I picked up a cheap external USB Blu-ray drive recently with the aim of watching my Doctor Who ‘The Collection’ Blu-rays — WhoRays, if you will— in bed, on my laptop1 (which runs Ubuntu, obviously).
Thing is you can’t just stick in an official Blu-ray disc and watch what’s on it, not in Linux, not on macOS, and not even on Windows. You need additional software, usually paid, that provides the license required to ‘decrypt’ Blu-ray content and throughput it to yo’ eyes.
Truth be told: Blu-ray is awkward, it’s obtuse and, to my mind, it’s a text-book example of how not to design a media format.
However, I did manage to get everything working — smoothly — and I didn’t have to pay for anything.
I figured I’d pass on the knowledge so that anyone else out there who wants to watch Blu-rays in Ubuntu (or on another Ubuntu-based Linux distro) can follow my steps to satisfy their content-craving.
Blu-ray Playback in VLC
I should point out that there are couple of 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 (weirdly domiciled) website, put in the relevant location somewhere on your system, wince, and it may work – though you won’t be able to see BluRay menus.
Except, that method, which is well documented if you Google “how to watch BluRays in VLC”, flat out wouldn’t work for me, no matter how many times I tried it, and regardless of the OS I tried it on.
Besides, I like menus, and these Doctor Who BluRays are stuffed with bonus content, some of it ephemera that I can’t be bothered to blindly navigate through a playlist of meaningless time-codes.
Which is why I was super pleased to find MakeMKV.
MakeMKV + VLC = Showtime
MakeMKV is proprietary, paid-for software — and it’s at this point some of you will nope-out. Personally, I reason that BluRay is a proprietary format to start with, and since I already use lots of closed-source software for entertainment purposes, e.g., Steam, Netflix, Spotify, etc… Why not!?
But while MakeKMKV is technically software you have to buy all of its features (including the stuff that lets you play BluRays WITH menus in VLC) is “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)
- Fetch a few dependencies
Installing MakeMKV on most Linux distributions is done by compiling it. This is not as hard as it sounds; the MakeMKV forums cover the process step-by-step. Alternatively, you can use a third-party PPA that pre-packages the latest MakeMKV beta release for easy install on Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros — this is the route I used.
Now, I’m not here to nanny you. Using random repos from people you don’t know is plainly a Not Clever Thing™ to do, but this PPA has been around for years, and no-one, to my knowledge, has ever had any “issues” with it. Remember: you CAN compile MakeMKV manually instead – I’m just 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, or whatever, just don’t use the sandboxed version from the Snapstore) plus a couple of dependencies. I don’t know if the extras are strictly necessary, but they sound relevant, and they don’t take up much room:
sudo apt install vlc libbluray2 libaacs0
Now open MakeMKV (be aware if you have a disc in your drive when you launch 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 you can continue using the software for the next few months (though you will need to enter a new key at some point).
Finally, to enable direct Blu-ray playback in VLC, run:
sudo ln -s libmmbd.so.0 /usr/lib/
And you’re all set — go grab some popcorn! Insert a Blu-ray, open VLC, and go to “Open Disc…” > Blu-ray > Play.
Psst — if you’re on Windows and macOS you need to check a “VLC integration” option in MakeMKV’s Preferences section, but this isn’t required on Linux.
MakeMKV is far more than a bridge that lets you open and play Blu rays in VLC. It’s also a well-regarded Blu-ray ripping tool that can copy entire disks, and lets you convert specific titles within a disc to the MKV format, complete with audio options, subtitle tracks, and what not intact.
Personally, I’m happy I can just “watch” Blu rays in VLC. I have neither the disk space or the patience to rip my media for viewing elsewhere.
1. I don’t own a tv. I was watching BluRays in a BluRay player connected to a portable 13-inch monitor, but that required separate speakers, a stand, etc – too many wires and too much hassle.