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How to watch DVDs and Blu-rays for free in Windows 10

Microsoft wants to charge you $15 to spin your old movies, and doesn't even support Blu-ray. Fortunately, there are freebie alternatives.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There's a hilariously prescient sight gag in an old episode of "The Simpsons."

Homer is walking through the town dump when he passes a big pile of VCR tapes. The sign above reads, "Betamax." Next, another pile, this time with a sign reading, "Laserdiscs." Finally, he walks past an empty space; the sign says, "Reserved for DVDs."

That episode aired in 2003. Here in 2017, the handwriting is definitely on the wall -- if not the dump sign -- as Windows PCs can no longer play DVDs (or Blu-rays) without help. Windows 10, like Windows 8 and 8.1 before it, lacks the necessary software.

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20th Century Fox

Of course, Microsoft will be happy to sell it to you: The Windows DVD Player app is available from the Windows Store for $14.99.

The open-source alternative

If that seems like too steep a price to keep your DVD collection alive and spinning, here's the good news: You can watch DVDs on your Windows 10 PC for free. Here's what you need:

  • A DVD-ROM drive, either internal or external. (Looking to watch Blu-ray media? Skip to the bottom. Microsoft's player doesn't support Blu-rays.)
  • VideoLAN's VLC desktop software, an open-source (read: free to use) media player that includes support for DVD media. Don't bother with the VLC app in the Windows Store, which is a separate version that does not support DVD playback.

During the VLC installation process, make sure "Discs Playback" is selected (it is by default). Once it's installed and running, pop in your DVD, then click Media > Open Disc..., or just press Ctrl+D.

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Woo-hoo! Free DVD playback in Windows 10! Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

In the window that appears next, click Play -- and then sit back and enjoy. I tested this with, appropriately enough, a DVD of "The Simpsons," and it worked like a charm. Your mileage may vary, of course; there are always potential glitches with DVD regions, video codecs and the like.

But for most folks, this is the free and easy path to DVD nirvana in Windows 10. Thanks for the $15 app, Microsoft, but no thanks.

Blu-ray of sunshine

Leawo's free Blu-ray player may be the answer to many a Windows user's prayer.

Leawo

By the way, neither Microsoft's app nor VLC offers direct support for Blu-ray discs. There are some VLC add-ons that may work, but setup can be tricky, and not all of them are able to play DRM-protected discs (read: all of them).

You can also purchase any number of commercial players, such as Macgo's Windows Blu-ray Player, but expect to pay at least $30. (At this writing, Macgo's product was on sale for $29.95, though there's a free trial version.)

Fortunately, there's a free option that works quite well: Leawo Blu-ray Player. (It supports DVDs as well, meaning you can skip VLC.) It's a pretty basic player, and rest assured Leawo will try to sell you its other software products at every turn. But if you're looking for a free Blu-ray player that supports pretty much all versions of Windows, this is the one.

Of course, all this assumes you have a Blu-ray drive; remember that DVD drives won't play your Blu-ray discs. Need one? Stores such as Newegg carry external, USB Blu-ray drives starting at around $50.

Update, March 24, 2017: This article was originally published on August 6, 2015. It has been updated to add more information on playing Blu-rays.