DVD players and even DVD recorders have become standard devices on computer systems. They allow a user to play CD-ROMs as well as DVDs. However in order to play DVDs, the DVD must be decoded by software on the computer before it can be played.

A decoder performs three functions:
  • It unlocks the CSS copy protection applied to the video files on a DVD movie disc;
  • It decodes the MPEG2 formatting applied to video content; 
  • It displays the video through a viewer program installed in Windows.

Developing and certifying a DVD decoder requires that additional licensing and royalty fees be paid to the various patentholders of DVD technology. This is why DVD decoders are not available as "free" software. Usually when you buy a DVD player for a computer it comes with DVD decoder software, but what if you bought a second-hand computer or purchased a refurbished computer and it didnt come with decoder software. What are your options then?

Is there a free DVD decoder available?

Although there isnt a standalone DVD decoder that is free, there is a free solution. VLC is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It can also be used as a server to stream in unicast or multicast in IPv4 or IPv6 on a high-bandwidth network.

The VLC media player does not need a decoder to play DVDs, so its the best free solution for using a computer DVD player with no DVD decoder software.

What are the disadvantages of using VLC?

You'll only be able to use the VLC media player to play your DVDs, if you have other media players that will player DVD's including the Windows Media Player, the InterActual player, or others, then you'll want to purchase a DVD decoder to allow these other players to work.

Some sites on the Internet are distributing VLC bundled with spyware. Which VideoLAN, the company behind VLC, is against. To combat this, make sure you are downloading from the official site www.videolan.org/vlc and not some third party host.

What's a good DVD Decoder to Purchase?

If you are wanting to use Windows Media player to play DVDs, I recommend purchasing Corel's DVDXPack Its a wonderful package that instantly adds DVD playback to Windows Media Player in Windows XP. Installs the same theater-quality video and audio decoders proven by over 45 million users of WinDVD - the world's leading software DVD player.

If you are looking for a complete DVD solution, I would recommend purchasing WinDVD

Buy WinDVD 9 Plus Blu-Ray

Is There A Utility to Check My Computer for DVD Decoder Software?

If you have DVD Decoder software installed on your computer, but you are having trouble playing DVDs, download this utility to check for problems.


Where to get DVDs

After you get the DVD decoder installed, its time to get the DVDs to play on your computer. I prefer having the DVDs come straight to my door instead of having to go to a video store. My favorite way of doing this is using Netflix. If you haven't heard of Netflix, you are definitely missing out. For a low monthly subscription (as low as $5.99), you can have DVDs delivered straight to your house and you can keep them as long as you like (no late fees !). Its definitely the way to go, no driving to the store, fighting traffic, or finding out the DVD you wanted to rent has already been checked out. Now, Netflix is even offering streaming movies to your TV via a Roku, Wii, and other gaming systems. You can even get Netflix with a Blu-Ray Player now.

If you prefer the video store approach, you can always choose Blockbuster Online, it works like Netflix, with no late fees or penalties. Blockbuster Online even provides you with coupon that allows you to rent one free movie per month from your local Blockbuster store, so you dont have to wait for your next movie to arrive.  The best of both worlds.

What about Software to Backup DVDs?

Ok, so you can view DVD's on your computer, but what you really want is to backup the DVDs in case of disaster. There is software still out there that allows you to do this, one of the most popular is DVD-Cloner III.

DVD Cloner

This software will allow the user to make Perfect 1:1 copies with no watermark and no warning screen. You can also make unlimited copies from a copy. AND there is a 30 day money back warranty. Check it out for yourself.

What about Software to Burn CDs?

If you are interested in FREE software to burn CDs, then visit my page about it here

Written by Mark Hasting

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