Salvaging a Blu-Ray on My Mac

One of my daughter’s favorite movies is “The Sound of Music.” We bought it for her as a Blu-Ray disc, but it stopped working in our player recently, owing I think to one of the periodic firmware updates that the manufacturer sends down the pike to us. It used to work wonderfully, but now gets caught on a loading screen and goes into an unending loop. Another strike against the addled monstrosity that is the Blu-Ray format. (I wrote about my major Blu-Ray complaints last year, so I won’t repeat them here.)

A software glitch is little consolation to a toddler who has her heart set on singing along with Julie Andrews though, so I resolved to somehow get a digital copy of the movie off the disc and free ourselves of the trappings of the Blu-Ray version we owned. Apple of course has decided to stay as far away from Blu-Ray as possible, so this took some work.

Data Liberation

I procured an external USB Blu-Ray drive — the OWC Value Slim 6X Blu-ray USB 2.0 SATA Slim Optical to be precise — and hooked it up to my iMac. If you pop a Blu-Ray disc into a drive like this, the Mac does recognize the disc as a legitimate volume, but of course it won’t help you play it or make sense of the data on it without some third-party software.

After a bit of searching around, I came across MakeMKV, a bare bones program that can turn the contents of the disc into an MKV video file. The program is free to try for thirty days but US$50 to use thereafter. Theoretically, MakeMKV lets you perform this conversion in just a single step, but that never worked for me with any of the discs I tried (I suspect the problem was with the Blu-Ray drive itself, actually). Instead, I used MakeMKV’s backup feature, which extracted the movie files to my internal drive. MakeMKV was then able to use those backup files to actually create an MKV file that was playable in a compatible video player program like VLC.

If you’re accustomed to ripping a DVD in an hour or less with Handbrake, this two-step process might seem mildly more complicated but not too big a deal. However, each backup or conversion session took six or seven hours, so experimenting to get the right result was laborious.

In fact, I turned to Handbrake itself to then translate the MKV into an Apple TV-friendly format. In theory this should be straightforward, but even Handbrake took several hours with each attempt (eventually I learned to convert only a chapter or two at a time, which greatly reduced the experimentation time). Moreover, the latest official version of Handbrake was having a hard time with this particular MKV for some reason. The video would convert fine, but the audio was coming across horribly distorted. I was incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t produce a usable file, but after some hunting around on the Handbrake forums I learned that that audio problem is a known bug that, thankfully, is resolved in beta versions of the next major release — available to download as nightly builds. Once I downloaded and installed a nightly build, I was able to successfully perform the conversion.

It wasn’t the worst ordeal in the world, I admit. Neither was it pleasant though, especially when you consider I had to do all of this merely to access content that I already owned, but which the technology was not permitting me to access. Anyway, now I have a method of using my Mac to liberate the content on my Blu-Ray discs from the clutches of that format. I promise to use these powers only for good.



  1. Maybe it’s overkill, but I decided long ago that all of my movies would be ripped/digital, and placed on a HTPC in my living room.

    My wife (and when my children are old enough) can browse the movies with an IR remote hooked up to the HTPC and instantly play any movie they want, no discs or loading time.

    This includes all of our DVDs and Blu-Rays. I’ve never looked back!

  2. I’ve thought about doing the same. I don’t have a huge collection, but I do have at least a hundred discs; that would take a lot of time to rip and a lot of space to store. I can see doing this one day, but it seems out of scale for the moment.

  3. It definitely does take a little time, but modern PCs can convert a DVD using Handbrake pretty darn quickly. Blu-rays take a little longer. I just used my laptop and swapped out the discs whenever they finished, and made an assembly line of sorts.

    I definitely understand the space needed, though. Each DVD movie is roughly 1.5gigs, because I like having uncompressed/raw audio on the rips.

  4. Pirate sites have 720p Blu-ray copies of The Sound of music, and they download in maybe a couple hours. That’s a much simpler solution with exactly the same outcome — unless you really, really must have 1080i.

    (Interesting that the Spam Check captcha is “march54” which is my birth month and year!)

  5. Joe: I’ve downloaded plenty of movies and there’s no really good reason that I didn’t do that with “The Sound of Music.” Actually I think I’ve become leery of pirate sites lately; I feel like the MPAA is paying closer attention to them than ever, for some reason. Plus, I think I wanted to do it as legitimately as possible, just to see how easy or difficult that would be. Anyway, your point is taken.

  6. All of which just goes to prove that there are a lot of us out there who aren’t pirating or copying media to avoid paying, but to make up for the lame inadequacies of the system of distribution as it exists now. We might even represent the way most people feel — I just want to watch the damned movie I paid for…

  7. How is the quality after this two-step process? I’m right now trying Pavtube Blu-ray Ripper, which is supposed to do this in one step, but I have three more hours (out of 7.5 for a 1h50′ film) to wait before I can examine the outcome.
    My reason to take this hassle is that in Germany, 99% of movies released are dubbed. (I might be wrong though — the percentage might be higher.) And so are those released in the iTunes store, with only some coming with both German and original audio. (Where by “original”, iTunes means “English”, so if you like French movies, ripping discs is even your only chance to get them onto your Mac.)

  8. Sami: the quality seems fine, though I must admit that I am not really a connoisseur of high-definition imagery. I’m not a Windows user so I’ll probably never give Pavtube Blu-ray Ripper a try, but I’d still be interested to hear what your experience with it is.

  9. If Blu-ray Ripper were a Windows-only software, I’d probably never have heard of it. I’m trying out the demo version (with watermark, but without time limit) on a MacBook Pro.

  10. I’ve used the Lacie d2 External Blu-ray Drive to rip BDs to my Mac. My steps were fairly similar to yours, except the MakeMKV software actually worked without having to make a backup first. After I got the uncompressed .MKVs, I ran it through Handbrake with the High Profile setting. It resulted in an absolutely gorgeous image at a fairly reasonable file size.

    My main disappointment is having a hard time ripping the subittles (at least on the Game of Thrones BDs).

  11. Sooooo Ё it’s after midnight here, and Pavtube Blu-ray Ripper has (finally!) finished.
    The quality looks really good, only the pre-title sequence (the Universal logo) for some reason has an extremely low resolution (without counting pixels, I’d guess half the typical SD resolution at best). I don’t have a blu-ray player, so I can’t check the original material. The final movie file weighs 4,3 GB — film only, no menus, no extras, or what else there might have been.
    The interface is not pretty and has a few glitches, but it gets the job done. Somebody, however, must have thought it sufficient to run the English interface (which seems to be fairly consistent, as far as I can tell) through Google’s translation service and built a German localisation from that. There’s a menu to switch between English, German, Japanese and Chinese, so that can be helped.

    I wanted to start a second run with WinX HD Video Converter for Mac. The description on promised “the perfect solution to convert Blu-ray videos”, but it turns out this requires an MKV file first, and then I might just as well stick with Handbrake. The interface looks more polished (though not to my taste) but also more confusing than Pavtube’s Ripper (and no funny translation, just English).

  12. Sami: Thanks for the report. It sounds comparable to MakeMKV, so I’ll probably stick to that instead. I suppose any software of this sort is likely to be roughly similar in quality.

  13. Most BluRays are shipping with a DVD copy and a digital copy these days, so I think the studios are slowly but surely addressing the issues.

  14. Two things you can do to cut down on your conversion time:

    1) If you have an AppleTV Black, but not the latest generation that plays 1080p content: Jailbreak it and install FireCore’s media player. You can then stream your MKVs to the AppleTV using regular file sharing (works great with a drive hooked up to an Airport Extreme as a cheap, low-power file server.

    2) Rather than re-encoding with Handbrake, use Subler ( ) to remux the file to a 64-bit m4v file. With remuxing, the video data is left unchanged and audio data is converted to stereo (which is far lighter on your CPU). The remuxing speed is hard drive read/write performance constrained rather than CPU constrained. You’ll want to use Subler’s ‘Optimize’ feature after the initial remux to optimise the file for streaming from iTunes.

    If you’re remuxing with Subler, you’ll need the latest AppleTV because it supported 1080p video.

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