Home Theatre Pc Software And Operating Systems (Part 7) - Playing Back Blu-rays

6/27/2012 11:28:20 AM

Playing Back Blu-rays

Blu-rays are wonderful things, offering many times the video and audio quality of DVDs or downloaded content. Watching them using a PC, however, has been one long fiasco since the format's release. The trouble is that the advanced DRM features that are designed to prevent people from stealing the high definition content are directly at odds with the need for applications to be easy to use. Thus, older versions of Blu-ray playback software won't work with newer disks, and software providers make it unnecessarily difficult to update the software - instead trying to force you to buy their latest variant. Most PC Blu-ray optical drives ship with Cyberlink's PowerDVD software. When it works, it's pretty good, offering good image quality and a decent user interface. Unfortunately the version 8 or 9 that ships free with your drive probably won't work with the latest generation of disks, at least not without endless battles with different updates designed for a host of different versions and OEM bundled software.

Description: Layer Blu-Ray media

Layer Blu-Ray media

If your OEM provided software doesn't work, you can either give up and buy a standalone Blu-ray player (not as economically daft as it sounds) or invest in one of the big three PC Blu-ray playback suites. Cyberlink's aforementioned Power DVD is the market leader, but with the update nightmares we have had to suffer in the past, we cannot in good conscience recommend it. It does however integrated nicely with Windows Media Center, providing an application within that enables Blu-ray playback.

Description: Arcsoft Total Media Theatre 5 (TMT5)

Arcsoft Total Media Theatre 5 (TMT5)

This feature is also offered by Arcsoft Total Media Theatre 5 (TMT5), however - a much better application for high definition support in our opinion. It offers a sleeker interface than the Cyberlink alternative and keeping the software up to date has (so far, at least) been trouble-free and well managed. If you purchased an LG Blu-ray drive for your PC the now defunct HD-DVD format is supported as well as Blu-ray. With high definition version of HD-DVD disks available on eBay for a pound or two each, having software that plays these back as well could be a canny investment. Acrsoft supports HD-DVD as standard, whereas PowerDVD does not.

Arcsoft's code also has a really handy remote server application built in that allows you to use your a smartphone as a Blu-ray remote. Seeing as the majority \     X, *      of Blu-rays do not support a keyboard and mouse (another ridiculous choice in our opinion and a step back from DVD), this could save you the expense of having to buy a media remote, or using the rather cumbersome on-screen remote alternative.

The final major player in the PC Blu-ray market is Corel's WinDVD. This has the benefit of being cheaper than either of its competitors, and with a high quality user interface. It also provides a 30-day free trial so you can try it, and if you don't like it, buy something else. The latest version supports 3D, DVD up-scaling as well as Windows Media Center integration, and serves as a good solid alternative to TMT5.

There is no free way of playing back Blu-ray content using your PC, so don't waste time trying. There is so much misinformation stating that it is possible, but without using an application like AnyDVD HD to strip out the DRM, they simply don't work. Predictably enough, AnyDVD has to be purchased and costs more than just buying a dedicated player.

Flick Between XBMC And WMC

As we have now established, its unlikely that either WMC or XBMC will accomplish everything you need from your HTPC alone, but together they are a formidable combination. Fortunately someone agrees, and there is now a plug-in for WMC that allows you to launch XBMC from within Microsoft's application. When you're done, exit XBMC and Windows Media Center will automatically start back up in full screen mode. You can download it free of charge from - it's an exceptionally handy tool!

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