Since the late ’90s, Macs have welcomed DVD movies. Pop a disc in your drive, watch Apple’s DVD Player app open, and enjoy the show. Simple. But DVDs’ high-definition successors, Blu-rays, never got the same warm reception. Today, the right third-party hardware and software will let you play Blu-ray discs on your Mac. But, uh … maybe you shouldn’t?
Tell us how you really feel, Steve
Steve Jobs famously hated the licensing hurdles and hefty fees Blu-ray imposed. With his characteristic taciturn restraint, he publicly called the format a “bag of hurt” and likened the groups behind it to the Mafia. Apple never built Blu-ray drives into Macs, and eventually ditched optical drives altogether to focus on selling movies through iTunes.
But some Mac users still need to burn their own Blu-rays or read data off BD discs, so there are plenty of third-party Blu-ray drives available for the Mac. And once those drives became available, a few enterprising companies who did (presumably) pay up for the keys to decrypt Blu-ray discs released Mac apps to play regular Blu-ray movies with those drives.
Unfortunately, searching for
mac Blu-ray player online gets you a lot of highly suspect sites with creatively translated English, each pitching their own totally not-at-all-questionable video player that may or may not actually play Blu-ray discs. But there are a few options respectable enough to make it into the Mac App Store. We’ll discuss those in a moment, but first, let’s talk about another app that sounds like a good idea, but really isn’t.
Blu-rays on VLC
VLC is a justly beloved open-source video player — free, robust, and able to play tons of different formats. With the right tinkering, Blu-ray can be one of them. But playing Blu-rays on VLC is like free-climbing a skyscraper without safety equipment: Sure, it’s technically possible, but it’s also incredibly difficult, full of drawbacks, and almost certainly a bad idea.
For starters, the site I originally used to find the right files that would supposedly enable Blu-ray playback on VLC is, as of this writing, no longer capable of establishing secure connections. (Which is why I’m not linking to it here.)
When it was up and running, its sparse instructions didn’t seem to work, and I had to go digging for another site’s advice to get VLC playing even sort of nice with Blu-ray. Then I had to separately install Java to have any hope of getting Blu-ray interactive menus working.
Even after all that, VLC wouldn’t play most discs I tried with it, ominously warning me of revoked certificates and other things that sound like they involve well-paid lawyers. And when it did play discs, it refused to let me skip past the annoying preview video tracks before the movie; sometimes, trying to do so just dumped me back at the beginning of them.
VLC works great for lots of things. Blu-ray playback isn’t one of them. Just don’t do it. Especially when you’ve got another free and far more legitimate option waiting for you in the Mac App Store.
Leawo Blu-ray Player
The two currently available Mac Blu-ray apps come from Chinese companies. Shenzhen-based Leawo’s is by far the cheaper – as in, it’s free – and while it’s perfectly adequate, you definitely get what you pay for.
I tested Leawo’s player with a selection of discs from every major studio (plus Criterion, for you cinephiles out there), ranging from titles I bought back in 2009 to discs released in 2018. They all played just fine, with a crisp picture and clear sound. Leawo’s menus let me easily switch audio and subtitle tracks, and jump between different video files on the disc with a Playlist option. And unlike hardware Blu-ray players, it’s not region-locked, so you can watch discs from all over the world.
But bones don’t get much barer than Leawo’s offering. It doesn’t support Blu-ray menus at all; if you want to view special features, you’ll need to guess at their location from the Playlist menu. If you’re dying to watch, say, The Sound of Music’s pop-over interactive commentary with sing-along mode, Leawo’s app will not be one of your favorite things.
The app takes a solid minute (I timed it) just to load a disc, a process that requires multiple un-intuitive menu clicks, and whoever ported it into Mac didn’t bother to change the drab Windows-like interface.
If you just want to watch Blu-rays on your Mac, Leawo will definitely do that. It’s perfectly serviceable. It doesn’t seem to install spyware or bother you with ads. But there’s a better (and considerably more expensive) choice if you want a more robust experience.
Macgo Blu-ray Player Pro
Hong Kong-based Macgo’s Blu-ray Player Pro usually sells for a whopping $79.95, though you can watch for frequent sales that will knock the price down to a still-lofty $39.95. On the App Store, with a “family” license to run on multiple Macs, it’ll cost you $64.99. (There’s a marginally cheaper non-Pro version, but like Leawo’s app, it doesn’t fully support menus, so why bother?)
For that price, you’ll get an experience nearly identical to popping a disc into any regular Blu-ray player. Macgo’s app played my test discs flawlessly, with full support for menus and a virtual remote that even mirrored the what-are-they-even-there-for red, blue, green, and yellow buttons on the average Blu-ray remote. Its interface isn’t Mac-like, but it’s clean, intuitive, and unobtrusively minimal.
Discs loaded quickly — 15 seconds, tops – and played the same pre-roll ads and trailers they would in a hardware player, though thankfully, I could skip them just as easily as I would elsewhere. The app offers hardware acceleration for smoother playback, though aside from loading speed, I didn’t notice a difference in quality between it and Leawo’s app. Macgo’s app even supports BD-Live online features, though you’ll have to go into the Preferences to turn that feature on; it’s switched off by default. I couldn’t tell or test whether Macgo’s app was region-free, but I’d be surprised if it weren’t.
The only shortfall I found in Macgo’s app, besides its price, was its lack of support for 3D or 4K UHD Blu-rays. I’m sure that’s a dealbreaker for some folks, but most users probably won’t lament it.
Maybe just don’t
In hindsight, Steve Jobs may have been right to keep Blu-ray drives out of Macs. On a laptop screen, you may not be able to fully enjoy the HD splendor of a great Blu-ray picture. (And hauling around an external drive plus discs would make the experience a lot less portable.) Desktop Macs with big screens already have Netflix, iTunes, and lots of other less noisy and expensive ways to watch HD movies.
For the same $120 – $180 you’d shell out for Macgo’s app and a good external drive, you could buy a decent Blu-ray player to hook up to your big-screen TV. (Reputable names like Sony and LG offer region-free players you can score for $100 or less with a little comparison-shopping.)
If you don’t own a TV or a Blu-ray player, do own a Mac, already own an external Blu-ray drive for some other purpose – like ripping the Blu-ray discs you own for your personal digital collection – and really, really want to watch Blu-rays specifically off the discs, you’ll likely be pleased with Macgo’s app, and reasonably satisfied with Leawo’s.
But with so many other, less troublesome ways to watch movies on your Mac, maybe you’re better off leaving this particular bag of hurt alone.
This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.