs only)
- Odyssey DVD Player is no longer available
Studios: DirectDVD (DirectShow, downloadable trial; note unsatisfactory
rating at BBB)
- Sonic (formerly
Ravisent, formerly Quadrant International): CinePlayer
(DirectShow [Windows 98/Me/2000/XP]; available for purchase)
- Varo Vision:
- Xing DVDPlayer is no longer available
since the company was purchased by Real Networks
Software decoders need at least a 350 MHz Pentium
II and a DVD-ROM drive with bus mastering DMA to play without dropped
frames. Anything slower than a 400 MHz Pentium III will benefit
quite a bit from hardware decode acceleration in the graphics card.
An AGP graphics card (rather than PCI) also improves the performance
of software decoders.
Hardware decoder cards and DVD-ROM upgrade kits
for Microsoft Windows PCs are pretty much a thing of the past. Hardware
decoders use video overlay to insert the video into the computer
display. Some use analog overlay, which takes the analog VGA signal
output from the graphics card and keys in the video, while others
use video port extension (VPE), a direct digital connection to the
graphics adapter via a cable inside the computer. Analog overlay
may degrade the quality of the VGA signal. See 4.4 for more overlay info.
Many Macintosh models come standard with DVD-ROM,
DVD-RAM, or DVD-RW drives. The included Apple software DVD player
uses hardware acceleration in the ATI graphics card. The still-unreleased
QuickTime MPEG-2 decoder may use the Velocity Engine (AltiVec) portion
of the PowerPC (G4) chip for video and audio decoding. DVD-ROM upgrade
kits and decoder cards for Macintoshes were made by E4 (Elecede) (Cool DVD, C-Cube chip) [E4
has gone out of business], EZQuest
(BOA Mac DVD), Fantom
Drives (DVD Home Theater kit: DVD-ROM or DVD-RAM drive
with Wired MPEG-2 card), and Wired (Wired 4DVD, Sigma EM8300 chip
[same card as Hollywood plus]; MasonX [can't play encrypted
movies]; DVD-To-Go [out of production]; Wired was acquired
by Media100 but later reconstituted). There's
a beta version of a shareware DVD software player that can
play unencrypted movies.
Designs NetStream 2000 DVD decoder card supports Linux
DVD playback. InterVideo and CyberLink have also announced DVD player
applications for Linux, although the CyberLink player is only available
to OEMs. In addition, there are free software players for Linux,
Unix, BeOS, and other operating systems: VideoLan, and Xine.
Computers have the potential to produce better
video than set-top DVD-Video players by using progressive display
and higher scan rates, but many PC systems don't look as good as
a home player hooked up to a quality TV.
If you want to hook a DVD computer to a TV, the
decoder card or the VGA card must have a TV output (composite video
or s-video). Video quality is much better with s-video. Alternatively,
you can connect a scan converter to the VGA output. Scan converters
are available from ADS Technologies,
AITech, Antec, AverLogic, AVerMedia, Communications Specialties, Digital Vision, Focus Enhancements, Key Digital Systems, RGB Products, and others. Make sure the scan converter
can handle the display resolution you have chosen: 640x480, 800x600,
etc., although keep in mind that even 800x600 is beyond the ability
of a standard TV, so higher resolutions won't make the TV picture
The quality of video from a PC depends on the decoder,
the graphics card, the TV encoder chip, and other factors. The RGB
output of the VGA card in computers is at a different frequency
than standard component RGB video, so it can't be directly connected
to most RGB video monitors. If the decoder card or the sound card
has Dolby Digital or DTS output, you can connect to your A/V receiver
to get multichannel audio.
A DVD PC connected to a progressive-scan monitor
or video projector, instead of a standard TV, usually looks much
better than a consumer player. See 2.9. Also see the Home Theater Computers forum at AVS.
For remote control of DVD playback on your PC,
check out Animax Anir Multimedia Magic, Evation IRMan, Multimedia Studio Miro MediaRemote,
Packard Bell RemoteMedia,
Control, and X10 MouseRemote.
Many remotes are supported by Visual
Domain's Remote Selector software.
[4.1.1] Can I play DVD-Audio discs on
Usually not. DVD-ROM drives can read DVD-Audio
discs, but as of early 2003 only the Sound
Blaster Audigy 2 card includes the software needed to play DVD-Audio
on a computer. Part of the reason for general lack of support is
that very few computers provide the high quality audio environment
needed to take advantage of DVD-Audio fidelity.
It's possible that Microsoft could add DVD-Audio
playback to a future version of Windows, in which case you would
only need to download some inexpensive decoding software to get