Can’t play that DVD? Try these workarounds

Hand Holding DVD DiscThe year-end holidays have come and gone. You have been exercising feverishly to reduce your waistline that expanded a few inches due to the endless partying, and everyone in your household has unwrapped all their gifts. However, one of those gifts is perched silently on the coffee table. It’s a homemade DVD gifted to you by a cousin who lives on the opposite end of the country that features highlights of your uncle’s 70th birthday celebration. Because you couldn’t get the necessary time off from your job, you couldn’t be there in person to share in the family fun and festivities. While other DVDs play back fine in your MacBook Pro, this disc just spins and spins before it gets ejected by the drive. You’ve never experienced this type of hardware problem before. According to your cousin, the DVD is not defective, because she said that before she wrapped her gift, she successfully tested the same disc in her set-top player in her living room.

A few weeks ago, I dealt with a similar situation where the SuperDrive in my mid-2012 MacBook Pro (running Yosemite) would not recognize one of the DVDs that I had obtained from a friend. I took the same disc upstairs and the main menu for this video displayed fine using the standalone DVD player attached to the television set.

While I didn’t think my Mac operating system was responsible for the playback problem, I thought I’d run a few tests, just to be sure. I have an external hard drive that I bought from Other World Computing that I’ve partitioned into three sections: One of those partitions is bootable as an OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) system. I configured the OWC drive in this manner, as I have a few software programs that I use periodically such as Now Contact and that won’t run in either Mavericks or Yosemite. I inserted the DVD in my Mountain Lion system and got the same results as before – rejection. Undaunted, I decided to see if the disc would work in Parallels 10 that’s configured as a Windows 7 virtual machine. Nope, no difference using Parallels, either.

I’ve burned lots of CDs and DVDs in the past and all but a few are readable on my laptop. Obviously, there was something about my SuperDrive that this DVD didn’t like. I inserted the DVD again after running my disc cleaner in iTunes. Still no go.


Whether it was by happenstance or good luck, I finally discovered the solution to the DVD problem once I remembered that my roommate had a USB SuperDrive that she hooks up to her MacBook Air. Even so, I didn’t immediately get the results I wanted until did a Google search and learned that I had to edit an Apple preference list (plist) file that allows this special SuperDrive to be usable on my MacBook Pro.

How to make the MacBook Air SuperDrive work with any Mac
luz’ blog | updated for Mavericks Nov. 2013

1. Open Terminal
2. Type: sudo pico /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
3. Insert “mbasd=1″ in the value below the Kernel Flags (If the string is not empty to begin with (it normally is), then use a space to separate the mbasd=1 from what’s already there).
4. Save (press Ctrl-X, answer yes to save by pressing Y, press enter to confirm the file name)
5. Restart your machine. That’s it!

Once I edited this plist file and verified that I could watch the DVD presentation on my laptop using the MacBook Air SuperDrive attached to my laptop’s USB port, I then used Disk Utility to create a disk image (with a .cdr extension) that contained the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders of the original DVD.

1. File > New > Disk Image from [DVD name]
2. From the Image Format drop-down menu, select DVD/CD master
Encryption (none)

Following the above steps, I now had the option to watch the video at a later date using just the disk image, or I could make a backup copy by burning the image onto a blank DVD disc.


Another DVD that I received in the mail over 7 years ago recently exhibited a different kind of playback problem. While the internal SuperDrive in my MacBook Pro recognized the disc and instantly brought up the Apple DVD Player, the movie stuttered and skipped sequences until it stopped playing altogether. Moreover, the playback corruption was so severe that I couldn’t use Disk Utility to make a disk image of the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders. Instead, Disk Utility responded with a cryptic Input/Output error message.

Unable to create - input/output error

Over the years as a documentary filmmaker and video editor, I’ve tested a number of handy utilities, including software that can convert and extract video files off of DVDs. One of my favorites is a free application called MPEG Streamclip that’s developed by Using MPEG Streamclip, I was able to produce two usable DV clips from the VOB files stored in the VIDEO_TS folder on the DVD. While the DV files lack the menus associated with the original DVD, I can at least watch the clips and edit them further (if I so desire) using Final Cut Pro or my editor or choice.


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Filed under Apple Hardware, Data Recovery, Third Party Software, Troubleshooting, Video

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