Despite the popularity of online streaming services, Blu-ray discs still have some things to offer. If you already own a movie or TV series on Blu-ray, there’s no reason to pay or use the internet bandwidth to play it. Plus, streaming services simply don’t provide access to every bit of media that was once available on optical discs, especially old and obscure content. If you want to play your Blu-ray collection or use Blu-ray discs to back up large amounts of data, it’s worth considering a Blu-ray drive for your PC.
The best Blu-ray player for most PC users is the OWC Mercury Pro, due to its high speed, impressive reliability and compatibility with 4K content.
The movie industry uses various forms of encryption and digital rights management to keep unscrupulous users from backing up (also known as ripping) Blu-ray releases and selling them for profit. Because of these copy protection methods, it’s anything but straightforward to use a PC Blu-ray drive to watch a 4K Blu-ray.
Firmware is the code written to tiny flash memory drives located inside most consumer electronics. That code tells the device how to function from its most basic level (e.g., how to power on) all the way to how to communicate with a host PC (for example, how to send a decoded video signal to the graphics output). Normally, newer firmware means a device will work better.
In the case of viewing 4K Blu-rays, things are a little different. Decryption methods that once worked swimmingly were ultimately found out, and manufacturers released firmware updates to further prevent users from making illicit copies of Blu-ray discs. This has affected some legally purchased discs.
Nonetheless, with countless classics archived on copy-protected Blu-rays, clever enthusiasts have developed a wide range of firmware flashes and open-source media players that, when combined, do a great job of getting 4K data from a DRM-laden Blu-ray onto your hard drive or PC monitor.
To figure out how to get your particular Blu-ray drive up and running with 4K content, you’ll have to do a search for the specific model number, as every drive has a different firmware patch. Luckily, a large number of today’s PC Blu-ray players have 4K-ready firmware updates available.
A single-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 25 gigabytes, while other varieties can accommodate two or four times that much data. Plus, since their recording surface is made from different materials than those of CDs and CD-Rs, Blu-ray discs can theoretically last many more years before their data starts to degrade. Furthermore, there’s a storage-specific standard called M-Disc that claims a lifespan of roughly 1,000 years, although there’s obviously no way to prove that.
All this is to say that if you need to store a lot of data, several volumes of Blu-ray discs may be able to help. Blu-ray discs and particularly M-Disc storage are especially useful when you need to store multiple copies of sensitive data to ensure redundancy.
External Blu-ray drives with USB connectors are the most common, and if you’ll be using the drive with a laptop, a USB model is a must-have. The alternative is an internal Blu-ray drive, which requires a 5.25-inch bay and free SATA connector just like hard drives and early solid-state drives use.
If you want to archive large amounts of personal or professional data, you need a Blu-ray writer. Very few home theater Blu-ray players offer any kind of writing or copying function. However, the vast majority of PC Blu-ray drives do.
The cheapest worthwhile Blu-ray drives for PC cost about $50 and are meant for installation in a desktop PC case. At the top end of the spectrum, the most dependable external models will run you just over $100.
A. If you scour your favorite online retailer and find an inexpensive Blu-ray player from an unknown brand, take caution. Some online stores offer Blu-ray drives in the $50 range, but those are very rarely the real deal. Your best bet is to look for a name-brand manufacturer such as LG, which ensures reliability as well as the ability to set up the drive to work with 4K Blu-rays.
A. Even though you may own the disc, it’s still illegal to make copies or break the encryption of a commercial Blu-ray disc. You’re welcome to rip and burn at will any content you created yourself, but all copyrighted works are off limits in terms of copying and ripping.
What you need to know: It’s durable, dependable and fast.
What you’ll love: Inside the premium aluminum body is a high-end LG optical drive that, if you patch the firmware, is fully capable of reading UHD Blu-rays. It’s one of the fastest options in real-world testing and about as easy as they get in terms of setup and configuration.
What you should consider: It’s neither cheap nor compact.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: It’s slim enough for easy transport and storage, and one of the most capable models on the market.
What you’ll love: It’s one of the most recent Blu-ray drives from LG, the only current big-name manufacturer of high-end optical drives. It offers the most consistent results and highest speeds of anything that’s so small and lightweight.
What you should consider: It’s not the most durable peripheral on the market. In fact, it feels a little flimsy.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: It’s a highly reliable internal optical drive for those with space in their desktop PC case.
What you’ll love: It can provide better performance than USB Blu-ray drives because it’s connected directly to the computer’s internal bus. Like the other top recommendations, it’s not too difficult to configure it with the proper firmware to ensure compatibility with Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
What you should consider: If you don’t have an extra bay in your PC case or aren’t willing or able to open up the case and install it, consider an external drive instead.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.