PowerDVD 5 $49.95 (standard); $69.95 (deluxe) CyberLink www.gocyberlink.com Rating: 4.5 CPUs
Watching DVDs on a PC may not be much fun in a cubicle, but at home in a darkened room with a surround-sound setup, your PC could be the nexus of a mind-blowing home theater experience. And PowerDVD 5 may be the software icing on the cake.
PowerDVD played nearly every media format I threw at it, including DVD, VCD, DivX, AVI, Windows Media, and audio CDs. (It wouldn't display the karaoke track of a CD+G disc, but it never claimed it would.) The app's DVD-playing features rival any consumer electronics player, with included support for subtitles, foreign languages, and switching viewing angles. There's also a cool bookmarking function that displays thumbnail images for marked scenes, still frame capture, and parental controls. When you insert a disc a second time, PowerDVD gives you the option of continuing from where you left off.
The aspect ratio controls are also impressive, featuring several modes for fitting movies on your screen without losing the edges. The app will smartly fit a full-frame movie on a widescreen display and vice versa.
The app requires Windows 98SE or later, but it's the hardware that really matters. A speedy processor is less important than a quality video card. Integrated video produced glitchy output, but a 500MHz processor with a quality video card produced perfectly watchable full-screen video. PowerDVD also supports most audio cards and includes copious surround modes.
PowerDVD comes in standard and deluxe versions. The difference is in the audio features. Deluxe adds DTS Digital Surround and Dolby Virtual Speaker, which simulates surround sound using two speakers. If you're watching a DVD with two-track audio, multichannel-environment-impression technology converts stereo sound into multiple-channel output.
PowerDVD strictly adheres to the DVD player's region setting, but third-party apps can work around this. If you've invested in hardware for watching DVDs on your PC, it makes sense to use software that makes the most of it. With PowerDVD, movies look and sound great.
Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.