They were once the media playback device of choice, but can DVD players play Blu-ray discs? At the turn of the millennium, DVDs were introduced with improved image quality and the ability to bundle extra content. Almost overnight, older VHS players were replaced with DVD players, heralding a new era of home entertainment.
However, with the arrival of Blu-ray players and the advent of ever more higher resolution displays native to the best TV sets, even the best DVD players struggled to match the astonishing visual and audio fidelity experienced with the best Blu-ray players.
However, DVD players aren’t quite obsolete. Many offer a more affordable alternative to expensive Blu-ray players, with DVDs now being sold extremely cheaply. If you'd like to know whether you can play a Blu-ray disc on your DVD player, let’s delve into the what obstacles you might face and explore the solutions that are available.
Can DVD players play Blu-ray discs?
While most Blu-ray players are capable of playing DVDs, sadly the same can’t be said for DVD players and Blu-ray discs. Blu-ray discs are designed to hold far more data than a DVD player is capable of reading, which accounts for the significantly higher video and audio quality found in Blu-rays over DVDs.
This is due to the way the machines read data from a disc using lasers. Blu-ray players read Blu-ray discs using a blue laser, unlike DVD players, which read embedded data with a red laser. Data is embedded on a disc in microscopic ‘pits’ where the data can be ‘read’ by the fine point of the laser. Blue lasers emit a light beam of a shorter wavelength than red lasers, which can better read the much smaller pits embedded in Blu-ray discs.
DVD discs have larger pits that are designed to be read by a DVD player’s red laser component only, which simply isn’t up to the job of reading the vastly more expansive amounts of data compressed onto Blu-ray discs.
Fortunately, most Blu-ray players are built with both a red laser and a blue laser, which enables them to read Blu-rays, DVDs and CDs. But where does that leave DVD player owners who want watch Blu-ray movies and video on their older machine?
How to watch Blu-ray discs on DVD players
Fortunately, the solution to the question ‘Can DVD players play Blu-ray discs’ can be found in various third-party software called Blu-ray rippers or DVD rippers, such as those in our guide to the best DVD ripper software. These applications usually require a computer or laptop with a compatible disc drive that can read Blu-ray discs. We recommend a program called MakMKV, which we explore in our MakeMKV review.
This type of software, known as a transcoder, can convert most video formats into MKV files. These require another piece of software such as Handbrake which compresses the file; especially useful for squeezing the immense amount of data contained on Blu-ray discs into a smaller file able to be stored on a DVD, which can then be read by a DVD player.
Alternatively, if your DVD player has a USB port, once you’ve ripped or saved a copy of a Blu-ray to your computer you can then save that file onto an external USB hard drive, or USB stick, which can be attached to a DVD player in order to stream the content. Not all DVD players will have a USB slot, but they are more common on more modern machines and bring a great deal more versatility to an aging technology that still holds a special place in many peoples’ homes.
However, be advised that you are unlikely to experience the better visual and audio clarity found on Blu-rays when you play a compressed file on a DVD player. But the effort can still be worth it if you find yourself with some Blu-ray discs and only a DVD player to watch them on.
If you’re comfortable getting more hands-on with video files, it's also worth checking out the best video converter software to optimize the compression. And if you plan to split files into several different movies, the best video editing software will give you the edge you need.