I got myself a cheap external USB Blu Ray I was driving recently with the aim of watching my Doctor Who The Collection Blu-rays – WhoRays if you will – in bed on my laptop1 (running Ubuntu, of course).
The thing is, you can’t just pop in an official Blu-ray disc and see what’s on it, not on Linux, not on macOS, and not even on Windows. You need additional, usually paid, software that provides the license needed to “decrypt” Blu-ray content and stream it to your eyes.
To be honest, Blu-ray is awkward, it’s obtuse and, in my opinion, it’s a textbook example of how Not to design a media format.
However, I managed to get everything working – smooth – and I didn’t have to pay anything.
I thought I’d pass on the knowledge so anyone else out there who wants to watch Blu-rays in Ubuntu (or any other Ubuntu-based Linux distro) can follow my steps to satisfy their content cravings.
Blu-ray playback in VLC
I should point out that there are different ways to play Blu-rays on Ubuntu (and other platforms). These do NOT require the software I use. You can Install VLC, download a meta key file from a (oddly local) website, paste the appropriate location anywhere on your system, wince, and it might work – although you can’t see any BluRay menus.
Except this method that is well documented If you google “how to watch BluRays in VLC” it wouldn’t work for me no matter how many times I tried and no matter what operating system I tried it on.
By the way, me how menus, and these Doctor Who BluRays are stuffed with bonus content, some of it short-lived, that I can’t bother blindly navigating through a playlist of meaningless timecodes.
So I was super excited to find it MakeMKV.
MakeMKV + VLC = Showtime
MakeMKV is proprietary, paid software — and at this point, some of you will nope-out. Personally, I reason that BluRay is a proprietary format to begin with and since I already use a lot of closed source software for entertainment purposes e.g. B. Steam, Netflix, Spotify etc. Why not!?
But while MakeKMKV is technically software, you’ll have to buy all of its features (including the stuff that lets you play BluRays MIT menus in VLC), which are “free” while the app is in beta.
And the app has been in beta for around 10 years 💁🏻♂️.
The process to get it working is very simple:
- Install MakeMKV
- Install VLC (from the Ubuntu repo, not the snap store)
- Get some dependencies
Installing MakeMKV on most Linux distributions is done by compiling. This isn’t as hard as it sounds; the MakeMKV forums cover the process Step by step. Alternatively you can use a third-party PPA which prepackages the latest MakeMKV beta for easy installation on Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros – that’s the route I used.
Well, I’m not here to mentor you. Using random repos from people you don’t know is just a Not Clever Thing™, but this PPA has been around for years, and to my knowledge nobody has ever had any “problems” with it. Remember: you CAN compile MakeMKV manually instead – I’m just being lazy and trusting!
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:heyarje/makemkv-beta
sudo apt install makemkv-bin makemkv-oss
Next, install VLC from the Ubuntu archives (or a .deb file or whatever, just don’t use the sandboxed version from the snapstore) plus a few dependencies. I don’t know if the extras are strictly necessary, but they sound relevant and don’t take up much space:
sudo apt install vlc libbluray2 libaacs0
Now open MakeMKV (make sure if you have a disc in your drive, when you start the app it will scan it before you can do anything else) and type the latest beta key in the “Register” field. This will ensure that you can keep using the software for months to come (although you will eventually need to enter a new key).
Finally, to enable direct Blu-ray playback in VLC, run:
sudo ln -s libmmbd.so.0 /usr/lib/
And you’re done – get some popcorn! Insert a Blu-ray, open VLC and go to “Open Disc…” > Blu-ray > Play.
Psst – if you’re using Windows and macOS, you’ll need to enable the “VLC Integration” option in MakeMKV settings section, but this is not required on Linux.
MakeMKV is far more than a bridge that allows you to open and play Blu-rays in VLC. It’s also a respected Blu-ray ripping tool that can copy entire discs and let you convert specific titles inside a slice to MKV formatcomplete with audio options, subtitle tracks and what’s not intact.
Personally, I’m glad I can easily “watch” Blu-rays in VLC. I don’t have the disk space or patience to rip my media to watch elsewhere.
1. I don’t own a TV. I watched BluRays in a BluRay player connected to a 13″ portable monitor, but that required separate speakers, a stand, etc. – too many cables and hassle.