You insert a DVD into your Windows 8 computer – you want to watch a movie. Nothing happens.
You try opening Windows Media Player. It can’t play the disk.
What’s going on with Windows 8 and DVDs? And for that matter, Blu-ray discs?
You’re not the first person to ask this, and you won’t be the last. The answer, basically, is that Windows 8 cannot play DVDs or Blu-Ray disks out of the box.
Why? Because the software technology for playing these disks isn’t free — Microsoft previously paid $2 for every copy of Windows sold, just for the right to use the patented technology needed to play DVDs . Considering the ever-increasing number of devices without optical drives, Microsoft decided it wasn’t worth paying for features many people can’t even use.
So what is a movie-loving Windows 8 user to do? There are basically two options: finding third party software that can play your disks, or paying Microsoft for the privilege. Let’s go over both possibilities.
Option A: Install A Different Media Player
Windows 8 can’t play DVDs out of the box, but that doesn’t mean third party programs can’t. We’ve written a lot about VLC, and this program can easily play any DVD (and unencrypted Blu-Ray disks – there’s experimental support for encrypted Blu-Rays in the works, but that’s an issue for another article entirely).
VLC can be a little hard to use, but not for playing DVDs: just click “File” followed by “Open Disc”.
In most cases the menu will show up, allowing you to play your DVD however you like.
Want more of a lean-back experience? I highly recommend XBMC – so much so that I even wrote an unofficial XBMC manual. The program is designed to make browsing media on your computer easy, but also supports DVDs out of the box. It takes some setting up, but you’ll end up liking it – and the DVD playback is basically automatic.
Both of these options are fantastic for DVDs, but somewhat lacking for Blu-Ray. The format, created by Sony, is a tough nut for free software to crack – it’s heavily encrypted, so you may need something commercial for the job. You’ll need to pay for software, such as WinDVD Pro.
Before you buy anything, though, know that most computers that come with a Blu-Ray drive include some sort of Blu-Ray software. Check your computer for software if it’s new, or check your collection of disks if you upgraded to Windows 8. You’ll probably find something that can play Blu-Ray discs.
Option B: Give Microsoft Your Money
Couldn’t get the above solutions to work? Well, you can also pay Microsoft. It’s not as though Redmond simply stopped offering DVD and Blu-Ray support – they just started charging for it, along with their Media Center software.
Microsoft briefly offered this software free of charge, but that period is over. How much does it cost now? That depends on which version of Windows 8 you currently have: Windows 8 Pro users need to pay considerably less. Here’s what you can expect to pay:
- $99.99 if you’re just using Windows 8 (ie, not Windows 8 Pro) – you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro Pack, which comes with Media Center and a bunch of other, unrelated features. Microsoft itself advises people to purchase third-party DVD software instead of doing this.
- $9.99 if you’re already using Windows 8 Pro – you’ll only need to download the Media Center Pack.
Upgrading is simple: just open the Control Panel, then click “Add Features to Windows 8”. You’ll be shown the upgrade available, depending on which version of Windows 8 you’re using.
Enterprise users: you cannot download the Media Center Pack. Stick with the free and/or commercial options outlined above.
Is it annoying that Microsoft stopped supporting DVDs by default? Yes. Is it understandable? Considering they were paying for patents customers may or may not even be using, probably. As a long-time Ubuntu user I grew accustomed to these shortcomings, but it’s a new problem for Windows users – and an especially frustrating one for people who paid for an upgrade only to lose features.
What software are you using to play DVDs and Blu-Ray discs on your computer? Fill us all in using the comments below, or just complain bitterly about the change. Whatever you prefer.