Blu-ray vs. DVD vs. CD: How to pick the right optical drive

Whether you're building your own PC, buying one or just looking for an external addition, it's important to make sure you get the right optical drive for your needs. There are three formats to take into consideration: Blu-ray, DVD and CD.

The choice may sound straightforward, but there's a little bit of thinking to do first.

Go Blu-ray if you can

The downside to going for a Blu-ray drive is cost. They're significantly more expensive than drives that don't support the format. There's a good reason for it (quality), but it'll always leave you spending a bit more.

That's the only negative. If you can get a Blu-ray drive, then you definitely should, whether it is built into your pre-built PC or you're putting your own internal or external drive into your setup.

Blu-ray drives will almost always be backward compatible with DVDs and CDs. That means one drive to play everything. Forward compatibility isn't a thing so if you get a drive that only plays DVDs and CDs, you're stuck with those. No Blu-ray for you.

If you don't ever watch Blu-ray movies, you might not need it. If the extra cost isn't a problem, it's never a bad thing to be prepared for the future.

More: Best external Blu-Ray drives for PC

Check your writing

If you ever write or "burn" data to CDs, DVDs or Blu-ray discs, you'll need to ensure you get a drive that can do this.

Don't just see the item listing in a store like Amazon mention writing and assume it does what you need. Some will read Blu-ray discs but will only write to DVDs and CDs.

You'll (almost) always need some software

Some drives may come bundled with an app to view content from your discs. Most of the time, they will not.

If you're simply reading data files from the discs, you'll only need File Explorer in Windows 10. You can get to the files as you would any other internal or external hard drive.

Listening to music from CDs is easy, and apps like Windows Media Player that are built in that will do this. DVDs and Blu-rays require a little more effort on your part.

Fortunately, we've got guides that cover you in both instances.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at