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.
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.
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
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 xbmcwmc.teknowebworks.com - it's an
exceptionally handy tool!