Apple was an early signee to Blu-ray Disc Association membership at the start of the 21st century. Yet the Mac company never did pursue the playback of Blu-ray films on its computers – or at least, not quite as far as releasing any hard or software for users for the very task. Thankfully, Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player is now available for the task.

By 2008, Apple had publicly declared its position on the format. Whether it was because adding the means to play HD films would undermine its own push to rent movies through iTunes, or because it really was just too difficult is not known.

"Blu-ray is a bag of hurt," quoth the late Steve Jobs when asked still why no Blu-ray for Macs. "I don’t mean from the consumer point of view. It’s great to watch movies, but the licensing is so complex. We’re waiting until things settle down, and waiting until Blu-ray takes off before we burden our customers with the cost of licensing and the cost of drives."

And the drives have certainly been expensive since Sony spearheaded the format ten years ago. Even now a BD-writing optical drive is still around three times the cost of a full-featured dual-layer DVD±RW mechanism.

All of which has left a large hole in the otherwise comprehensive multimedia capabilities of a modern Macintosh computer.

But a ray of hope appeared the year before Jobs’ famous reveal, which explained some of Apple’s reticence in following nascent industry support of the slow-burning format. The underlying advanced access content system (AACS) encryption that was a closely guarded – and expensive to license – secret had already been cracked.

The technical means to play high-definition video from an optical disc is relatively easy to accomodate. You just need an optical ROM drive built to read the finer blue-wavelength tracks from the disc; and a fast enough processor to decode the MPEG-4 video and its soundtrack in real time. High-end CPUs are not even essential if you can offload the task to the more-capable graphics processor.

But before Hollywood would agree to reselling its films to the public, it needed assurance that it could maintain control of how they could be played or copied. DVDs had also been protected with a DRM scheme, also broken little over a year after launch.

The AACS encryption along with HDCP and BD+ virtual-machine copy protection – and all the patents and licenses to use them – are what turn the simple process of playing MPEG-4 from blue-laser disc into the oft-quoted mixed metaphor of hurt.

Macgo’s Mac Blu-ray Player solution

While open-source projects have been refining the playback of all manner of commercial video and audio codecs, Macgo’s app is the first to combine all the essential libraries with the decryption keys and tools to unlock Blu-ray’s gorgeous high-definition content.

MBP Tron Legacy

High-definition Blu-ray comes to the Mac

Unlike comprehensive Blu-ray film-playing software for Windows, notably CyberLink PowerDVD, Mac Blu-ray Player is a simple playback app, with few aids to make its use entirely straightforward. While it makes a good fist at playing every disc we tried, it’s a far from slick experience.

NEXT PAGE: How Mac Blu-ray Player performs >>

Installation and Features

Mac Blu-ray Player is a 32-bit Intel binary that is installed by dragging from the disc image to any location, such as the Applications folder. It requires no special admin privileges to install.

The application relies on the CPU to decode video and audio, so you will need a recent Mac to play films. For example, we found the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo in our MacBook to be just too slow; but the 2.5GHz Core i5 in a Mac mini (Mid-2011) was ably capable. From the latter, we saw CPU load average around 65% out of an available 400% from the Hyper-Threaded dual-core processor.

The core functionality of this media player has been extracted from VideoLAN Client (VLC), and anyone familiar with the top menu options in that open-source app will recognise many of the control and transport options available.

And as it's based on a that Swiss Army knife of video players, Mac Blu-ray Player will also play all manner of video files from your hard disk or network, not just those on optical disc.

MBP Prisoner

In windowed mode, the same options as VLC are found in the top menu

(By taking open-source code and refining it, Macgo’s is beholden to the developer community to republish its work but the company’s /opensource page is resolutely stating it ‘will be uploaded soon’.)

The interface has been polished compared to the French player, starting with a inviting bubbly blue backdrop before any disc is loaded.

Pop a Blu-ray film into your Blu-ray drive, and MBP automatically loads the disc ready to play. This is where the Blu-ray experience differs from that seen by commercial BD players hardware and Windows software. 

Instead of being greeted by the disc’s fancy menu screen, which normally enables you to navigate straight to the main feature, or select a chapter or bonus content, you’re instead presented with a simple text-based interface.

MBP Katyn

No fancy Blu-ray Disc menu screens – just one still image from the film and a few generic text options are offered in the Navigation Panel

For some BD film titles, a still image from the film is rendered here too.

The app automatically selects the first title, usually the main film feature; but searching thereafter on a chapter basis can be a tortuous task.

Also tricky is simply finding the remaining disc content you’re looking for. Often the main film is repeated several times in the Titles listing, with just the timing information shown for you to ponder over the disc’s content.

MBP The Valley

Mac Blu-ray Player does not give any indication of each title's content. And why is the only main feature on the disc shown here three times, one with a different running time?

In windowed mode, a silver tray below the video picture gives basic playback controls – and we do mean basic. There’s play/pause, stop, and a pair of buttons for track skip.

Missing are any fast-forward/rewind controls, although you can jump back and forth in increments – 30 secs is default, adjustable in the app’s preferences. Even this is tricky to operate: we often found that clicking once on the jump button would cause the player to repeatedly skip forward, until we’d stopped it by clicking on the Play button again.

There is no slo-mo or frame-advance control. Sometimes the track skip buttons would fail to work at all after a few presses. 

Audio angst

Selecting audio tracks is a game of suck-it-and-see. There may be several audio tracks included with any BD film, such as DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital and PCM. Assuming all in the primary language, these will only be labelled English, English, English, English and English. And then there may be commentary, or audio description tracks, to fathom out.

None of the metadata about video or audio tracks is available to see, unlike VLC which can sometimes display such useful information.

Volume control can be activated by the scroll function of a mouse. In the case of the Apple Magic Mouse, we found this could be set off all too easily by a casual brush of the hand. And curiously, to make matters more confusing, the volume works upside down, so that stroking down the mouse puts the volume up.

App stability could be improved. It would quit unexpectedly on occasion. Or lock up when asked to play a track it rather wouldn’t, such as a short trailer offered as a nameless number in the Title listing.

MBP Gnomeo

Based on VLC, like that open-source video player Mac Blu-ray Player can play all manner of MPEG, AVI and MKV files, including subtitles in Matroshka archives

Deinterlacing is also available, handy for recordings of off-air broadcast TV. 

When it is playing an HD movie, there’s no escaping the great quality of the picture. In our tests, lipsync was always correct and there were no visual artefacts from the video stream. The formidable image quality can almost make you forget the app's many idiosyncrasies, and we only hope that usability will improve with time.

Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player: Specs

  • Intel Mac
  • BD-ROM drive
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better
  • OS X 10.5
  • internet connection to update DRM keys
  • Intel Mac
  • BD-ROM drive
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better
  • OS X 10.5
  • internet connection to update DRM keys


If your aim is to play Blu-ray Discs on your Mac, Macgo’s Mac Blu-ray Player will certainly do the job. It’s the first commercial solution for playing full high-definition BD video on the Macintosh, for which it should be applauded. But without buying into a licence from the AACS-LA, Macgo is working with reverse-engineered tools devised by the open-source community, and thus far cannot give the full BD film experience. You can get a similar setup to this app, at no cost, by ripping the BD first and playing with VLC. But if you would prefer to play BD live from disc on your Mac, this elementary app is not just the best; it’s the only solution available today.

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