DVD decoders are basically software programs that decode digital data stored on a DVD, thereby enabling playback of audio/video files stored on the DVD. The basic functionalities of a DVD decoder may be similar to that of a DVD player software, but you should not get confused between the two because in reality, both the utilities are completely different.
If you use Windows OS, then you might be tempted to think that the Windows Media Player (WMP) is a decoder, but if you perform a simple test, you would realize that it is just a player and not a decoder. To know whether or not a decoder is installed on your PC, just click on "start", select "run", type "dvdupgrd /detect" in the text box and click "OK". If only WMP is installed on your PC, then the result will display "no decoder detected", which will prove that your WMP is not a decoder. Now that you have understood the basic difference between a player and a decoder, let us discuss some of the other vital issues such as getting the right decoder for your PC or MAC.
Branded DVD decoders can no doubt be brought of the shelf, but the problem is that they are highly priced, something that might create a problem, especially if you are already running short of funds. However, you need not worry too much because you always have the option to go for free DVD decoders. These may have limited functionalities and updates for these may not be available, but since you will at least be able to view your favorite movies, it makes sense to search, download and use free DVD decoders.
Free DVD decoders are easily available on the Internet, but before you actually click on the 'download' button, you need to take certain precautions because not all decoders will perform as per your expectations. Moreover, since the threat of spyware, viruses and other malicious codes is always present, you just cannot afford to download any decoder that is listed on the Internet. The best way to go would be download from reputed websites, having a verifiable track record. You can also opt for trial versions of award-winning DVD decoders that might be available for free for a limited period.
Free DVD decoders may be able to perform the basic function of DVD playback, but if you want to enjoy all the associated utilities such as full-screen video playback controls, chapter listings, actor and director credits, and others, then it would be better if you opt for a branded DVD decoder. Now it's up to you to make the final decision, obviously because it's your money.