Reading this reminded me of when someone I know (not me) completely destroyed his optical drive using AnyDVD.

He did it by (successfully) playing (in VLC media player) a copy-protected region 1 DVD on a DVD drive set to region 2. This was while AnyDVD was running in the background. For fun, he then exited AnyDVD while the DVD was still playing, to see what would happen. What happened was he broke his DVD drive. It refused to read discs after that and it never worked again.

What I wonder is how was AnyDVD able to break the optical drive? How can an optical drive be susceptible to software?

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    Software like AnyDVD cannot damage an optical drive, as there's nothing there software like that can damage (I'm not even sure it has a way to communicate with the optical drive at the hardware level). All AnyDVD does is remove the DRM encryption / region-lock on the fly when it's read from the disk. – JW0914 Oct 4 at 13:30
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    The only way I see how any program could destroy a DVD drive, is by having a faulty disk. The drive tries to read the disk, fails, make it spin faster until the disk itself shatters. The shards can damage the disk, but if that were the case here, you would know instantly. Mokubai's answer is likely what happened. A region lock. – LPChip Oct 4 at 13:38
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    I wouldn't rule out such things, I remember a big issue blew up years back where booting a new version of Linux on machines with a particular model of optical drive would brick the drive. IIRC linux tried to enable packet writing without first checking if it was supported and the manufactuer had re-used the enable packet writing command for a command to erase the firmware and put the drive into firmware update mode, when no new firmware came the drive was bricked. – plugwash Oct 4 at 21:56
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    Why would you use AnyDVD with VLC to begin with? AFAIK it's always been able to play DVDs from any region without needing any driver hacks. – R.. Oct 4 at 23:20
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    @plugwash Linux used a CD-RW specific command to probe if drive is a CD-RW writer or a CD-ROM drive. CD-ROMs were supposed to respond with an error. LG indeed reused this command for firmware update. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_poke#LG_CD-ROM_drives – gronostaj Oct 5 at 18:30

I have no idea what AnyDVD actually does, but I can speculate. Here are some scenarios that could lead to this:

  • It could be that AnyDVD recognizes a bunch of drives intimately and performs manipulations with their firmware, or at least employs some non-standard undocumented low-level commands. It enables its special mode when started, and returns the drive to "vanilla" state when exiting. Except that this time, due to VLC or some other unfortunate coincidences, the shutdown process didn't succeed, and instead left the drive in a messed up state.
    • As a special case of this, as noted in other answers, perhaps the drive wasn't even bricked - it was just locked to the wrong region and refused to change that. Thus disks with other regions didn't work. This could be tested by trying to read a region-free disk or a data disk.
  • The Wikipedia page states that AnyDVD is a driver. Which makes sense - it's a good place to intercept of drive access at a low level. It could be then, that AnyDVD didn't actually mess up the drive - it messed up itself. The drive was fine, but AnyDVD's driver wasn't. As a result, the drive couldn't be used anymore - on that computer. This could be easily tested by putting the drive in another computer or reinstalling Windows from scratch.
    • As a special case of this, perhaps it also alters other drivers in the system "on the fly". Like changing the code in them. This is, of course, very difficult and risky, since any change to the other driver (can happen at any time with a Windows Update) would mean that AnyDVD's patches are useless or worse - harmful. I don't expect that they actually did this, but it is a theoretical possibility.
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    There's a lot of speculation in your answer =] – JW0914 Oct 5 at 12:09
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    *GASP* NO! Really?! O_O – Vilx- Oct 5 at 14:06
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    @JohnDvorak Is it rare? From the top of my head, Windows XP SP2 included a bunch of changes to make this easier. I have written quite a few software which did such a thing (for instance, I wrote the equivalent of the "UAC virtualization" to let me run as non-admin badly written software as the time of 2000 and XP). And from the top of my head I can mention at least MadCodeHook and Microsoft Detour as frameworks to do exactly that, "on the fly" patch. And it's surprisingly easy to make yours if you understand assembler at least a little. – user1532080 Oct 6 at 16:31
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    @Vilx- Many anti-vurises or anti-malwares and alike do user-mode hooking. One I can mention is/was Comodo Firewall, also the dead Tiny Personal Firewall. Open source abandonned Winpooch too. – user1532080 Oct 6 at 16:32
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    @JohnDvorak For clarity, I wrote my own "live patching" toolkit. I gvie it a target, and it allows me to modify its behaviour, doing a bit of automated disassembly on the target, and changing its code to run mine. But there's a software that's actually dedicated to, just recalled the name: winapioverride32 . As far as kernel-side hooking, it's a known practice, and not that hard either, which consists in overwriting drivers dispatch routines table. There, you don't even need to actually change the driver's code. – user1532080 Oct 6 at 16:39

I have done exactly this a few times and it has never broken the drive. Effectively running the player software supplies the drive the decryption key for the disk which VLC then takes advantage of.

At worst playing a region 1 disk on a region 2 drive will set that drive to region 1. Most commercial drives can only have their region changed 5 times before they "lock" to that region.

It may well be that your friend "locked" their drive to region 1, preventing them from playing region 2 disks rather than it destroying the drive.

Software that ignores the drive region and performs the decryption themselves would not be affected but commercial players would no longer work, except with region 1 disks.

Some drives can be flashed with region-free firmwares that never lock.

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    If this is indeed the answer, you should still be able to play that region 1 disc succesfully. Have you tried that? – LPChip Oct 4 at 13:39
  • Also, if this is the case, reflashing the drive's firmware should reset the counter and make the drive work again. – Sean Oct 6 at 1:07
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    @Sean from experience the counter was not reset by updating the firmware. However it was implemented was smarter than being affected by firmware updates. There are, or at least were, modified firmwares that either had the counter disabled or reported themselves as region 0 a.k.a region free/unlocked. – Mokubai Oct 6 at 6:43
  • No, the drive wasn't locked to a region; it was broken. It wouldn't even read CD ROMs. If what you've said is correct, it must have been a coincidence that the drive broke at exactly that moment. – EmmaV Oct 6 at 9:56
  • @EmmaV Did the drive show up in Explorer or Device Manager? Did it spin up or otherwise appear to be trying to work? If the answer to both those is yes then I would believe that something scratched or damaged the laser. If the drive failed to spin at all or did not appear then it could be that the software did some kind of killer poke as mentioned by gronostaj in the comments. Lacking any detail about the actual failure mode I would suspect coincidental hardware failure, perhaps exacerbated by software, but hardware failure nonetheless – Mokubai Oct 7 at 9:39

Some DVD drives allow you to change their Region Code programmatically. However, some only let you do it a few times. If AnyDVD does change the drive's Region Code to play a foreign disk, it will quickly exhaust the number of changes.

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    The whole point of AnyDVD is to bypass region lock without changing the region. – gronostaj Oct 5 at 18:31

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