Dealing with DRM: BluRays on PowerDVD Ultra 8

For the Blu-ray Disc (BD) (aka Bluray) addicts out there, Cyberlink’s PowerDVD Ultra is out in version 8. It is sporting a brand new user interface, and allows playback of BD+ titles. I bought the upgrade yesterday – and I will answer the question of why here.

A must have for PC Blu-ray playbackAnyDVD HD is AnyDVD HD, as this will remove the incredibly annoying regional zones. Furthermore it will allow ripping your purchased BDs to hardisk for more quiet playback; the Pioneer BDC-S02 player has many nice qualities, but ultra quietness is not one of them. Furthermore, having backed up your BD, you can safely store the original out of harm’s way and instead use the back up for playback.

Unfortunately for us, that’s not the way the studios see the picture – instead they want to make it as difficult as possible for us to do this by way of DRM. (There’s little wonder why hardly anyone is using their HTPCs for Blu-rays!)

I used to be able to just point PowerDvd to the ripped directory, however at some point in the version PowerDvd 7 release history the ability to play back ripped Blu-rays from folders disappeared. I therefore stayed on the last known good version that I had. This lasted well until recently where I’d get rather annoying upgrade prompts every time I started a movie, and then the inevitable happened – a Blu-Ray version 1.1 title arrived in the house last night – namely Resident Evil: Resurrection (RE#3) – that just refused to play back.

Quality inspected by the supreme four legged Burmese, Kent

Blu-rays on PowerDVD 8 Ultra is relaxing business… as long as you’re using AnyDVD HD!

As it just happened, PowerDVD 8 was released the same day – so I decided to splurge out for a full update. With version 8 I had no problem playing the title directly from the reader, and the quality of the Resident Evil disc was just phenomenal.

Quad Core Vista HTPC

However version 8 still refused to play back Blu-ray rips (DVDs ripped in the exact same manner were fine), so today I set to figure out how to play back my BD backups. To cut the story short, I would

  1. Rip the BD to a single ISO file with the UDF 2.5 file system using the great freeware tool ImgBurn. Having the latest version of AnyDVD HD installed ensured that copy protection was removed (it will also take care of BD+), however some are recommending not to have it enabled to preserve the originalty of the drive. Whatever works would be to go here. IMGBURN is free and can be used to convert an existing AnyDVD HD backup.
  2. Mount the image using an appropriate program. Whilst Daemon tools would do the job, I instead ofted for the latest beta (available from the forums) of SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive which includes BD support. The nice thing about CloneDrive is that it keeps a list of the most recently mounted images on the right click of the drive letter, thus making it easy to change discs.
  3. Simply play back the movie from PowerDVD after the iso file has been mounted. AnyDVD should be enabled if the disc was ripped without AnyDVD being enabled.

Having run a Vista Blu-ray HD HTPC for 6 months now, I welcome this point of stability in terms of my software setup. A newly purchased Western Digital GreenPower 1TB drive makes for storing every single BD I’ve so far purchased, with room to grow!

However, the following still concerns me:

  1. There’s STILL no Vista Media Centre integration. I have to leave Media Centre (exit full screen mode) and then start PowerDVD to view Blu-rays. Plus of course the whole business of mounting images if playing a backup. This is a significant reduction of user friendliness and I really have to ask, what is the story here? My Pioneer BD player came with a OEM version that had a plugin to enable BD playback through Media Centre, however it was restricted to stereo only (as if ANYONE at this stage would buy a BD player in a HTPC and not have a full surround setup – we are talking about early adopters here, not early majority or even late majority).
  2. Not that my 10 year old Rotel preamplifier supports it, but there’s still no way out outputting TrueHD sound from a HTPC. Whilst PowerDVD now is better grounded for it, the hardware for outputting sound via HDMI is not there. Hopefully this will change in the short to medium term future.

I will blog a description of my HTPC later; for now, in short, what you need for Blu-ray playback is PowerDVD 8 Ultra, at US$99, and AnyDVD HD at €79. Whilst this is a fair amount of money, and there’s probably many ways to get PowerDVD, I strongly urge anyone using AnyDVD to purchase this as the work Slysoft do is absolutely essential to the viability of the HTPC as a Blu-ray playback platform.

Without Slysoft’s brilliant work we’d be left in shambles; I for one congratulate them for their efforts.