Intel recently dropped 4K Blu-ray playback for its new processors, and the news unfortunately came as no surprise. Security issues have plagued the company’s SGX technology for a long time, and relatively few people watch physical media on a computer. AMD’s Ryzen CPUs never even supported 4K drives.
But people who regularly insert 4K Blu-ray discs into an 11th or 12th Gen Intel PC don’t have to accept the downgrade to 1080p. You can continue to gain that experience using a free (for now) program called MakeMKV, which lets you rip a copy of movies and TV show episodes into a single MKV file. For most people, this file format provides an experience similar to direct playback from a UHD disc, as it preserves chapters, subtitle tracks, and multiple audio tracks. And despite its smaller file size compared to the original disc, you’ll see far less sacrifice in image and audio quality than with a 4K stream.
Warning: Copyright laws vary around the world, and in some countries circumventing DRM is illegal, even for the purpose of making a personal backup of a disc. Learn about the laws in your area before launching Blu-ray/DVD ripping software for personal use. And obviously, don’t use such software to share content or rip discs you don’t own.
To get started, you’ll need a compatible Blu-ray player and MakeMKV software. Some existing 4K UHD players may have their firmware flashed to allow ripping. Otherwise, you’ll need to buy a standard Blu-ray player to play 4K discs. The MakeMKV forum thread on UHD players gives more details on recommended Blu-Ray players and instructions on how to flash their firmware. If you don’t see your drive listed, you’ll need to search online to determine its capabilities and compatibility with MakeMKV.
Once your Blu-ray player is ready to go, download MakeMKV, install it on your PC, and then activate it using the latest license key. You can also go to settings to change the output folder. After that, ripping is a simple matter of inserting a disc, waiting for MakeMKV to read the files, then choosing which segments to export to MKV. You can ditch things like extra language tracks or trailers for a smaller file size.
And you want to be careful with file size – even though MKV files shrink disc files by around 40%, UHD discs can hold up to 100GB of data. A modest collection of 4K UHD Blu-rays can take up space on a storage drive very quickly; you might want to invest in high-capacity hard drives (think 8TB or more) if you’re a big movie and TV fan. An alternative solution is to use a program like Handbrake to encode the files with higher compression, if you can tolerate the visual quality degradation.
But apart from these concerns, there is little more to the process. The main problem is firmware flashing on the Blu-ray player. You will need to re-enter a current license key for MakeMKV, but if you use the program often, we strongly recommend that you support the developer by purchasing the $60 one-time license. It’s a minor price to pay to escape the long and tortuous history of PC DRM.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s Resident Bargain Hunter. When it’s not covering PC construction, computer components, mini PCs, and more, it searches for the best tech deals. Previously, his work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.