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Oops, the Steam Deck is my only DVD player

With no other options to play DVDs, Valve’s portable gaming PC (clumsily) came to the rescue

An image taken by the author that shows a Steam Deck handheld console sitting next to an external USB DVD drive that has The Brothers Bloom in its tray. Photo: Cameron Faulkner/Polygon
Cameron Faulkner (he/him) is Polygon’s commerce editor. He began writing about tech and gaming in 2013, and migrated from The Verge in 2023.

I’ve messed up at multiple points in my life if I’m relying on a Steam Deck to help me play DVDs. But that’s where I’m at, having gotten rid of practically every device I owned over the past few years that could play discs.

The Steam Deck cannot play DVDs by itself, so to revisit our collection of discs, I had the idea (one that I’m far from the first to try) to connect a no frills, USB-powered DVD drive to the Deck’s TV dock, then run the discs with the VLC Media Player app. I’m equal parts proud of and embarrassed by this hacky setup. You don’t need to feel bad for me!

This method, as you might have assumed, is about as far from an elegant user experience as it gets, especially if you’re trying to implant it into an entertainment center. Actually using it without tearing your hair out involves either using a mouse connected to your Steam Deck, or painstakingly remapping VLC’s mouse and keyboard commands to a controller. Honestly, neither choice nets something that feels “good” to use.

An image showing the Steam Deck portable console nested into its TV dock. The Deck and its dock are sitting on top of an external DVD player that is plugged into the dock. Photo: Cameron Faulkner/Polygon

On the software side, getting things set up is simpler, thankfully. The VLC Media Player app is supported by the SteamOS version of Linux, and you can find it in the Discover store that’s accessible in the Steam Deck’s desktop mode. The Steam Deck: It’s a computer! After installing it, right-clicking the app and selecting the “Add to Steam” option will add it (and, really, any other app) to the collection of tiles that show up in the Deck’s more TV-friendly gaming mode.

Launching it takes you directly to the VLC interface, taking up the full size of my TV with its utilitarian Windows 98-esque design. From there, it’s pretty breezy if you’ve used the software before. If not, learning how it works shouldn’t take much effort if you’ve tinkered with the Steam Deck’s desktop mode.

A photo of a 55-inch television with the VLC media player app shown on it. It is being powered by a Steam Deck with a USB DVD player plugged into its dock.
It’s tough not to laugh whenever I see this interface come across my TV.
Photo: Cameron Faulkner/Polygon

Is this my long-term solution for watching DVDs? I hope not, but it might be, so long as it keeps working. That said, I have a voice in my head that’s making me lightly consider various dedicated 4K Blu-ray player options. I’m also hoping that Sony actually follows through with the rumors that it’ll someday sell PS5 disc drives separately. I suspect that will be a costlier solution, and it may look just as hacky as this Steam Deck solution. But, at least it’d be a little more future proof, likely with support for 4K Blu-ray discs.

I envy you if you can’t currently relate to my debacle of running out of disc-friendly gadgets. But situations like mine are only going to be more common. Using Microsoft’s recent, huge Xbox leak as an indication that more companies are heading toward an all-digital future, the ability to play discs of any kind in your next console may not be a given. In the case of video discs of any sort, you’ll have to put in more effort and maybe more money to enjoy your collection down the road. But as most physical media enthusiasts will admit, putting in that effort is part of the fun.

A photo of a TV displaying an opening scene from The Brothers Bloom film.
Only after I got this set up to watch The Brothers Bloom did I realize that it’s free to stream on multiple streaming services.
Photo: Cameron Faulkner/Polygon | Source image: Lionsgate