I’m stupid. I replaced the family room Xbox One X with an Xbox Series S, not thinking about the library of 50 or so 4K UHD Blu-Ray movies I own. As the Xbox Series S has no optical drive, this rendered my entire library of 4K films useless unless I wanted to watch them in my office, which I don’t. I needed a solution to play said movies without relying on dinosaur technology like an optical drive. My solution? Rip ’em!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t you simply stream everything from Netflix et al like everyone else?
I do, most of the time. Every once in a while though you come across a film that doesn’t translate to shitty bitrate streaming and horrid artifacting in overly-dark scenes. In fact, when I think of some of my favorite movies, a rather large percentage of them stream like shit. I have a fiber connection, a 4K HDR television, blah blah blah, but the limitation isn’t on my end, it’s that the Amazon’s and HBO’s of the world compress the hell out of their movies and the resulting image quality can be abysmal. For reference, try enjoying the first 20 minutes of the last Mission: Impossible movie via stream. You can’t. It’s awful.
So, last weekend I decided to nerd out on ripping 4K UHD discs. If you remember the good old days of ripping DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, you’ll know that the process has historically either been stupidly easy or brutally difficult, depending on the film and the copy protection method used. I expected significant advancements in copy protection in recent years and that 4K would be a massive headache. What I found instead is that it’s dead easy.
First, you’ll need a 4K UHD drive for your PC
I highly recommend the Archgon Premium Aluminum External USB 3.0 UHD 4K Blu-Ray Writer Super Drive for PC and Mac, which is actually a rebranded LG drive. Why anyone thought “Archgon” sounded better than LG I can’t say, but this thing is the real deal.
The Archgon/LG drive won’t burn 4K UHD discs, but it’ll read anything once you flash it with this custom firmware. I know, it looks 2005 Windoze PC sketchy, doesn’t it? Trust me, it’ll be ok. Smart CFW coders have never been great at UX. It does the trick and you need only look at it once. Get over your font issues and move on.
Once you’ve download and run the firmware’s .exe file, you’re going to want to select the BU40N firmware from the dozen or so in the zip file. BU40N is the model of the LG drive that Archgon sold you on Amazon. Let it go for about 10 seconds and you’re done. It’s really that simple.
Second, you’re going to need MakeMKV
MakeMKV is arguably the easiest disc ripping software in the world. It gives you a 30 day trial (it’s in near-perpetual beta and an unlock code is regularly available in the community forums) and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Plus, the MakeMKV community is nothing short of amazing. If you’ve got a question, look out, there are like 50 dudes sitting there waiting to help you. Seriously.
MakeMKV is called MKV because it rips your disc to .mkv format, which can easily be read by any number of media playing apps out there, most notably VLC Media Player.
The process for ripping a 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc couldn’t be simpler:
- Put your disc in the Archgon/LG blah blah blah disc player
- Click File / Open Disc / (select the disc, it’s the only one listed, duh)
- Wait for MakeMKV to scan the disc. By default it’ll ignore tracks under 120 seconds in length
- Unselect everything except the largest file – that’s your movie. Sometimes MakeMKV will find two files that are exactly the same length. Select the one that has multiple tracks.
- Click the MakeMKV button
- Wait again
After about 15 minutes your disc is done ripping and you now have a shiny .mkv file to show for it.
Now, here’s the catch.
4K UHD Blu-Ray discs hold a lot of data. The average movie in my library is anywhere between 50GB to 100GB in size when all is said and done, so make sure you have adequate disc space.
Here’s the other catch.
The Archgon drive comes with two USB cables, one single and one y-adapter. You’re going to want to use the y-adapter cable exclusively otherwise you’re going to get a lot of disc read errors because the USB port on your PC, Mac, etc. likely isn’t going to deliver enough power. I attach one end to my PC and the other runs to a Samsung phone AC Adapter I had lying around, plugged directly into a wall socket or power strip. Do NOT plug either of the USB cables coming from the drive in a USB hub. Again, you’ll get read errors aplenty and will probably blame me because you didn’t read far enough to get all of the information. That’s a failing on the part of the public school system, not me.
Third, watch your movies
Take those resulting .mkv files and throw them on a thumb drive, plug that sucker into nearly any modern gaming console and you’re good to go once you install VLC, or you can do what I do and get yourself a NAS and stream them over your own home wifi in their extremely high bitrate glory – as nature and Hollywood and Tom Cruise intended.