How to play Blu-ray discs on your PC or laptop

A reader wrote in to PC Advisor requesting some advice on a free solution for watching Blu-ray movies on his Windows PC or laptop. Here's how we fixed his problem.

See also: Best Blu-ray players 2016

Q "I’ve installed a Blu-ray drive in my PC in the hope that I would be able to play Blu-ray discs and watch them on my monitor. However, I can’t find a way to play these without buying some software. Is there a way to play Blu-ray discs for free on a Windows 8.1 PC?"

If you want a trouble-free Blu-ray experience on your computer, then the short answer is no. Blu-ray playback requires licenced technologies, which must be paid for and aren’t included as part of the standard Windows 8.1 installation. Also see: Blu-ray buying advice

This is where products such as CyberLink’s PowerDVD or ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theatre come into their own, providing the necessary software to enable Blu-ray playback. In fact, it’s rare to obtain a PC with a Blu-ray drive that doesn’t come with the necessary software somewhere in the box. Even off-the-shelf Blu-ray drives usually ship with some software provided you buy a ‘retail’ product rather than an ‘OEM’ one.

So, first of all, double-check the box and make sure there isn’t some software lurking in there that you can install. If you’re willing to put up with some unreliability, then there are ways to get several, although not all, Blu-ray discs to play. You’ll need a player and also a utility to decrypt the Blu-ray in the background.

One such decrypter is the free Passkey Lite, which is available from dvdfab.cn. Once installed, select either the free version or a trial of the full version and click the ‘Start DVDFab Passkey’ button. For playback, you can use a media player such as VLC from videolan.org, or PotPlayer from potplayer.daum.net.

Users have reported varying levels of success with these players, but expect to encounter the occasional problem, such as discs that won’t play.
It’s important to note here that, despite forthcoming UK legislation to legalise the ‘ripping’ of purchased DVDs and Blu-rays for personal use, circumventing anti-copying methods designed to prevent piracy may still remain illegal. DVDFab is currently under an injunction preventing its sale in the USA, which has seen the entire dvdfab.com domain shut down – hence the use of the Chinese URL above to obtain the software.

For these reasons, we’d suggest it’s much simpler, not to mention more legally defensible, to bit the bullet and purchase some licenced Blu-ray software.

It’s worth noting that, for around the same price as a PC Blu-ray software suite, you can buy a proper hardware Blu-ray player that can just as easily plug into your PC monitor as it can into a TV, provided you have a spare HDMI port and some speakers for audio playback.

Still stuck? Get free tech advice in our Tech Help forum.