Watch DVDs on an Acer Spin 713 Chromebook using crouton/chroot and vlc

A new member of the family

Go straight to the TL;DR.

I recently purchased a new Chromebook. It’s been over a decade since I’ve owned a true ‘personal laptop’. Most of the time I got by with the limited personal use allowed on a work laptop or my phone or a tablet or my partner’s laptop. Well, it was finally time to purchase one of my own. After doing some research and weighing the pros and cons of the different options, I decided on a Chromebook. The model that I chose was the Acer Spin 713 w/ an i5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. I decided to spend the extra money on a mid/high range Chromebook because one of my pet peeves is slow computers and I didn’t want to have to fight with a computer that was always having performance problems. I was also looking for a convertible laptop that did tablet and tent mode.

So far, I’m pleased with my decision and am getting used to Chrome OS. I was a little peeved that Microsoft discontinued support for their Office apps. That means no offline options for OneNote, my preferred notetaking app. About ten years ago, I migrated all my notes from Evernote to OneNote and I’m not ready for another migration. I’m also hoping that it gets full Netflix support; to date Netflix only works in the browser and the app is not compatible.

External DVD drive for Chromebook

Now onto the subject of this post. My brother recently recommended a movie to us, Only the Brave, and we were interested in watching it. It wasn’t available on any streaming service that is available to us, so we decided to see if the library had it. Our local Boulder City library didn’t have it, but it was available from one of the other libraries in the Las Vegas Clark County Library District. We requested it and we had it in hand in a couple of days. I went to pop it in our HTPC and that’s when I remembered we were having issues with the sound card on that machine. So, I decided that maybe it was time to buy an external DVD player that we could use with one of the other laptops in the house. We picked a highly rated one at a decent price from Best Buy due to my initial research telling me that most any USB DVD drive would work.

Initial problems

A couple of days passed, the new Chromebook arrived and we decided we’d try to watch the movie. Well, I didn’t realize that the external DVD drive wouldn’t work out of the box with Chrome OS and that led me on a new adventure. I could have just given in and watched it on the Windows laptop in the house, but I’m always up for a good challenge. I originally tried doing it with crostini, but it appears that you can share the DVD files with crostini, but you can’t really share the device with crostini (i.e. /dev/sr0 is not accessible in crostini). I was able to install libdvdcss and vlc in crostini and it would try to open the VOB files on the DVD, but I couldn’t get them to actually play. That’s when I decided to try crouton and chroot which eventually did work.

Installing VLC and getting it to work in a chroot

My initial research led me to believe that I would be able to access /dev/sr0 in a chroot. My first try was installing an Ubuntu chroot with the Unity desktop environment. There are great instructions for installing chroots at the crouton Github repository. Unfortunately, all the Ubuntu chroots that I tried had this weird and annoying bug where the screen wouldn’t refresh until you moved the mouse. I tried a bunch of different desktop environments, but they all had the same bug. So, I then decided to move to a Debian chroot. The sid release errored out, so I tried buster and that one installed fine. I initially installed lxde and it didn’t have the same bug that the Ubuntu chroots had, so I proceeded to install vlc, libdvd-pkg, and libdvdcss and everything worked. Yay!!!! Well, yay for at least a little while. I think Chrome OS updated, I deleted my existing chroot, tried installing a new one, and for some reason or another I couldn’t get it to work.

I then installed the buster debian chroot with lxde, but alsa or sound in general wouldn’t work. The DVD played fine, but no sound. I then updated the chroot using the ‘-u’ flag. Sound would then work, but there were no panels in the lxde environment. I then decided to try xfce and that did the trick. So, now I have a functional chroot that will play DVDs in VLC on /dev/sr0.

Actual steps to get it working

  1. Open terminal – Ctrl-Alt-T
  2. Enter shell by typing shell at the crosh prompt
  3. Follow steps 1-3 from the crouton example to install the crouton script
  4. Install debian buster chroot with xfce by typing
sudo –r buster -n debian -t xfce
  1. Open xfce session by typing
sudo startxfce4
  1. Once inside the chroot open a terminal and install libdvd-pkg, libdvdcss, and vlc
sudo apt install libdvd-pkg
sudo apt install vlc

Once libdvd-pkg is installed, you’ll need to run dpkg-reconfigure to get libdvdcss installed

sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg

Follow the on-screen instructions to install libdvdcss

  1. Once all that is installed, you’ll need to run one more command to allow the chroot access to /dev/sr0. This last step I found on this reddit thread.
sudo chmod 644 /dev/sr0
  1. Open VLC and enjoy watching your DVD

Have fun

Hopefully, you’ll be able to do this without going through all the steps/troubleshooting that I did. I know it’s probably not a common use case due to Chromebook’s primary use of streaming content. But if you do find yourself with an external DVD drive and a Chromebook, rest assured that you can use both to actually watch a DVD. Cheers!

Windows 7 won’t let you change folder name (thumbs.db and images in folder)

I’ve run into this problem several times and I’ve never found a complete solution until now. We use a lot of pictures at work and I should probably come up with a more modern way of managing them, but I’m stuck in my ways and I use a relatively archane way of organizing the photos. Each folder name is in yyyy-mm-dd-desc format. I use Picasa and through it’s search function combined with my folder-naming scheme, I can usually find what I’m looking for without too much trouble. So, in conclusion, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

But, something does ‘break’ every once in a while and it has occasionally prevented me from renaming the subfolders where I store my pictures. I’ll copy the folder from the camera’s SD card to the server and then go to change the folder name and Windows tells me that the folder is being used by another program and can’t be renamed. The old solution was to just sit and wait it out…normally a couple of minutes but very frustrating. Today, I think I finally won this battle.

First step was to confirm what I thought was going on. I found this page and tried the unlock tool, but it didn’t work; it didn’t find anything that was locking my folder and I was still unable to rename it. I then used procexp which I’ve used in the past and like a lot for certain things. Procexp allowed me to confirm that it was explorer.exe locking the thumbs.db file. This file is the thumbnail database that windows creates for any folder that contains images. So, now that I had confirmation that the thumbs.db was causing the problem, I could implement a permanent solution.

It took a two fold approach.

  1. Prevent windows from creating thumbs.db files. I found this page here that instructed me how to add a registry entry to prevent creation of thumbs.db files.

At this point, I thought I had won. I rebooted, went to my pictures directory, looked at some pictures in a subdirectory to see what an appropriate name would be, went to rename and, bam, same thing; windows wouldn’t let me rename the folder. I concluded that since the thumbs.db file was still there, it was still being updated every time I opened the folder and hence why I still couldn’t rename the folder.

  1. Delete all the thumbs.db files recursively in my Pictures directory.

With step 1, I had solved the problem of Windows creating new thumbs.db files, but now I had to deal with all the existing thumbs.db files that were still causing me problems. This went fine, I just had to find the correct switches for delete when used from the command line. Windows won’t let you delete thumbs.db from windows explorer nor would it be very practical to go into every pictures subdirectory and delete them all (it’s a hidden file and since windows locks thumbs.db when you’re in that directory, you can’t easily delete it, if at all, through the GUI). So, it was off to the command prompt which I ran as administrator since I was going to be deleting hidden files. Then in the root of my Pictures directory, I executed the following command del thumbs.db /S /A:H. What this command does is deletes the file thumbs.db recursively (that is in each subdirectory) and since it’s a hidden file, I’m pretty sure that you have to specify to delete files with the hidden attribute. A note of warning: using del recursively can be dangerous and delete files unintentionally; please use caution with this command.

So, in conclusion, if you’re having trouble with renaming folders that contains the windows hidden file, thumbs.db, the above solution should work. I had read lots of solutions to this problem, but none ever worked for me 100%. I’m pretty sure this is due to my relatively unique situation of dealing with folders that always contained images and the hidden thumbs.db file.