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Technology Untangled: Make sure Windows 8.1 computer can play DVD movies

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technology-bourImagine this scenario: You are presenting a big case in court using your new computer with Windows 8.1. The PowerPoint presentation for your opening argument is smooth and persuasive. Soon it is time for the video deposition of your star witness, a prominent surgeon with a compelling expert opinion. You pop the DVD into your new computer and get ready to press play ... and nothing happens. Odd. In every laptop you have ever owned that included a DVD drive, the autoplay function has launched the DVD player software, typically Windows Media Player. No problem. You can open Windows Media Player manually and navigate to the appropriate drive letter. Still the DVD presentation will not launch. You right click on the DVD drive and try every option you can think of, but no luck. Slight panic. As a few beads of sweat appear on your brow, you ask, “Can we have a recess, your honor?”

So what went wrong? A bad disc? No. The surprising fact is that Microsoft does NOT include DVD player software as a standard feature of Windows 8.1! Today’s article serves as both a caution and as an explanation about this DVD player issue. We will also provide several solutions – one of them free – to correct this situation.

One point of clarification: Computers with DVD drives will in fact play all DVD data discs, as well as many computer-specific video formats such as MPEG-1, .WMV and .MP4. The issue of this article is strictly about the problem of playing DVD movies, such as those rented from Redbox, or for deposition DVDs formatted for standard home DVD players.

This issue recently came to light when a court reporter I work with asked me to provide her a copy of the DVD from a video deposition so she could finish work on the companion transcript. She could not get the disc to play, and neither could I. I went through all the troubleshooting steps I could think of, to no avail. Finally, some Internet research revealed the problem.

Windows no longer includes DVD player functionality because, according to the wizards at Microsoft, few people use the DVD player feature of computers anymore. Streaming-video applications like Netflix and YouTube have supplanted the use of DVDs.

Technology changes quickly. It does not seem like that long ago when you would choose to upgrade to a DVD drive in a laptop instead of just a CD drive because it provided the added utility of playback of DVD movies. Now we are told no one needs that. Tell that to the attorney in my opening scenario.

The more likely reason is a simple one: cost. There is a royalty fee required to include the video decoding software required to play DVD movies. That MPEG-2 decoder costs $2 per computer. If Windows chose to include the decoder in the base version of Windows 8.1, it would have to pay that royalty for every computer, whether the computer included DVD drive hardware or not! Many of the new minimalist computers do not include a DVD drive, so Microsoft eliminated the decoder across the board. Apparently, those savings add up when you are selling tens of millions of Windows PCs.

The Microsoft solution? If you do in fact need to play DVD movies, you can download (and pay for) the feature ... for a mere $99. You can add Windows Media Center by navigating to the Control Panel, and clicking on “Add Features to Windows 8.1.” This Media Center feature does not, however, integrate DVD playback back into Windows Media Player. It provides a separate, stand-alone player utility.

So with that being the case, why not look at other less expensive add-ons? There are other compatible third-party software options available. Two of the best are Cyber Link PowerDVD and RealPlayer Plus. They are each $49. You can Google these names to find the download sites. I also checked on off-the-shelf computers at the local office store and found that some of them now in fact come pre-loaded with PowerDVD. Others, such as my Acer, include their own brand of DVD player software. Alternatively, for the $99 Microsoft wants, a better solution and a better value might be to buy an external USB DVD drive that also includes DVD player software. But be cautious and shop carefully. The first drive I investigated from Memorex did come with DVD player software, but it was only compatible with Windows 7 and below.

I finally discovered one free DVD player called VLC media player. You can download it from www.videolan.org. This may be a case of “you get what you pay for,” but so far, my testing finds it is functional.

The main point is to verify that your new Windows 8.1 computer does in fact include some sort of DVD movie player software before you stroll into court or before you take the computer off on summer vacation with the kids.•

__________

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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