If you’re proud of your extensive collection of DVDs and growing army of Blu-ray titles and are partial to enjoying the odd film or three through a PC, something a little more dedicated than Windows Media Player could well be on the cards.
PowerDVD has been catering for this demographic for quite some time now, reaching version 9 recently with improved Blu-ray and HD media support and 7.1 surround sound on the Ultra version and promises of untold video enhancement glory through TrueTheater across the range.
If you’re not getting your hands dirty with Blu-ray, the Deluxe (which includes support for formats such as H.264, DivX Pro and DTS) or standard version will probably be enough, and there’s still plenty on offer here to help manage and enjoy your collection of optical discs.
TrueTheater is the biggest new addition and includes a range of enhancements to improve image quality and give you more control over playback. To begin with there’s a built-in upscaler to play standard definition discs at faux-HD resolutions. This, along with lighting, sharpness, colour and motion controls can seriously enhance both the quality of an image and its playback performance and a handy split-screen view is available to give you a preview of what to expect.
Other options such as smart aspect-ratio control allow you to stretch an image for a widescreen without distorting, there’s virtual surround for those with stereo speakers or headphones and support for HDMI 1.3. With the right kit then, you can really squeeze the most out of a DVD with this range of features, and there’s a genuine difference to be seen when tweaking with and adjusting the various options.
In addition to TrueTheater, a new "FancyView" navigation screen offers a visual layout for browsing a disc collection and a cinema mode rivals the classic interface by offering a stripped down version for easy access on large TVs, which is notably built to integrate with Windows Media Center.
There are plenty of features here for building and maintaining a library and the MoovieLive online service allows users to share their collection and experiences with others online. You can even use the Movie Remix room to add captions, objects and music to your favourite scenes in movies and share these as well, though the flexibility here is rather limited and we can see people getting bored of it pretty quickly.
Despite these attractive new features and CyberLink’s inherent capabilities as a movie playback application, there’s a reason why we’ve been using the terms "optical disc" and "DVD" more often than a more generic word such as "video". While PowerDVD can play back video files stored on a local hard drive and format support in this area is very good, it’s almost a token effort when you set it alongside the bulk of the software’s features.
TrueTheater effects can only be used with optical discs and the cinema mode is incapable of browsing a folder full of files. Similarly, the "FancyView" browser is only for optical discs as well, and we’re struggling to work out exactly why all of these impressive features haven’t been better integrated for digital collections, considering their abundance on a typical modern PC.
This is by far the biggest drawback of PowerDVD and since it is in direct competition with Windows Media Player when deciding whether to shell out, we think its audience is far more limited than it should have been. A media-center type interface based around the new cinema mode would have been welcome for those who don’t want to use Windows’ own software and many of the TrueTheater effects would have been a welcome way to enhance video file playback as well as optical disc.
With this in mind, PowerDVD limits itself somewhat to those with a large collection of DVDs/Blu-ray discs that they want to catalogue and share and despite the effectiveness of the new features, we don’t think this will be enough to justify upgrading from WMP for most.
There are a range of genuinely useful and effective new features in the new version of PowerDVD, most of which are built around the TrueTheater engine. Despite this and a handful of other interesting additions, its lack of attention to digital files stored locally on a machine means that it’s not nearly as versatile as it should be. Those with large collections (and a lot of patience) should find enough to justify the outlay but generally we think CyberLink is a few steps behind the current market by not better integrating its new features together across all formats.