Microsoft made its debut in the gaming console market with the original Xbox in 2001. Ironically, Bill Gates himself was against the idea of creating a game console, being quite content with the dominance of Windows in the PC sphere. But the Xbox project continued, and the result was a console that combined the benefits of a PC with a living room game machine.
Can you play DVDs on an original Xbox? Since the Xbox features a DVD player, it is capable of reading movie and music DVDs. But to enable this feature on an unmodified Xbox console, you need the Xbox DVD Playback Kit which comes with a remote and a dongle.
Sony’s PS2 lets you play any DVD without the need for additional accessories, using just your controller. That’s because each PS2 shipped with a license for DVD playback software, designed to use the default controller. Microsoft included this license as an add-on kit, that you had to buy (in 2001, it was priced at $20).
Can You Play DVDs On An Original Xbox?
Yes, but only with a DVD Playback Kit. You can order used kits online, through sites such as Amazon or eBay. The launch price was 20 dollars, but collectors and scalpers might ask for more because it’s a rare item that was discontinued long ago. You must make sure that your kit contains both the dongle and the remote (otherwise it won’t work).
The reason Microsoft sold DVD playback functionality through an add-on kit is that the Xbox doesn’t ship with a license to play DVDs. By paying 20 bucks to Microsoft, you were purchasing a license to the DVD playback software. When you connect the dongle to your Xbox, it tells the console that you have a license for DVD playback.
And since the dongle is also an infrared receiver, it lets you use the remote to control video playback. Play, pause, volume, speed, tracks, etc. are all controlled via the remote. You can only play DVDs made for the region in which you purchased your original Xbox because DVD playback is not a region-free feature.
Does The Original Xbox Read DVDs?
It does, thanks to the integrated DVD player. All original Xbox games use the DVD format. Smaller ones were printed on single-layer DVDs.
In contrast, the PS2 got a few CD games (because DVD readers can also read CDs). Microsoft wanted to match and exceed Sony’s PS2 in terms of features. Around 1997, rumors started swirling around that Ken Kutaragi was adamant about including DVD playback within the PS2.
So the Xbox team decided they should also do the same. However, they took a different approach. DVD players were quite ubiquitous in most households by 2001, but some folks purchased the PS2 just to use it as a DVD player.
Microsoft’s DVD playback kit lets the console know that it’s ready to play DVDs. Before connecting the dongle, your Xbox can understand that there is a DVD in the player. But it cannot read it.
Why Won’t My Xbox Play Regular DVDs?
Those among you who owned consoles in the early 2000s might remember that Sony’s PS2 could play DVDs out of the box. You didn’t have to purchase an additional piece of kit that unlocked the feature. But Microsoft made you buy their special Playback Kit which contained a dongle and remote.
Despite what many people think, Microsoft wasn’t trying to fleece their customers for some extra cash in exchange for unlocking a feature that the Xbox already had. You see, Sony’s PS2 technically supports Dolby 5.1 surround audio. However, it doesn’t have the physical encoder chip that is needed to encode audio for surround sound.
Instead, the PS2 uses a vector unit in its Emotion Engine processor to do this encoding. On the other hand, Microsoft put dedicated encoding hardware onboard for Dolby Surround. A DSP from Parthus was included within the MCP-D Media & Communications Processor (MCP-D).
As a result, the Xbox could encode Dolby Digital Surround audio in real-time. This meant that the console didn’t need 6 different analog outputs for audio, and gamers didn’t need 6 input channels on their receiver. To get surround from their PS2, users needed a receiver with Dolby Digital decoding (while the Xbox could output in DTS surround which requires no decoding).
Including the encoder chip on the Xbox added to development costs. Plus, the Xbox already had things missing from the PS2- like an HDD and Ethernet. It was inherently a more expensive console to develop, and Microsoft didn’t want to spend money getting Dolby software licenses for each Xbox made.
So they came up with a trick. Instead of licensing each Xbox they would just put the software on a dongle and sell it to anyone who wanted DVD playback on their Xbox. This reduced Xbox development costs since the software licensing fees weren’t included in the unit cost of each Xbox.
Can I Use Any DVD Drive In The Original Xbox?
No, you need a DVD drive made specifically for the original Xbox. If you install a regular PC drive that uses IDE (back then SATA hadn’t been invented), it won’t work. That’s because the Xbox DVD drive spins the disks backward, and has proprietary back panel connectors.
The original drive was made by Thompson and was notoriously unreliable. Later revisions of the Xbox came with Samsung and Phillips DVD drives. The Philips is considered the most reliable of the lot.
If you’re looking for a replacement, you can get an original Xbox DVD drive, but it will be quite expensive. You might find it cheaper to just purchase an entire original Xbox with a working disc drive and use it for parts. Or you could mod your Xbox so it runs games directly from an HDD (plus, modding lets you install your HDD).
Which Xbox Does Not Use Discs?
Until now, every new Xbox generation has been equipped with a disc drive. The original Xbox had a DVD drive, the Xbox 360 supported newer DVD standards (like HD-DVD), and the Xbox One included a Blu-Ray player. This generation, the Series X retains a Blu-Ray drive.
But its smaller cousin- the Series S, is entirely network based with no disc drive. You download digital copies of games from the Microsoft Store, and you can also use Xbox’s Game Pass service.
How Old Is The Original Xbox?
Released in 2001, the original Xbox is now over two decades old. It was succeeded by the Xbox 360 in 2005, which is when NVIDIA stopped manufacturing the original Xbox’s GPU, ceasing production of new consoles. The last original Xbox game in North America was Madden NFL 09 (released in August 2008).
I hope this article helped you play DVDs on your original Xbox. It’s quite hard to find an original unmodified Xbox these days, let alone one of the DVD playback kits (fewer kits were made than consoles). So if you get your hands on one, know that it can also function as a media center for your living room.