How to Watch DVDs on a Netbook





Introduction: How to Watch DVDs on a Netbook

About: Writer, engineer, techie. I've been using computers since the original Apple II in 1978 and have always been interested in technical topics. Check out my articles on They include how-to...

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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.



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    23 Discussions

    You could rip a Blu-Ray, although i'm pretty sure the High Definition will lag the netbook crazy!

    But it’s extremely difficult to find one with a built-in DVD drive

    No netbooks come with CD/DVD drives. Otherwise they would just be notebooks with slow CPUs.

    Couldn't you just use an external drive and rip all your DVDs onto your netbook? This is probably illegal, but I think that if you aren't giving it to someone else it's fair..

    9 replies

    netbooks are the ones without cd/dvd drives and have slow cpus and 1gb ram and i agree it is illegal

    No netbooks come with CD/DVD drives. Otherwise they would just be notebooks with slow CPUs.

    I disagree. A netbook with a DVD drive would be useful as a portable DVD player which can also do web browsing, email, word processing, spreadsheets, and other simple computing functions. While you could carry a netbook and a separate portable DVD player a netbook with a built-in DVD player would be more flexible and one less item to carry.

    I agree with the main computer statement. Use peripheral devices and bluetooth or patch cords for DVD. I have one of the smallest and least capable netbooks for that reason- I can use it anywhere-even in bed. I found a real nice carry case at WalMart that has pockets on sides for a DVD player-recorder and a 1Tb storage drive, for the road trips when I need them. If I really needto do something complicated, I can use my larger laptop at home, copy it to the portable device and take it along.

    I can see your point, but a CD/ DVD drive would compromise battery life and size. Personally, I use my netbook as my main computer (be amazed if you like.) and have never wished I had a CD/ DVD drive.

    I can see your point, but a CD/ DVD drive would compromise battery life and size

    It doesn't have to compromise the battery life if there's a software switch to turn the power to the drive on and off (similar to how on most laptops and netbooks you can deactivate WiFi, the backlight, etc.)

    I will agree that a CD/DVD drive would increase the size and weight of a netbook, but it's still far less than the weight (and added thing to carry) as an external CD/DVD drive or carrying a portable DVD player.

    Bottom line - I like that with my method I can watch DVDs on my netbook while I'm on the road or have some free time.

    If you watch when you buy your movies (hard or downloads), it gives you the option for 1 extra legal download. Put that on the carry drive. A1Tb drive runs about $89 most places, and one other little piece of advice: if you ARE making an illegal copy of anything you better not use WMP, because it checks the codecs and reports you to the copyright holder. Was part of the deal MS made with the Digital Rights lawyers a few years back, to help put and end to p2p file sharing - and get MS's tail out of a multi-million $$ crack! IMHO, if it's illegal, it's plain just not right....

    Enable simple file sharing from your desktop's (or laptop's) DVD drive and mount it on your netbook (wether wirelessly or ethernet)

    Simply open the DVD then. WMP comes with dvd playback EVEN on netbooks.

    2 replies

    That works when you're at home within the range of your WiFi network. It's certainly doable, use the netbook in your bedroom to watch a DVD playing on your computer in your study, although in my case it would be far easier and more efficient to just watch the DVD on the TV set in the bedroom.

    The key advantage to putting movies on your netbook is travel - when you can't share your primary computer's CD drive. When you're in a car and need to entertain the kids, when you're on a business trip, when you're in an airplane and their movie's a rotten selection, when you're in a doctor's office and waiting an hour for your appointment.

    As noted by somebody else I would not use Windows Media Player to play DVDs. Far better to use VLC, it can easily play DVDs through a network connection.

    Thanks for sharing, downloaded the pdf in the event I want to make use of this. I do have an outboard DVD player for my netbook, but watching DVD isn't something I planned to use the netbook for. I have the dell mini9 with the SSD. Even with an SD card in the card reader I'm always running out of room. This should be legal for personal use, no doubt the entertainment cabal will say illegal.

    just convert the DVD's to an avi file and put on thumb drives...easy :-) I do that on my laptop and watch movies flawlessly, nice and smooth.

    3 replies

    That will work for the main movie, but won't give you the capability to transfer the menus, commentary track, and other features. By transferring the ISO of the entire DVD you can experience the true "look and feel" of a portable DVD player.

    That takes up way too much space. I could fit hundreds of movies on an external 2.5" hard drive. But an ISO of a DVD could be 4.5 gigs a piece.

    Nice Instructable though.

    My netbook has a 250 GB hard drive (newer ones have over 300 GBs). I can fit plenty of DVD ISOs on there even though they're 4.5 GBs each. Much easier than hassling with an additional piece of hardware like an external 2.5" hard drive (which also drain battery life unless it comes w/ an external power supply, IE, more junk to keep up with).

    Here's another vote for ISOs over AVIs, etc.

    You can follow me on Twitter @KickstarKennedy if you like.