The topic pretty much says it all. Should a fairly recent DVD player be able to play any video file other than that which has been specifically rendered as a DVD or VCD? mpeg, avi, anything?
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No. They don't even have to play VCD (although most do). Most Divx certified players will also play MPG files on data discs. Look for MPEG-4 or Divx support if you are interested on those features.
Oddly enough, it seems that the cheaper DVD players will play off-spec discs more often than will the pro decks. My old cheapie Coby (RIP) could play raw mpeg files from an ISO data disc. If the aspect ratios weren't among those supported by the DVD spec, it would just happily make a guess and give it a shot (sometimes with hilarious results). But the manual (if you can call it that) didn't make any mention of this ability. I found out by accidentally putting in a disc that contained backups of raw mpeg files. The player showed a file menu that looked a lot like a windows directory listing from days of yore.
As jagabo said, unless the player specifically says otherwise, you should assume that a DVD player will play DVDs, period. Modernity does not imply accommodation of many more formats in this case, unfortunately. So the search for the universal player continues...
Every player will be different, that's why there's a list of players over there <<<<<<<<<<---------"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." - Frank Zappa