Ask LH: How Can I Play Blu-ray Discs On My Computer?

Dear Lifehacker, My laptop came with a Blu-ray drive, but I can’t seem to play Blu-rays with it, and everyone says I need to buy extra expensive software to use it. Even VLC can’t play them. (I thought it played everything!) Is paying $US50 my only option? Sincerely, Miffed Movie LoverDear Miffed,

Everyone you’ve talked to is half right. Sony’s licensing on Blu-ray is obnoxious, and it means it’s pretty difficult to play Blu-rays on your computer — in fact, Windows is the only operating system that can play them back natively. However, there are a few workarounds. Here are the best ways we’ve found for easily playing Blu-ray on a PC. Note that Windows users can use all three methods, while Mac or Linux users will need to go with the more complicated methods two or three.

The Default Method: Blu-ray Software

The only officially supported way to play Blu-rays on Windows is to, as you say, use a commercial program like CyberLink PowerDVD. Usually this retails for around $US50. However, if your computer came with a Blu-ray drive, you should already have some sort of Blu-ray-capable software on your computer. Very few manufacturers will ship a computer with a Blu-ray drive without including compatible software. Check to see if a software Blu-ray player came pre-installed on your system that you just didn’t know about. If you’ve reinstalled a clean copy of Windows, you’ll either have to reinstall it from your computer’s recovery DVDs, or use one of the methods below.

If your computer didn’t come with a Blu-ray drive and you added it yourself, the drive should have come with a CD that includes something like PowerDVD on it. I always, always recommend keeping the CDs that come with your computers and hardware just in case they contain important things you need later. If you threw it away by accident, you’ll either have to buy the software anew or use one of the more complicated methods below.

The Easy Method: Watch Your Movie in 30 Minutes using VLC

The easiest way to watch Blu-rays without commercial software is to use a program called MakeMKV to rip the movie, and then watch it using VLC. To do this:

  1. Install MakeMKV as described in our original Blu-ray how-to.
  2. Insert your Blu-ray disc. Make sure you have enough space on your drive (depending on the disc, this could be up to 50GB).
  3. Fire up MakeMKV and head to File > Open Disc and choose your Blu-ray drive. MakeMKV will open the disc, and then present you with the titles on the disc. Hit the MakeMKV button and your movie should start ripping.
  4. When it’s done, just double click on the resulting file and it will play in VLC.

This is definitely the easiest way to watch your Blu-ray movies, but you’ll have to wait for the movie to rip. It shouldn’t take long, so as long as you plan ahead at least a half hour, this is definitely the method to go with.

The Complicated Method: Watch Your Movie Now with XBMC

Alternatively, the XBMC media centre software has a Blu-ray plugin that works similarly to the above. You’ll still need MakeMKV, but it’s pretty easy to set up:

  1. Install MakeMKV as described in our original Blu-ray how-to.
  2. Install the Blu-ray plugin as described here. I chose to feature the XBMC method since it only requires manual work the first time you do it, after which it becomes easy, while the VLC method requires you to manually set up the stream every time.

    As you can see, the licensing issues surrounding Blu-ray make it a bit more difficult to play them on your computer than DVDs. Hopefully, though, one of these methods works for your needs, and will help you watch those high definition movies on your computer or home theatre PC.


    P.S. Got any of your own favoured methods for playing Blu-ray discs? Share them with us in the comments.


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