Pros: CLEV technology, supports wide variety of file types
Cons: Expensive if you don't take advantage of the proprietary technology and diverse file support.
I recently reviewed CyberLinks PowerCinema 3.0 which I was using on my HTPC for multimedia content. The media player left something to be desired, as it would not play the .VOB files that result from directly burning DVDs to your hard drive. Shortly after this, I was sent a review copy of CyberLinks PowerDVD 5.0 Deluxe, which was the newest version of the wildly popular Media Player for Windows. I had utilized PowerDVD 3 extensively in the past and been happy with it. I was curious to find out if PowerDVD 5.0 was as good, or if they had managed to improve a great program even more.
PowerDVD 5.0 is at heart a media player. The CyberLink website (www.gocyberlink.com) claims that PowerDVD is 'The world's leading DVD experience on the PC ', and so far I would agree with them. However, this is downplaying the utility of this application, as it can play much more than just DVDs through the DVD player of your PC.
There are two versions of PowerDVD 5.0 available, the Standard edition and the Deluxe. Without getting into the meat of the review at this point, suffice it to say that the Deluxe version comes with quite a bit more audio technology add-ins for enhancing your viewing and listening enjoyment. Fear not, as the Standard Edition includes all of the great video add-ins such as CLEV and CLPV that will be explained later. The Standard edition is available from the CyberLinks website for $49.95 while the Deluxe edition sells for $69.95. There are obviously upgrade paths available for varying amounts of money, as well. If you want the boxed version sent to your house, you will pay and addtional ~$8.00 for ground and ~$16 for 2-day service.
Lets look at the installation procedure and then get right into the program itself.
For reference, the HTPC is configured with the following:
Antec Overture case
MSI PT-880 NEO-LISR Motherboard
2.4a Prescott family Intel Pentium 4 chip
512MB (2X256MB) of PC3200 Corsair Value Ram
120GB Seagate 7200RPM Hard Drive w/2MB cache
160GB Seagate 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB cache
Cisco Aironet 350 Wireless 802.11b PCI card
ATI 9600 AIW video card with ATI Multimedia Center Software
Microsoft Windows XP Home edition
Cyberlinks PowerCinema 3.0 software
ATI MultiMedia Center Software
As I stated above, I received this software title via download, and that is of course an option for any user. There is also a free download trial of the program available, after which time you must purchase a registration number to continue use. The download will give you a .ZIP file that will then need to be unzipped, using WinRAR in my case. Once the file is unzipped, find the Setup.exe in the unzipped file and double-click it. The software will walk you through the installation process, very similar to any other install you have performed in the last five years. You will need to enter a 16-character alphanumeric code for activation, and you can choose to register the product to receive tech support which will be discussed later. The download for the Deluxe edition is 57MB, taking a little bit to download, especially on dial-up.
Regardless of how you get the software, be sure that the computer upon which this software will be loaded contains at least the following:
Microsoft Windows 98SE, Windows ME, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Home and Pro
Intel Pentium III 350MHz or higher, or any AMD Athlon processor
64MB of RAM, 128 for higher audio effects
40MB minimum of Hard Drive Space
Graphics card and SVGA monitor capable of 1024 x 768 @ 32-bit resolution and support for DirectDraw overlay
PCI sound card, USB audio box or motherboard built-in audio device, which is compatible with DirectX for audio playback.
DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD-RAM, or DVD RW drive with 1394, USB2.0, ATAPI, SCSI or CardBus interface
Keep in mind that this is bare minimum requirements, and while the program may run, it will not run well. You will need more hard drive capacity if you are going to store video and audio files of any sort to playback through the player. For CLEV and CLPV to work, you will need at least a 1GHz processor, and preferably one much higher such as in the 2-3GHz range. If you run this with Windows XP, you need at least 256MB of RAM for Windows alone, and probably should really have 512-1024MB for smooth playback.
One of my pet peeves is when I load a program onto my computer only to find it is a major resource hog. For that reason, I started reporting the resources used by the program. A fresh download of PowerDVD 5.0 on my computer takes up 15MB of file space in the Program files directory. When the program is running, PowerDVD 5.0 absorbs 16MB of RAM idle and up to 40MB of RAM while running depending on the add-ins chosen.
The interface for PowerDVD 5.0 is simple and straightforward. The program is actually two windows, one that is the movie screen and the other being the control panel. The control panel has all of the buttons and controls, and it will move to the background if the mouse remains idle. There are four skins for the control panel that come with the download, and I like the glow skin, personally. Additionally, you can access all of the options, selections and menus by simply right clicking and opening the express menu Personally, I use the express menu most of the time as it is easier to read the text on the television that to try and make out what the symbol on the button is
Obviously, the player will allow you to play DVDs on your computer, but what else can it do? There is the necessary shuttle forward and backward, aka fast forward and reverse. With the advent of DVD, you can move forward or back at up to 32X normal play speed, and up to 2X speed you can listen to the sound while you go.
Frame capture, zoom and frame forward and reverse are available. You can Pan and Scan any part of the screen you would like, zooming either 4X or 9X in one area. You can grab the screen and move it around to see other portions of the total picture in the zoomed in area. Frame forward and reverse are self-explanatory, allowing you to move frame by frame. Finally, if you catch the frame you want, you can capture it to a file as a .gif formatted picture for viewing later.
The big sell for me on this program is the versatility of the playback options. PowerDVD 5.0 supports playback of files in the following formats: DivX, DVD (MPEG-2) DVD R, DVD-R, VCD (MPEG-1), SVCD, MiniDVD formats and DVD formats saved to hard drive. The extensions that the player will playback include MPG, ASF, M1V, M2V, AVI, WMV, DAT, VRO, Div, DivX and VOB. The last of these options is the .VOB file format I was looking for PowerCinema to support to no avail. In addition to this, the player will play most audio files and allow the user to setup play lists, either audio or video, which can then be played sequentially or shuffled and played.
The program also supports individualized bookmarks for each individual DVD. As the movie plays, create bookmarks at your favorite points and you can use these later to jump directly to where you left off, or your favorite scene. Additionally, there is an option to automatically mark where you leave off play of a DVD. When resuming playback, even if other DVD's have been played in the meantime, the program will ask you if you would like to resume where you left off.
Specialized options include CLEV, CLPV, and CLMEI. I will briefly discuss each below.
CLEV is an acronym for CyberLink Eagle Vision. This is a proprietary program that automatically adjusts the brightness, color and saturation to avoid overly dark or bright pictures during playback. CLEV has two settings, full and split screen. The only reason for split screen is to allow you to see what the show would look like with it turned on or off. Try it; it is pretty amazing! I activated CLEV after noting the distinct difference it makes, and it does indeed brighten up and enhance the viewing experience.
CLPV is a proprietary technology as well which stand for CyberLink PanoVision. This option allows the user to watch 4:3 ratio films on a 16:9 ratio screen with minimal distortion. This is a non-linear stretching technology which I have not had the opportunity to use. There is also a linear stretching method included, but why would you ever choose the method that distorts the image visibly?
CLMEI is a proprietary technology, and the acronym is short for CyberLink Multi-channel Environment Impression. This is a program which allows the user to express a stereo signal as a Multi-channel speaker system, thus giving the impression of a higher-powered system.
Along with these options, the Deluxe version of PowerDVD 5.0 comes with even more audio technology, most of which I do not use due to limitations on my current systems sound component. Also available is:
DS3D Virtual Speakers
This allows you to move your virtual surround speakers for better sound.
This allows a virtual surround sound experience out of either a two speaker system or headphones. I have tried this one with my computer speakers and it does definitely make a difference, although I am not sure I would call it surround sound.
Dolby Virtual Speaker
This is another technology for creating virtual surround sound with a 2-speaker system. I tried and use this one, as it does create a better sound for my speaker system, the Altec AVS 300s.
Yes, there is a parental control feature on this player. You can setup multiple users with varying levels of ability to watch videos. The controls are dependent upon the disc containing parental control restrictions to tell the program to limit access. If this occurs, the user will be required to input a name and password for access to the video in question. I have three sons, but all are under the age of 3. I do not have any reason to use the parental control systems yet, but they do appear to work in the limited testing I conducted.
Since I loaded PowerDVD 5.0 on my HTPC, I have been using it for all of my playback needs. I can play the AVI/MPG files I record with the DVR function of the HTPC as well as the DVDs that I have converted to MPG files. Some of the DVDs do not compress well, such as cartoons and older shows. For these films, I have burned the disk to a folder on the hard drive with the VOB files intact and play it through the PowerDVD player. This is something that is not possible with the ATI MultiMedia Center software that came with the All-In-Wonder video card that I installed in the system. The shuttle forward/reverse having max speeds of 32X works out nice when you are half-way through a MPEG and have to stop for some reason.
I do use the CLEV for better film quality, and the Dolby Digital Speaker works well when playing through the Altecs on my gaming PC. The CLPV is something I will not use until I get a 16:9 ratio screen, but it is nice to know that I will be able to watch 4:3 media without visible distortion while taking up the whole screen. The Pan and Scan/zoom/screen capture is not something I use, but I can see where a teenage boy could find good use for it And that is when the Parental controls will come in handy.
This replaced the media player shipped with CyberLinks PowerCinema 3.0, as that particular player was not robust enough for my needs. The ATI MultiMedia Center does not play VOB files, and the options are not as robust as PowerDVD 5.0. I will continue to use this for my media player needs, and recommend it for you as well. CyberLink has a winner with this one!