I recently purchased an inexpensive external USB Blu-ray drive with the aim of watching my Doctor Who Blu-ray “The Collection” – WhoRays, if you will – in bed, on my laptop1 (running Ubuntu, of course).
The thing is, you can’t just stick an official Blu-ray disc and see what’s on it, not Linux, not macOS, not even Windows. You need additional software, usually for a fee, that provides the necessary license to “decrypt” the Blu-ray content and deliver it to you.
Truth be told: Blu-ray is awkward, it’s dull, and in my opinion it’s a textbook example of how Not to design a multimedia format.
However, I managed to get everything to work – smoothly – and I didn’t have to pay anything.
I thought I’d pass on the knowledge so that anyone else out there who wants to watch Blu-rays on Ubuntu (or another Ubuntu-based Linux distribution) can follow my steps to satisfy their craving for content.
Blu-ray playback in VLC
I should point out that there are a couple of different ways to play Blue Rays on Ubuntu (and other platforms). These DO NOT require the software I use. You Power install VLC, download a meta-key file from a (oddly domiciled) website, enter the relevant location somewhere on your system, it gasps and it might work, although you won’t be able to see the BluRay menus.
Except that method, which is well documented if you google “how to watch BluRays in VLC”, basically wouldn’t work for me no matter how many times I’ve tried it and regardless of the operating system I’ve tried it on.
Also, me like it menu and these Doctor Who BluRays are stuffed with bonus content, some of it ephemeral that I can’t bother browsing blindly through a meaningless timecode playlist.
That’s why I was very happy to find MakeMKV.
MakeMKV + VLC = Showtime
MakeMKV is proprietary and paid software, and that’s where some of you won’t stop. Personally, I believe that BluRay is a proprietary format to begin with, and since I already use a lot of closed-source software for entertainment purposes, for example Steam, Netflix, Spotify, etc … Why not !?
But while MakeKMKV is technically software, you have to purchase all of its features (including the things that allow you to play BluRays WITH menus in VLC) it’s “free” while the app is in beta.
And the app has been in beta for about 10 years 💁🏻♂️.
The process to make it work is very simple:
- Install MakeMKV
- Install VLC (from Ubuntu repository, not Snap Store)
- Retrieve some dependencies
Installation of MakeMKV on most Linux distributions is done by compiling it. It’s not as difficult as it sounds; MakeMKV forums cover the process step by step. Alternatively, you can use a third-party PPA that prepackages the latest beta version of MakeMKV for easy installation on Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distributions – this is the path I used.
Now, I’m not here to be a nanny. Using random repos from people you don’t know is clearly a not smart thing to do, but this PPA has been around for years and no one, as far as I know, has ever had “problems” with it. Remember: you can compile MakeMKV manually instead – I’m just lazy and confident!
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:heyarje/makemkv-beta
sudo apt install makemkv-bin makemkv-oss
Then, install VLC from the Ubuntu archives (or a .deb, or whatever, just don’t use the sandbox version of the Snapstore) plus a couple of 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 (be careful if you have a disk in the drive when you start the app, it will scan it before you can do anything else) and enter the latest beta key in the “Register” box. This will ensure that you can continue using the software for the next few months (even if you will have to enter a new key sooner or later).
Finally, to enable Blu-ray Direct Play in VLC, run:
sudo ln -s libmmbd.so.0 /usr/lib/
And you’re ready: go get some popcorn! Insert a Blu-ray, open VLC and go to “Open Disc …”> Blu-ray> Play.
Psst: if you are on Windows and macOS you need to select a “VLC Integration” option in MakeMKV’s Preferences section, but this is not required on Linux.
To move on
MakeMKV is much more than a bridge that allows you to open and play Bluray in VLC. It is also a popular Blu-ray ripping tool that can rip entire discs and allows you to convert specific titles within a disc in MKV format, complete with audio options, subtitle tracks and anything else not intact.
Personally, I am happy that I can just “watch” the blue rays in VLC. I have neither the disk space nor the patience to copy my media files for viewing elsewhere.
1. I don’t own a television. I was watching BluRays in a BluRay player connected to a 13-inch portable monitor, but that required separate speakers, a stand, etc: too many cables and too much hassle.