How Does a DVD Player Work

How does a DVD player work? DVD players take data stored on a disc and convert it to video and audio output that you can watch on your TV. The process isn't as incomprehensible as you might think.

Ever watched a record player work?
If you've ever watched an old-style record player work, you've already got a basic understanding of how DVD players work. In a record player, a needle reads data from a groove engraved on a vinyl disc and translates it to music data. DVD players are just like that, only they use modern technology. Instead of a vinyl record, you have a plastic-coated aluminum disc. Instead of a needle reading the disc, you've got a laser. In theory, though, the modern DVD's functionality resembles that of an old vinyl record.

Start with a DVD and DVD player.
Understanding how a DVD player works begins with a DVD and a DVD player. A DVD is an aluminum disc with a plastic coating that holds digital data, which a DVD player translates into video and audio. The DVD player consists of several mechanisms that manipulate and read the disc, thus extracting the data. You need both of these pieces of equipment together to understand the equation.

A motor spins the disc.
The motor in the DVD player constantly spins the DVD. The speed varies depending on the type of DVD you're playing, and the track you're playing on the DVD. If your motor goes out, your DVD player is just a useless pile of electronics. The motor is also partially responsible for whether or not a given DVD player is capable of playing a specific type of DVD.

A laser reads the disc.
Data storage on a DVD consists of a series of 1s and 0s digitally encoded on the disc. When a DVD player reads the disc, it sees the 1s and 0s like a series of bumps; the 1s representing bumps and the 0s representing flat spots. When the laser in the DVD player passes over the disc, it reads these 1s and 0s and translates them to video and audio data. The laser beam and light sensor work together to view and interpret the data on a DVD; a laser assembly won't work without a functional laser beam and light sensor.

The tracking mechanism syncs everything up.
With the disc spinning and the laser reading happening at the same time, it would be impossible to make sense of any of the data on a disc without a good tracking mechanism. The tracking mechanism in the DVD player syncs everything up, so that the laser stays in line with the data it's reading from the DVD as they all move and spin.

DVD players are loaded with extras.
While all DVD players essentially work the same way, some DVD players are loaded with extras. For example, DVD players have different output resolutions, different encoding capabilities and different functionality. Some DVD players may be able to view hidden DVD extras, while others aren't capable of reading DVDs at that level. When you're evaluating individual DVD players, look at the specific features to find one that meets your needs.

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