Playing DVDs in Windows 7

Oh, how I pine for the blissful days of Windows XP, when menus were still in fashion, the start menu didn't contain a tree view, applications didn't require a half-dozen clicks to launch (to expand the tree view, you see), and the user's colour theme choices were respected. Better days, when the customer was still king.

Lately I've been having difficulty playing back DVDs on my Windows 7 PC. My preferred media player, mplayerc aka Media Player Classic - and its close cousin, the more recently maintained Media Player Classic Home Cinema, failed with the error message "DVD: copy-protection failed". (I quote the message and versions in detail to increase the chances a search will find this page.) Windows Media Player has similar issues, though since they've hidden the menus and generally "simplified" the WMP UI, I can no longer figure out how to use it.

From my research and experimentation, it appears that ever since Windows Vista, RPC1 (aka region-free) DVD drives are no longer welcome. Windows will detect the drive as being region-free, and prevent DVD video playback. The only commonly-found player that still works is VLC, if you can stand its broken UI. I cannot: for example, try full-screen playback (F11) with hidden controls (Ctrl+H) in VLC; you'll find that hiding the controls breaks the full-screen toggle, F11! I've had to flash my DVD drive with a region-locked firmware just to play DVDs. Workarounds exist, such as using auto-reset firmwares if they exist for the drive, or what I'm probably going to do, use a separate DVD drive for each region, since DVD drives are exceedingly cheap - less than 20 GBP - and I only need two regions, Europe (2) and North America (1). (I note with slight puzzlement that DVD drives seem to be slightly cheaper in the UK than in the US; not normally the case.)

One thing does really puzzle me, though. All the error messages say that copy protection failed, when as far as I know region locking has nothing whatsoever to do with copy protection, but is rather about inhibiting global trade. With some irony, one of the workarounds I used to watch DVDs was to rip them and play from the file server across the network.