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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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  • External DVD
    Thank you for this post . I just bought a LG External DVD It came with Cyber pwr 2 go . It would not play on Lenovo Idea pad w/8.1 . Your recommended free VLC worked great .

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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