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 in our feature on plugins in XBMC 10.
  3. Insert your Blu-ray disc. Make sure you have enough space on your drive (depending on the disc, this could be up to 50 GB).
  4. Open up XBMC and go to Videos > Video Add-Ons > BluRay Player with MakeMKV. From there you should be able to play the main movie on the disc. It might take a few moments to buffer, but I've found that it works pretty well.

That's it! Whenever you want to watch a Blu-ray movie, you should be able to just open up XBMC and fire up the Blu-ray plugin to watch your movie. It should stream pretty nicely, but note that streaming is an experimental feature of MakeMKV, so you might have a buffering issue once in a while. In my experience I've found it to work quite well, though.

Note that if you'd prefer not to use XBMC, you can also stream Blu-rays from MakeMKV to VLC 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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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


Comments

    On my Windows box I have PowerDvD version 7 and the current version is 10 or 11.. To upgrade will cost around $90 and now it pops up with a nag screen.
    I did pay for AnyDvD HD which means you can rip the isos.
    They are larger than DvD isos though but you can play rented movies at your convenience. Just don't upload it.

    Hmmm,... I actually don't even have a DVD player set up for my TV anymore! I dumped it ages ago in favour of my media player. I actually stopped renting Blue-Ray also, firstly because they take a bit longer than the thirty minutes Whitson has discussed above, and I'm running a PC with core i7 3.06 with eight gig of 1600 DDR!! Secondly even on my 42" Led TV there isn't enough of an improvement in viewing quality to make it worth while, so I doubt you'll see the benefit on your lappy!! However when I do rip Blue-Ray/DVD I use DVDfab and rip it as an iso to my HDD for viewing at my leisure on my Asus O'Play which is capable of running Blue-Ray at full res. I'm not sure if there are any decent free rippers out there but you just need to Google it and go from there. I use DvdFab because it is fast powerful and removes most if not all DRM's... plus it's not too exy :)

    For the default method, I highly suggest Arcsoft Total Media Centre. This program is streamline, slick and the full package (platinum) is quite cheap compared to PowerDVD's 'deluxe' package.

      i agree with you, I gave up with PowerDVD because it was constantly nagging for updates and wouldn't play discs, whereas Arcsoft Total Media Centre would just play them

        Power DVD Ultra is $99 (Ultra only plays Blu-Rays) and Arcsoft total Media theater is also $99.99. Neither one is cheap.

    I use PowerDVD all the time for Blu Ray, their MoovieLive feature is kinda neat where you can interact with others that have watched the same movie on their PC's. I agree MakeMKV is the way to go though, rip it and watch it later.

    NB that VLC can play blu-ray discs that aren't encrypted, or so I'm made to understand.

    I tried using this MakeMKV; it says above: "4.When it’s done, just double click on the resulting file and it will play in VLC." What file? It created a load of junk and numerous folders all over the place and there isn't a single file per se. But either way, none of this junk that was created would play in VLC. What is going on here? It sounded so easy and straight forward: rip the CD, watch the resulting file!

    You may play some of the Blu-ray with VLC directly, refers to: http://blog.bluray-player-software.com/play-blu-ray-freely-with-vlc-media-player/

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