DVD playback under Vista

I’m switching our home theater PC over to Vista today. So far so good. The new version is really cool!

Vista’s Media Center installed and recognized my Hauppauge dual-tuner just fine, and it plays back TV like a champ.

But I have run into one problem. It won’t play DVDs. {EDIT: this was due to a regionless hacked DVD drive. see bottom of thread}

This isn’t really a surprise. I sort of knew this would happen; Ultimate includes a (licensed) Microsoft DVD playback codec, but none of the other versions of Vista do. I chose Home Premium because I don’t need the Ultimate features, and it’s cheaper. What does surprise me, however, is that NONE of the DVD playback software on the market works inside Vista’s Media Center. I tried the latest versions of the big three: WinDVD, PowerDVD (my favorite), and the NVIDIA solution.

WinDVD and PowerDVD work fine in their own playback apps, but under Vista Media Center, the screen is completely garbled. PowerDVD’s site has a patch, but it explicitly refuses to install under Vista and they demand that you call their customer support to get a Vista compatible version (WTF?).

So I have two questions:

  1. Does Ultimate DVD playback support SPDIF out? That’s really the only feature of any significance that I use in PowerDVD. If it does, I can just buy an Ultimate license for an additional $80 over the $120 I paid for Home Premium. Seems silly to pay $40-$50 for a freakin’ DVD playback app when I can get all the Ultimate features for another $20.

  2. Has anyone else gotten any DVD playback app to work inside Vista’s Media Center?

Actually, Home Premium has a DVD codec as well.


So something else is amiss…

I have gotten MCE DVD playback to work under Vista, albeit under Ultimate. I was using a laptop, so I didn’t have the opportunity to try SPDIF.

Denny, I’m 99.9% sure that page is incorrect. The only edition of Vista with a licensed DVD playback codec is Ultimate:


Plus, I can tell you from personal experience. Clean install of Home Premium, no DVD playback. It ain’t rocket surgery: install OS, insert DVD, hit PLAY in Media Player. No dice.

Hey, I wrote most of the hardware help for Vista, and I’m 99.9% sure that that page is correct. If it’s not, they changed something between when I left the Windows team in early September and RTM.

Both of the versions that include Media Center (Home Premium and Ultimate) also include the codec.

Note the help topic (I didn’t write this one): Applies to: Home Premium and Ultimate.

I think you’re seeing a different issue here – video driver, conflicting codec installed by another apps, or something.

I don’t know if the DVD Codec checker for XP will work under Vista, but you might give it a shot.

Again, these are the steps I used.

  1. Format C: drive.
  2. Install Windows Vista Home Premium from OEM DVD
  3. Insert DVD
  4. Press “play” in Media Player

I’m not sure, how, exactly, it’s possible to screw this up. You’re telling me that there’s something wrong with the default ATI video driver that MS includes on the Vista DVD?

Note that there IS a MPEG2 codec included for Media Center. Media center records TV in MPEG2 format, so if you didn’t have any codec, you wouldn’t be able to see squat after recording a television show. This was a major problem with all XP-based versions of Media Center. They were literally useless without a third-party MPEG2 codec. But this codec appears to be artificially limited to playing back recorded files, and not DVD content.

My understanding was there was a licensing fee associated with the MPEG2 codec and DVDs.

Note that on the PC I’m typing this on, which has Vista Ultimate, I play DVDs no problem. Also using an ATI video card.

Also, his wouldn’t be the first time the MS documentation has been incorrect. I’m just sayin’.

I should elaborate… the error I’m getting (don’t have the error in front of me, unfortunately) was something along the lines of “error in content protection layer, you may need to update your video drivers”.

I just took the exact same DVD – it happens to be “Pirates of the Carribean II” – and popped it into this machine’s DVD drive. Plays back no problem.

Same video driver. Same physical DVD. Same Media Player 11. As far as I can see, the only variable left is the OS feature level, Home Premium vs. Ultimate.

Hmm. There is one variable I didn’t list: the DVD-ROM drive.

I am using a modded ROM for the NEC drive in that PC (softmod to 8x and dual layer), which might disable region coding. I wonder if that’s the reason:

This part sounds like my problem: “Only if you have an old drive will you notice anything different, namely that encrypted/regionalized DVD movies will no longer play”. Other than that, I’m not sure.

But to be absolutely clear, Denny is right: Home Premium and Ultimate have DVD codecs out of the box.

I think my problem is something with the hardware, or at least the way Vista is looking at the hardware.

I believe you. But read the descriptions of Vista Home Premium all over the MS website. They all talk about DVD playback.

I’m not denying that you’re having an issue. But I’m sayin’ there’s something else happening here, because Home Premium has DVD playback.

Try the ATI Vista drivers from their website.

Posted my last message before I saw your most recent post.

Hmm, wonder if the DVD playback layer is checking the region and balking if the drive is region-free?

Maybe see if you can go into drive properties and set Region 1?

This is still good news. DVD-ROM drives are dirt cheap, I can just buy a new model (or swap it with another system here in the house).

If the default Vista DVD codec outputs SPDIF digital, I can save myself a lot of hassle.

There is one other factor here – you mentioned OEM version.

It’s possible that the OEM version may not ship with the DVD codec – they might assume OEM manufacturers will supply their own. (Despite common practice, OEM copies really aren’t intended to be sold to end-users.) I’d try the drive that you know works before buying a new one.

No, it’s the region code. Regionless DVD players are no-go with the DVD codec in Home Premium and Ultimate.

I re-flashed to the standard NEC 2500A firmware, and the “region” tab appeared in the device properties, and now everything is copacetic.

Also, it works with SPDIF out for dolby digital to my receiver! Awesome! One less bit of questionable third-party software I have to install…

Vista FTW, unless you have a regionless hacked DVD drive.

Phew. Glad they didn’t cheap out on the OEM SKU.

Cool deal on the SPDIF. They did a ton of work on the new audio system, so I’m not surprised.