DVDs and Blu-ray discs aren’t useless yet. There’s something nice about owning what you pay for, and Blu-ray quality beats streaming by a long shot. But discs are more inconvenient than ever. If you want the best of both worlds, you’ll need to know how to play, rip, and write DVDs and Blu-ray discs on your computer.
The Tools of the Trade
Before we get too deep into disc drives and software, let’s look at the big picture. What tools are we using to play, rip, or write Blu-rays and DVDs? What should you look for in these tools, and why are they important?
Here’s a quick overview of what we’re about to talk about, along with links to our favorite disc drives and software. You may want to bookmark this page and reference this list later.
- A Disc Player: You’ll need a RW drive (rewritable drive) to play, burn, and rip discs. But even if you already own a Blu-ray or DVD drive, you might need to buy a new one to play, burn, or rip discs.
- Drive Type: A Blu-ray drive can play DVDs, but a DVD drive can’t play Blu-ray discs.
- Write Speed: A disc drive’s write speed determines how quickly it can burn files to a disc. These speeds are usually expressed in terms like 8X or 16X, where 16X is twice the speed of 8X. The fastest speed you’ll see in a DVD drive is 24X, and the fastest speed you’ll see in a Blu-ray drive is 16X.
- About 4K UHD: Some older Blu-ray drives refuse to work with 4K UHD discs. Even if you have a Blu-ray drive, you may need to upgrade to start playing and ripping discs of this ilk. The ASUS 16X is a great option, and it’s sold as an internal or external drive.
- Media Playback Software: Most media players are terrible at their job. Windows Media Player, for example, doesn’t work with Blu-ray discs. We suggest using VLC, as it works with everything and has a great support community.
- Burning Software: Mac users can burn DVDs or Blu-rays directly from the Finder. But Windows and Linux users will need to stick with ImgBurn. (You may need to convert your files to the MPEG format before burning them to a disc).
- Ripping Software: You need specialized software to rip movies from discs. We suggest using MakeMKV, as it’s free and works great with 4K UHD Blu-rays.
- Compressing and Converting: Some people like to rip their movies as giant lossless files. But huge files take up a lot of space, and MKV files don’t work with some devices (like Apple TV). You may need to compress and convert your ripped movies with Handbrake.
Now that we’ve seen the big picture of playing, burning, and ripping discs, let’s start talking details. Here
For Blu-Rays: ASUS 16X Blu-Ray Drive
The ASUS 16X is the best Blu-ray drive for anyone who wants to play, burn, or rip Blu-ray discs. It sports lighting fast 16X write speeds, it’s reasonably priced, and it’s available as an internal or external device. Plus, unlike other Blu-ray drives in this price range, the ASUS 16X actually works with 4K UHD discs.
If you’re interested in ripping Blu-ray discs, then you’ve probably heard about the difficult copyright protections that are placed on newer 4K UHD discs. But with the ASUS 16X, you don’t have to worry about all that stuff. See, the ASUS 16X supports MakeMKV’s LibreDrive architecture. This architecture allows you to rip 4K UHD discs as if they’re regular Blu-rays or DVDs, so you don’t have to scour the internet for “hashed keys.”
For DVDs: LG Ultra Slim DVD Drive
Any modern DVD or Blu-ray player can be used to play, burn, or rip DVDs. If you don’t own a disc drive already, then we suggest buying the LG Ultra Slim DVD Drive. It’s cheap, small, and it works at an 8X DVD write speed.
If you have space for an internal DVD drive, then considering buying the ASUS 24x drive instead of the LG Ultra Slim drive. It uses one SATA connector and can hit some killer 24X write speeds. (That’s three times the write speed of the LG Ultra Slim drive, but you’ll have a hard time finding any rewritable 24X DVDs. Most 24X discs are DVD-R.)
For Playing Discs: VLC Media Player
Applications like Windows Media Player are clunky, outdated, and awkward to use. They only work with a select range of file types, and they suck at playing Blu-ray discs.
If you’re trying to watch DVDs and Blu-rays on your computer, then we suggest using the VLC media player. It’s a free piece of software that’s minimal, easy to use, and compatible with just about every video file imaginable. It’s by far the best way to watch Blu-rays on your computer, and it can come in handy while you burn or rip discs too.
For Ripping Discs: MakeMKV
MakeMKV is the best freeware for ripping DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It’s fast, it produces lossless MKV files, it works with most disc drives, and it’s capable of ripping 4K UHD films from Blu-ray discs (so long as you have a compatible disc drive, like the ASUS 16X).
The process of ripping discs from MakeMKV is incredibly simple. We’ve written an in-depth guide on the subject, but we’ll give you a quick run-through now, seeing as you’re already here.
First, you fire up the MakeMKV software. It may ask you for a “beta key,” as MakeMKV is technically a try-before-you-buy software. You should be able to close out of the beta key prompt. If not, then insert the latest beta key to continue.
Now, plug in your disc drive and insert your DVD or Blu-ray. It should show up on the MakeMKV file directory. Select it, and MakeMKV will show you some of the folders in your disc. These folders contain the full version of your film, along with any bonus material or trailers that are on the disc.
Select the folder with the largest file size—that’s your movie. Then, choose an Output Folder and press the Make MKV button. Wait a few minutes, and voila, you have yourself a movie file.
For Changing File Type or Reducing File Size: Handbrake
MakeMKV turns your DVDs and Blu-rays into lossless MKV files, which aren’t always convenient to work with. These lossless files take up a lot of space (especially if they’re 4K UHD), and they aren’t always supported by media players or playback devices (like Roku).
If you want to reduce the size or change the format of your MKV files, then Handbrake is your best bet. It’s a solid piece of freeware that’s easy to start using, even if you don’t know anything about compression or file types. Handbrake even has a list of device presets, so you can convert your movie to a size and file type that suits your iPad, your Apple TV, your Roku, or whatever else you’re using to watch movies.
For Burning Discs: ImgBurn
Mac users can burn DVDs and Blu-ray discs directly from the Finder, but Windows and Linux users should use a tool called ImgBurn. It’s a free piece of software that makes burning discs incredibly easy, so long as you own a DVD RW or a Blu-ray RW drive. (And some blank Blu-ray or DVDs).
There’s just one thing about ImgBurn. DVD and Blu-ray players are built to work with a specific set of file types, the most common being MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. Before burning your video to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, you’ll probably need to use Handbrake to convert them to the MPEG standard.
The ImgBurn software practically walks you through the disc burning process, but we’ve written an in-depth guide on how to get past common problems, like incompatible file types.
Since you’re interested in playing DVDs and Blu-rays on your computer, why not set up a Plex media server? That way, you can watch your movies anytime on any device.