or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Chapter Two on Purple DVDs

   August 6th, 2014

chapter two DVDA few weeks ago, I mentioned a reference question from a patron who couldn't play a library DVD in her laptop.

The problem seemed to be that it was a purple DVD-R DVD, rather than a regular silvery shiny one, and it wouldn't play in her DVD-RW drive.

I requested the same copy of the disc, so I could experiment and see if it would play for me. The item was Chapter Two, and it was indeed purple.

But more interesting was the note on the back:


Besides the "this disc is copy-protected" icon, the interesting part is the last line:

This disc is expected to play back in DVD video "play only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.

I don't often read the fine print on DVD containers, but I have not seen this before.

Also, none of this would be surprising if it were the regular silver disc. The fact that it's the purple is what surprises me. After I posted this question, a reader (thanks Dot!) sent me a link explaining why DVD-Rs are purple - which makes it sound like whatever operation made the DVD the library purchased is based out of some guy's garage.

I'm sure that's not the case, and although I have not contacted the production company, my guess is that it's just a small-run video house that doesn't have the large expensive equipment. They probably produce DVDs using DVD-R disc and also put DRM on them to satisfy the studios, and then sell them retail through vendors that are also used by libraries. Probably all perfectly legal, but it's just unusual.

Anyway, since I had a copy of the DVD, I tried playing it in a variety of computers and with a variety of software - and for me, it played in every single case. Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, using Windows Media Player, VLC, and PowerDVD (obviously, Macs don't exist in my world).

As a result of this testing, it seems that the problem the patron was having is with her laptop. Another reader (thanks Plutia!) suggested it might be possible to change the settings for the laptop's DVD drive so that operates as a READ-ONLY device. I didn't try this, but if the patron continues to have trouble, I will suggest it.

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3 Responses to “Chapter Two on Purple DVDs”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    I had this problem with my DVD player a few years back. It could burn DVDs and as a result, most DVDs from Sony wouldn’t play. It was pointed out a number of years ago that DVDs that have this kind of protection may not work on many players, but will almost always work on a laptop (which could more easily make a copy).

  2. Benjamin R. Says:

    I notice that you tried it with VLC, which I have found professionally to be very versatile with both formats and media, and I tend to recommend to patrons that they try playing a given file on that before they use a computer’s built-in software. (This comment is beginning to sound like link spam.) I wonder if you recommended using it on the patrons computer?

    It looks like the DVD was produced by the Sony Choice Collection, which shares a storefront with the Warner Archive Collection, which is a burn-on-demand DVD service (like print-on-demand books) run by Warner Brothers for films they have the rights to, but don’t feel are viable to keep in full-grade production. My Warner Archive discs have the same “Play only” caveat, but slightly more prominently labeled.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jeff: that is odd, that they’d play in a laptop but not your player even though both are capable of copying discs. I have no logical answer to DRM.

    @Benjamin: I’ve really liked VLC ever since I started using it too, and rarely have any sort of problem at all. I did not suggest this to the patron – honestly, we didn’t even get this far. When she said the DVDs were purple, I was afraid another patron had burned some and kept the originals themselves, which is why I requested this disc for me to check. Now that I know it’s possible though, I will ask the patron if they’re interested in trying different software – however, it sounded like this laptop was old and fragile, so maybe she might not.