Friday, August 22, 2008

Playing DVDs in Windows XP

Microsoft raves about how Media Player plays DVDs. But that's a lie. Windows XP can't play DVDs right out of the box. See, even though you've bought a Windows XP computer, a DVD drive, and a DVD, you need something else: special software called a decoder. This bit of software, called a codec because it converts one format to another, enables your computer to translate numbers on a disc into videos of galloping horses on the screen.

Unfortunately, Windows XP doesn't come with a DVD codec, so you must pick up one somewhere else. Where? Well, most computers with DVD drives come with DVD-playing software — a little box with its own little controls. That software installs its own DVD codec in Windows, and Media Player simply borrows that. But if you don't have DVD-playing software, there's nothing to borrow, and Media Player ignores your DVDs.

If you choose Windows Media Player instead of your third-party DVD player to watch DVDs, the controls are pretty much the same as they are for playing CDs.

You probably need to update your DVD software so that it will work under Windows XP. Otherwise, your DVD software won't work under Media Player, either. Head for the Web site of your DVD player's manufacturer and look for a Windows XP patch or upgrade. If you're lucky, the manufacturer won't charge you for the upgrade. Some companies, however, make you buy a new version.

DVD stands for Digital Video Disc & Digital Versatile Disc.

Bending to pressure, Microsoft made a last-minute deal with three companies to provide software for Windows Media Player to create MP3s and play DVDs. The catch? The complete package costs between $20 and $30, with separate components (the DVD decoder on its own, for instance) costing less.

The three companies, CyberLink, InterVideo, and RAVISENT, each offers a DVD Decoder Pack for Windows XP. After October 25, 2001, Windows XP users may order and download the add-on packs from each company's Web site through links inside Windows Media Player.

If you've upgraded to Windows XP from an earlier version of Windows, and your old DVD software no longer works, using the links to get the add-ons might be your best option.


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