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I bought a Playstation 2 in 2000, which famously included a DVD drive capable of playing DVD movies. I wanted the same movie playback capability on my Windows 98 PC.

As I recall, I mistakenly thought this would mostly be a matter of just upgrading my PC's optical drive to a DVD-ROM. I did so, but never had working DVD video playback. I don't recall whether it was an issue of my PC specs, or needing some additional hardware or software for video decoding. I never upgraded beyond Windows 98 and switched to a PowerPC Mac around 2005, which by then had DVD playback out-of-box.

I'm sure there must have been a moment when PC & video card specs and Windows software (ME?, XP?) came into alignment for easy DVD playback on most Windows PCs. And I do recall there was a brief craze over "Home Theater PC's" (HTPC) in the early 2000's. Now, I am thinking about accessing this feature on a retro PC.

Which version of Windows first supported DVD movie playback out-of-box, using what included playback software, and with what required PC specifications?

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The first version of Windows to support out-of-the-box DVD playback is Windows XP Media Centre Edition*, which was created specifically to target the HTPC fad that you mention, and it also has some special hardware requirements.

The only mainstream versions of Windows to play DVDs without additional software were Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate, and Windows 7**.


* "Windows XP Media Center Edition is distinguished with its exclusive component, Media Center, a media player that supports watching and recording TV programs, as well as playing DVD-Video"

** "MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital (AC-3) decoders were included beginning with Windows Media Player 11 on Windows Vista (Home Premium and Ultimate editions only)."; "Unfortunately, the Windows Media Player program doesn't support DVDs in Windows 8 and 10"

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    It all came down to the license fees. Microsoft was loathe to pay $$$ on a per-copy basis. – davidbak Oct 27 '20 at 2:03
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    Yeah, from what I can make out Microsoft intended DVD drive vendors to license and supply the codecs, which Media Player would then be able to use to provide a full regular DVD player. Though I'm pretty sure my final PC, of about that vintage, just came with PowerDVD, a third-party player. – Tommy Oct 27 '20 at 14:01
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    @BrianH - yup - money was supposed to flow in one direction only! – davidbak Oct 27 '20 at 14:45
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    Its the same reason the original XBox couldn't play DVDs without buying the remote. They didn't want to pay for the codec licenses for every single XBox, so instead the licenses where tied to the remote / IR receiver dongle. – mnem Oct 27 '20 at 21:03
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    @BrianH Microsoft would pass that cost onto you. Would you want to pay for DVD player licenses for all your office computers? – user253751 Oct 29 '20 at 15:38

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