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How to play old DVDs on your modern Apple M-series Mac

Some classic, old-school entertainment is only available on DVD. We show how even the very latest Apple Silicon Macs can play DVDs, and do it for under $20.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
7 Days -- The Complete Collection on a desk
David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I'll let you in on a little secret about the inner workings of the David Gewirtz machine. I love time-travel movies and TV shows. It's a sub-genre of science fiction where there's always a bit of a paradox, and for whatever reason, that plot device does it for me.

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In any case, I recently had a very rare quiet weekend. I was catching up on the years of Doctor Who that I've left unwatched in the cloud. While watching, I remembered another time-travel series I only saw a few episodes of. It was called 7 Days. It ran for three seasons, from 1998 to 2001.

View at Amazon

Despite it originally being a Paramount show, it's not on Paramount+. In fact, it's not available on streaming at all. I remember seeing three or four episodes, but because I was busy with a startup company, I didn't get a chance to watch more of the series. The show was on TV just when Tivo was getting started, and there was no streaming. Back then, Netflix only mailed physical DVDs.

Appointment TV was very much de rigueur back in the day and, in the heart of 80-hour startup weeks, I didn't have time for any more appointments. So, I didn't see very much of 7 Days.

I really liked the premise. The idea is that the government (the NSA, of course) built a time-travel device using alien technology (of course) that can travel back in time, but only seven days. So a specially trained chrononaut (hand-picked from a military mental institution), would "back step" and "undo that event", whatever that event might happen to be.

One time, the aim was to undo the death of the president and vice president. Another time, it was to help a fusion energy geek marry his girlfriend without getting killed by her jealous former boyfriend. The one I saw this week involved preventing the president's nuclear football from launching all of America's missiles after it fell into the hands of a determined gorilla (the hairy city zoo kind, not the terrorist kind) who somehow punched in the secret code for global nuclear destruction.

And no, I did not make that up. Like I said, almost perfect Dave TV.

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I've thought about this show from time to time. Because it's never been on streaming, I had just given up on watching it. Then, while watching Doctor Who, I decided to check and see if the show had ever been turned into a DVD set. The last time I'd checked, it hadn't. But in 2018, it was released on DVD. Why, well into the streaming era, it came out in DVD-only form is anyone's guess. A lot of times, these weird distribution situations have something to do with licensing issues.

In any case, for the sum of $24.99, I picked up all three seasons, 12 DVDs, and 66 episodes. That's about $0.37 per episode. Talk about an entertainment bargain!

Getting a DVD player

Next problem: other than on my PS4, I no longer have a DVD player. For reasons not to be discussed here (which involve keeping the current game in the PS4 at all times to preserve family harmony), I decided to add a DVD player to my M1 Mac mini.

That begged the question: can the M1 Mac mini even play commercial DVDs? I know it's hard to remember, but old-school commercial DVDs had varying levels of copy protection. That's not to say determined folks couldn't copy them, but it did make playing legitimately purchased DVDs a bit difficult in some computers.

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It's been years since Apple shipped a DVD player with one of its computers. The company does still sell its $79 SuperDrive, but that didn't guarantee the M1 Mac mini would play these commercially produced DVDs.

View at Amazon

Also, I didn't want to spend $79. Fortunately, Amazon sells a Gotega-branded DVD player for $19.99. Now, sure, that pushed up my cost per episode to $0.68 each, but what price would you put on top-notch Dave TV? For me, it was about sixty-eight cents.

DVD player on a table

The DVD player is also nice and portable.

David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Unfortunately, the first drive we got was bad. It made a horrible grinding noise once you put the disk inside. But Amazon issued a refund and sent out a new device, and the second drive works just fine.

Will it play?

So, now, the big question: Will it play? TL;DR: yeah, it does. There's a DVD Player app still buried inside MacOS. It won't be a surprise to anyone that it looks very much like something from 2003. That said, I checked Ventura's System Info System Report, and the DVD Player is a universal binary. It includes both Intel and Apple Silicon code.

I forgot how slow DVDs can be to start up. Once you hit play or launch the DVD Player app, it can take up to two minutes for the drive to spin up. And, of course, 7 Days is in the old pre-HD 4:3 aspect ratio.

Bottom-line it, Dave

So, look, there's a lot of truly great stuff on streaming, including a lot of old stuff, like Star Trek's original series, and standard-def Stargate from the 1990s. In other words, maybe there's not a super-compelling reason to go out and get a DVD player to play old DVDs.

That said, DVD players are relatively cheap. Standalone DVD players seem to go for about $25-35. And, as we saw above, the Gotega USB DVD drive cost under $20. They even have a USB-C version for a few more bucks. So, if you happen to want to see an old series and it's only available on DVD, you can.

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I'm enjoying the heck out of 7 Days. It's a lot more ludicrous than I remember. But it's a ton of fun. I can't think of any other way to get nearly 50 hours (each episode is about 42 minutes long) of fun for under $40.

Now, I just have to find the time to watch more episodes.

What about you? Do you have a hankering for some old-school TV that's not available on any streaming service? Do you still have a DVD player or would you consider hooking one up to your Mac or PC?

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter on Substack, and follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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