Introduction: How to Watch DVDs on a Netbook
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Netbook computers are extremely lightweight and relatively inexpensive. But it’s extremely difficult to find one with a built-in DVD drive. I’ve always enjoyed watching DVDs on my laptop computer while travelling and was disappointed when I couldn’t find a netbook with a DVD drive. I didn’t want to carry an external DVD drive while travelling (one more item to carry or misplace) but was able to figure out an excellent way to view DVDs on my netbook that works with over 95% of my collection. This method is for standard DVDs, not Blu-Ray.
Note – this method requires the ability to copy a DVD on to your computer. This may or may not be a violation of the law for copyrighted DVDs. I am not a lawyer but in my opinion as long as you don’t make any permanent copies this falls under the “Fair Usage” guidelines of the copyright laws in the United States since you are just converting the DVD’s format for usage on another device. For this tutorial we’re going to use a DVD where non-commercial copying is specifically allowed so copyright issues are not a concern. Of course if you make your own homemade DVDs (like videos of your family activities) you own the copyright and can do whatever you want with them.
There are commercial programs which accomplish the same tasks as this tutorial, however this procedure is free. This tutorial uses freeware programs under Microsoft Windows. Similar techniques with different programs will work with other operating systems.
This method requires basic knowledge of how to use computers which are networked together, and two computers – one with a DVD drive (either a laptop or desktop computer) and your netbook. This article is for informational purposes and the author and this website will not provide any warranties for the suitability of this procedure for any particular purposes and will not provide any technical assistance.
Step 1: How to Do It
Watching DVDs on your netbook is a four step process –
1) Copy the DVD to a computer with a DVD drive using a program like “DVD Decrypter.”
2) Transfer the file from that computer to your netbook.
3) Use a program which mounts that file as a disk image like “MagicDisc.”
4) Play the DVD image with any software DVD player. I like “VLC Media Player” but “Windows Media Player” and "WinDVD" will also work.
The good news is these programs are all freeware and easy to find. Other programs will also work, but this tutorial will use these programs.
The programs –
DVD Decrypter is a freeware program which copies DVDs, including most copy protected ones. While development of new versions has stopped it’s fairly easy to find. Install DVD Decrypter on the computer with a DVD drive. This will be the machine you use to transfer the DVD to your computer.
MagicDisc is a freeware program which lets you “mount” a virtual copy of a DVD on your computer. From your computer’s perspective it just grew a DVD drive with whatever disk image you specify. Install this utility on your netbook.
VLC Media Player is an excellent open source program for playing many different video formats and much less intrusive than Windows Media Player. Install this program on your netbook.
Step 2: (do Once for Each DVD You Want to Transfer)
Use DVD Decrypter to copy the DVD to an image on your computer. The ISO format is an “image” of the DVD. DVD images are large, up to 5 Gigabytes for a single layer DVD or 9 Gigabytes for a dual layer DVD (most commercial DVDs).
By default DVD Decrypter copies images into the root directory of your hard drive. You can select another directory if you wish.
Step 3: Copy the ISO Image to Your Netbook
Use the Windows desktop or Windows Explorer to copy the ISO file from that computer to your netbook.
In a typical configuration the image of the DVD created by DVD Decrypter will be in the C: directory (root) of your main computer and you will copy it to the Shared Documents folder of your netbook. DVD Decrypter creates two files – the ISO file (which you want) and an additional file with a filetype MDS which isn’t needed.
Double click on My Computer and then double click on your C: drive. (or wherever you told DVD Decrypter to store the disk image.)
Open a separate My Network Places window and navigate to your netbook’s shared documents folder. Optionally you may wish to select the shared videos folder within the shared documents folder.
Drag the ISO file from the computer with the DVD drive (It's the real large file - somewhere in the 600,000KB to 9,000,000KB range) to the netbook’s shared documents (or shared video) folder.
You can delete the ISO and MDS files on the original computer if you don’t need them anymore.
Step 4: Using MagicDisc
The MagicDisc is a taskbar utility that automatically loads each time you boot your netbook. It creates a virtual image of your DVD as a separate drive, just as if your netbook had a DVD drive installed.
Right click on the MagicDisc icon on your netbook. In the pop-up menu select Virtual CD/DVD-ROM and then select Mount. Navigate through your netbook’s hard drive to the shared documents (or shared video) folder and select the appropriate ISO file.
Step 5: Run Your DVD Program
If autoplay is activated on your computer Windows will recognize that a DVD “drive” has been added to your computer and ask you which program you want to use to play that DVD or automatically start playing the DVD. Select VLC Media Player (or Windows Media Player if you wish).
Alternately you can manually run VLC Media Player and then click play and select the virtual drive.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Enjoy the movie!
Final Notes -
A typical DVD image occupies up to 9 Gigbytes on your netbook’s hard drive. Most netbooks have hard drives of 100 Gig or more, so you can store several movies on your netbook.
Before I go on a trip I’ll load several movies on my netbook and watch them when I have free time while travelling, especially aboard airplane flights and in hotel rooms when there’s nothing else to do. My netbook carrying case includes a set of earbud headphones for places where it would be impolite to have the netbook’s speaker on.