Since the late ’90s, Macs have welcomed DVD movies. Pop a disc in your drive, watch Apple’s DVD Player app open, and enjoy the show. Simple. But DVDs’ high-definition successors, Blu-rays, never got the same warm reception. Today, the right third-party hardware and software will let you play Blu-ray discs on your Mac. But, uh … maybe you shouldn’t?
Tell us how you really feel, Steve
Steve Jobs famously hated the licensing hurdles and hefty fees Blu-ray imposed. With his characteristic taciturn restraint, he publicly called the format a “bag of hurt” and likened the groups behind it to the Mafia. Apple never built Blu-ray drives into Macs, and eventually ditched optical drives altogether to focus on selling movies through iTunes.
But some Mac users still need to burn their own Blu-rays or read data off BD discs, so there are plenty of third-party Blu-ray drives available for the Mac. And once those drives became available, a few enterprising companies who did (presumably) pay up for the keys to decrypt Blu-ray discs released Mac apps to play regular Blu-ray movies with those drives.
Unfortunately, searching for mac Blu-ray player online gets you a lot of highly suspect sites with creatively translated English, each pitching their own totally not-at-all-questionable video player that may or may not actually play Blu-ray discs. But there are a few options respectable enough to make it into the Mac App Store – and an even better one that’s (mostly) free.
Not great: Leawo Blu-ray Player
The App Store’s two Mac Blu-ray apps come from Chinese companies. Shenzhen-based Leawo’s is by far the cheaper – as in, it’s free – and while it’s perfectly adequate, you definitely get what you pay for.
I tested Leawo’s player with a selection of discs from every major studio (plus Criterion, for you cinephiles out there), ranging from titles I bought back in 2009 to discs released in 2018. They all played just fine, with a crisp picture and clear sound. Leawo’s menus let me easily switch audio and subtitle tracks, and jump between different video files on the disc with a Playlist option. And unlike hardware Blu-ray players, it’s not region-locked, so you can watch discs from all over the world.
But bones don’t get much barer than Leawo’s offering. It doesn’t support Blu-ray menus at all; if you want to view special features, you’ll need to guess at their location from the Playlist menu. If you’re dying to watch, say, The Sound of Music’s pop-over interactive commentary with sing-along mode, Leawo’s app will not be one of your favorite things.
The app takes a solid minute (I timed it) just to load a disc, a process that requires multiple un-intuitive menu clicks, and whoever ported it into Mac didn’t bother to change the drab Windows-like interface.
If you just want to watch Blu-rays on your Mac, Leawo will definitely do that. It’s perfectly serviceable. It doesn’t seem to install spyware or bother you with ads. But there’s a better (and considerably more expensive) choice if you want a more robust experience.
- Get Leawo Blu-ray Player from the Mac App Store – Free
Better, but expensive: Macgo Blu-ray Player Pro
Hong Kong-based Macgo’s Blu-ray Player Pro usually sells for a whopping $79.95, though you can watch for frequent sales that will knock the price down to a still-lofty $39.95. On the App Store, with a “family” license to run on multiple Macs, it’ll cost you $64.99. (There’s a marginally cheaper non-Pro version, but like Leawo’s app, it doesn’t fully support menus, so why bother?)
For that price, you’ll get an experience nearly identical to popping a disc into any regular Blu-ray player. Macgo’s app played my test discs flawlessly, with full support for menus and a virtual remote that even mirrored the what-are-they-even-there-for red, blue, green, and yellow buttons on the average Blu-ray remote. Its interface isn’t Mac-like, but it’s clean, intuitive, and unobtrusively minimal.
Discs loaded far faster than Leawo’s player — 15 seconds, tops – and played the same pre-roll ads and trailers they would in a hardware player, though thankfully, I could skip them just as easily as I would elsewhere. The app offers hardware acceleration for smoother playback, though aside from loading speed, I didn’t notice a difference in quality between it and Leawo’s app. Macgo’s app even supports BD-Live online features, though you’ll have to go into the Preferences to turn that feature on; it’s switched off by default. I couldn’t tell or test whether Macgo’s app was region-free, but I’d be surprised if it weren’t.
The only shortfall I found in Macgo’s app, besides its price, was its lack of support for 3D or 4K UHD Blu-rays. I’m sure that’s a dealbreaker for some folks, but most users probably won’t lament it.
- Get Macgo Blu-ray Player Pro from the Mac App Store – $64.99
Free, fast, and functional: VLC + MakeMKV
Combining two easily available programs – the totally free, open-source video player VLC, and the free-while-in-beta Blu-ray ripper app MakeMKV – can let you play Blu-rays as well as Macgo’s app, if not better. You’ll have to jump through a few hoops here and there, but the minor hassle seems worth the ultimate result. To play Blu-rays with this method, follow these steps:
- Download VLC and install it.
- Download the latest beta of MakeMKV and install it. (Make sure you validate the downloaded file’s checksum before you open it, just to be safe.) MakeMKV’s author makes each beta version of the app available for a few months before it expires; after that, you simply need to download the latest version again. Should you need a beta key to run the app, you can always find the most recent one on MakeMKV’s forums.
- Open MakeMKV and go to Preferences > Integration. In the list of eligible apps under the Integration tab in MakeMKVs Preferences, check the box next to VLC, and then click OK. MakeMKV can share the tools it uses to decrypt Blu-ray discs with other apps, most notably VLC. Unless or until you download a fresh copy or updated version of VLC in the future, you should only need to do this once to play Blu-rays to your heart’s content.
- Close MakeMKV and open VLC. Make sure your Blu-ray of choice is loaded in your disc drive. In VLC, select File > Open Disc. The window that appears should show the Blu-ray you’ve loaded. Click “Open.” In my tests, discs loaded in just a few seconds, and VLC offered full menu, audio, and subtitle support. The audio occasionally stuttered on the menu screens as the disc loaded new information, but the movies themselves played back smoothly.
Aside from potentially needing to re-download MakeMKV every few months, or re-authorize VLC every time it downloads a new version, this approach seems like the best and least aggravating solution to play Blu-rays on your Mac.
Maybe just don’t
In hindsight, Steve Jobs may have been right to keep Blu-ray drives out of Macs. On a laptop screen, you may not be able to fully enjoy the HD splendor of a great Blu-ray picture. (And hauling around an external drive plus discs would make the experience a lot less portable.) Desktop Macs with big screens already have Netflix, iTunes, and lots of other less noisy and expensive ways to watch HD movies.
For the same $120 – $180 you’d shell out for Macgo’s app and a good external drive, you could buy a decent Blu-ray player to hook up to your big-screen TV. (Reputable names like Sony and LG offer region-free players you can score for $100 or less with a little comparison-shopping.)
If you don’t own a TV or a Blu-ray player, do own a Mac, already own an external Blu-ray drive for some other purpose – like ripping the Blu-ray discs you own for your personal digital collection – and really, really want to watch Blu-rays specifically off the discs, the VLC/MakeMKV solution seems like the best combination of features, speed, and especially price.
But with so many other, less troublesome ways to watch movies on your Mac, maybe you’re better off leaving this particular bag of hurt alone.