I finally bought a Blu-Ray player. I say “finally” as I’ve spent several months trying not to buy one… As an inveterate early adopter and fully diagnosed, unmedicated geek, I tried to build one. Problem is, I’m the wrong kind of geek.
To clarify – there are technical geeks and pop-culture geeks – right-brain and left brain geeks. I’m something of anomaly in this classification, falling somewhere in between. I’m a technoculture geek – a little bit nerdy and a little bit rock and roll, as Donnie and Marie never sang. So, while I can do the following:
Build a computer from component parts
Design, customise and create dynamic web sites with off the shelf server side scripts
Tell you why Firefly should never have been cancelled
Code in C++
Solder together a circuit board
Write my own CMS in PHP
Tell you why Star Wars is so popular
Despite this disability, I decided it might be a really clever and spiffing idea to build my own Blu-Ray player from an old computer… It already had an HD video card and was (is) connected to the 36″ Sony Bravia flatscreen HD TV in my living room. How hard could it be? I might even save money.
This is, clearly, why I don’t build computers for a living… During the process I discovered the following:
* A five year old, kit built PC repurposed as a media centre probably isn’t the best choice as a base unit for a Blu-Ray player project because…
* Most internal Blu-Ray drives have SATA connectors rather than old school IDE. Even the bottom of the range, barebones Pioneer model (c£90) that seemed such a bargain.
* An SATA board can be bought for about a tenner and plugged into a spare PCI slot. Problem solved, Blu-Ray drive installed.
* Once installed, however, none of my existing media player software would not play back my Blu-Ray disc. Not even VLC
* There are currently no reliable open source players that support Blu-Ray either (see VLC).
* WinDVD 9 Plus is expensive for a software-based media player… (c£50)
* It’s not enough that a video card has a DVI-D out port to plug into your HD TV… It also has to be HDCP compliant.
* HDCP (High Definition Copy Protocol) is hardware enabled protection built into commercial Blu-Ray discs. If your video card, monitor and operating system don’t support it, your Blu-Ray discs simply will not play.
* Virtually all HDCP compliant video cards on the market fit into PCI-E (not PCI) slots. If your motherboard is three or more years older, as mine was, chances are it doesn’t have any…
* There are some cards on the market which feature chipsets that are described online as “HDCP Ready”. That doesn’t mean the card itself is actually equipped to decode HDCP.
* There are about a dozen video cards on the market that fit into an AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) slot that are listed online as being HDCP compliant. Make absolutely certain it says that on the box before you buy one. Like I should have.
* After you’ve got your Blu-Ray drive up and running on its brand new SATA board and you’ve installed your apparently HDCP ready but not actually HDCP compliant video card (c£70), don’t be surprised when the expensive media player software you bought still can’t run the one Blu-Ray disc you have in your collection…
* Using AnyDVD (c£60) is probably illegal – but the current version does quite effectively remove region coding and copy encryption from DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Perhaps that might be a solution to all that incompatible hardware.
* Until, that is, you realise that the old Pentium 4 CPU in the machine you’re installing all this stuff on isn’t up to the task of Blu-Ray playback after all – and what you finally get is a mess of stuttering and strobing that renders your copy of “Edward Scissorhands” unwatchable.
* At this point you might, like I decided to do, head back to Amazon and pick up a bottom of the range Blu-Ray player instead. For £250.
* Always keep the boxes your components came in. You’ll need them when you have to put them all on eBay.