[The following is taken mostly from a response to a colleagues question]
Vista Business and Enterprise Editions do not include the codec necessary to decrypt and play most commercial DVDs. This does not affect the DVD read (and write, if your drive supports it) capabilities of the device.
The rationale from MS is that DVD playback isn’t a core requirement for business or enterprise customers, and for every license MS sells that includes a bundled DVD codec, they have to pay a royalty to [insert corporate entity here].
But you aren’t out of luck. There are a few options to add DVD playback to these versions of Vista.
A popular, free, cross-platform media player that supports DVD playback.
I installed this and was able to play my shiny new BBC Robin of Sherwood DVD. However, when I tried to play the Fellowship of the Rings, I only got audio — no video. Update: issue resolved, see commments.
2. Commercial DVD app
I will note that the Cyberlink product eval period is 30 days and the download is around 75 MB. The WinDVD download is over 110 MB and the eval period is 14 days.
3. Window Media Player, with a little help
HOWEVER! Once you install one of the above products (I chose PowerDVD), the codec is installed on the system. I was then able to play Fellowship of the Ring in Windows Media Player without ever starting PowerDVD. 🙂
I suspect that uninstalling the demo player would probably remove the codec. I haven’t reached the end (and maybe haven’t event started) the evaluation period for PowerDVD, since I just used WMP. But I expect that I can continue to play DVDs in WMP even after the trail has expired.
If you really like the third-party player, they are reasonably priced ($49.95 for PowerLink, didn’t see any academic pricing but who knows…).
By the way, Karl, thank you for asking this question. This topic was discussed with the Vista product specialist for High Ed, and I’m glad I got a chance to work through the options.