Choosing a dvd player if you have a sight problem

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Choosing a DVD player if you have a sight problem

About this information sheet

This information sheet explains how to choose a DVD player that connects to your TV. It does not make recommendations for particular DVD players, as there are none that stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of ease of use and accessibility. The selection of players available is constantly changing. However, there are a number of areas that prospective buyers might want to consider when thinking about a purchase to ensure that it best meets their needs if they have a sight problem.


Choosing a DVD player if you have a sight problem

About DVD

DVD (Digital Versatile Disk) players have replaced video cassette recorders and can be bought for as little as £30. DVDs are available for rental both in stores and on-line. A great variety of material is available on DVD, including films, television series and instruction and hobby topics.
DVDs are available in two formats - standard and Blu-ray. Standard DVDs provide good quality picture and sound and include multiple sound tracks and subtitles on the disk. Blu-ray disks are more expensive and have high definition sound and pictures in addition to the usual additional extras you find on the standard DVD. Both standard and Blu-ray disks have the same physical appearance as CDs and so they are convenient to store.

Audio Description

Audio description is an additional commentary that describes what is happening on the screen for people who have difficulty seeing the action, body language, facial expressions, costume or scenery. DVD offers the capability for films and programmes that are generally available in high street shops to carry audio description. Indeed, many sighted people with a DVD collection will unwittingly have titles that include an audio description track. The audio description track is generally selected by using the disc’s menu. Since this requires using the on-screen display, it can be difficult. However it is usually also possible to switch audio tracks to select the audio description by pressing the ‘audio’ button on the remote control, if it has one.
These DVDs are not a specialist product, they are the DVDs available from normal high street shops. To help people find out which DVDs are available with audio description, RNIB keeps an up to date on its website In addition, has an audio described DVD retail shopfront on its website where you can purchase DVDs. Similarly has a audio described DVD rental shopfront.

Remote Control

DVD players are often crammed with features, and this is reflected in the number of buttons on many remote controls. The remote controls are not always on display in the shops, and the first time you realise you are the new owners of a remote control with 35 tiny buttons is when you unpack the box at home.
The majority of interaction with the DVD player is through the remote control, so do choose one that is well designed. Depending on the level of sight you have, issues you could consider are:

  • Are the buttons fairly large and well spaced?

  • Can the buttons easily be located by touch?

  • Is the number 5 distinguished with a bump?

  • Are the buttons different shapes, to aid location?

  • Are the buttons grouped sensibly by function?

  • Can the batteries be changed fairly easily?

For those with low vision:

  • Is there good contrast between the buttons and their background?

  • Is any writing on the remote control in clear print, with good contrast between the print and background?

There are a number of alternative remote controls on the market that are intended to replace the devices that come as standard. These are on sale in most electrical retailers with names such as “One for All”. They will control more than one device, so a single remote might operate the TV, video and DVD player. Because they are designed to operate with a range of devices, they can be a bit of a compromise. For example, it is common that some features unique to the DVD player can only be used with the supplied remote control. However, most common functions should be supported, so they do offer another option if you have a device with a remote that you find very difficult to use.

Our top tip if you want to enjoy audio description is to choose a player that has an audio button on the remote enabling you to the change audio track.

Access to DVD Player Menus

Here we are considering the menus for the DVD player itself, rather than those that are on the DVD disks.
Most DVD players now have on-screen menus that are used to select features such as screen format, audio output and parental controls. These are often called “on-screen displays”. The menus are rarely needed once the player is set up, and are really for accessing special features of the player. There is no standard way the menus are presented, so if some features are important to you, visit a store that has some DVDs players available for demonstration and try them out. Several will allow some control over the background colours so contrast can be maximised.

Playing CDs

DVD players will play audio CDs with the sound coming out of the TV, or they can be connected to a hi-fi in the same way as a separate CD player. Like a CD player, they can be fairly simple to use with little or no sight, once the main buttons on the player and the remote have been learnt.
Some DVDs also indicate that they play MP3s. This means that they will play a CD, created on a computer, that contains music or other audio stored in the popular MP3 format.

Menus on DVD Disks

Almost every DVD title comes with its own fancy menu to allow access to the extra features which might include:

  • a selection of audio tracks (such as languages other than English, a commentary by the film makers or audio description)

  • subtitles in many languages

  • a selection of the trailers shown on TV or in cinemas

  • documentary features on the making of a film or programme

  • alternative endings or scenes that were cut from the movie.

The flexibility of the DVD medium means that producers can be very creative when developing these menus, and the menus can become short films in themselves. The menus are sometimes presented as a series of simple text choices or they could be cartoon characters or animations. A sighted user will typically navigate the menu with left, right, up, down and enter keys on the remote. Pressing these direction keys moves a highlight between the images or word on the screen, and enter will select that option. Sometimes a basic graphic is used as a highlight - in “Chicken Run” it is a chicken's foot that you move around the screen!

There is certainly no standard format for presenting the options that are common to many DVDs. Consequently, the way that a viewer actually starts their film playing will vary from title to title. Sometimes there are several copyright notices that appear with no audio before the first menu, and so the viewer may be faced with 30 seconds of silence before anything happens. The discs are usually produced in a way that prohibits the viewer from skipping past these screens.
For feature films, you can usually get the film playing by repeatedly pressing “play” on your remote. This will select the first item from each menu, and that will usually result in playing the main feature with the standard audio track, usually English (though not the audio described track where this exists).
Other than perhaps some limited ability to zoom on some players, there is no way to change the on-screen display of these menus. Nor are there DVD players that make menus talk.
Many menus (though not all) will respond to the press of a number key on the remote. Pressing “3” for example will select the third option on the menu (even though the item may not be numbered, and in fact the options may be placed at various random locations around the screen). So by learning a series of numbers it may be that you can get to part of a DVD that is otherwise hard to find.
You can usually get a feature film playing, with the added benefit of audio description on some titles. However, DVDs of TV programmes, for example, can be more problematical. You may need to use the menu to move between the different episodes and some people have reported that they have purchased a DVD title and have only been able to watch the first episode, despite pressing every button on the remote.
Some DVDs now have talking menus and details of the titles available can be found on This means you are able to use the disc’s menu and access all of the contents without having to use the on-screen display.


First and foremost, our advice would be to try out a DVD player before you buy. This is usually easier to do at a small, independent electrical retailer than a large high street chain. Make sure you are happy with the on-screen display (if you have some sight) and that you can easily recognise the buttons on the remote control and use them. You may also want to try using the buttons on the player itself.

Updated - August 2009

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