Sunday, June 6, 2010

Windows Blu-ray Players Comparison

For 2012 comparison of Windows BD playback options check here: 2012 Blu-ray player software reviews

For our 2011 Windows Blu-ray player reviews follow the link: Windows Blu-ray player software 2011


So you've got a Blu-ray Disc drive and are now looking for software to play your bluray disc collection. The first thing you'll notice if you do some research: there are no free players for blu-ray playback. That's because there are license fees to be paid to the patent holders (Sony, Philips and Panasonic) for each BD playing unit made, both software or hardware. For obvious reasons, the possibility of a legit free Blu-ray player software is made redundant by this requirement for the time being. The focus of our article is to review Blu-ray players that are currently available for computers running Windows.

There are 4 commercial packages offering BD playback on Windows. These are CyberLink's PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D, ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum, Corel's WinDVD 2010 Pro and Roxio's CinePlayer BD. Note that all four companies offer their video playing software in various packages with different options missing in the lower-end versions, but for BD playback you will invariably need the corresponding high-end package in order to be able to play Blu-ray discs. The shorter brand names will be used below for clarity but keep in mind that in all cases the high-end versions of the software are being addressed. For example, PowerDVD will be used instead of PowerDVD 10 Ultra3D, TotalMedia Theatre instead of TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum, etc. Also, only 3 Windows Blu-ray player reviews will be listed below because CinePlayer BD does not have a trial version.

Shared Features and Limitations

Before delving into particulars about each Blu-ray player software let's have a look at the features common for all of them. All competitors:
  • Run on Windows 7, Vista or XP.
  • Are BD-Live compliant (player profile 2.0).
  • Offer excellent video quality. Picture quality is virtually undistinguishable on a full HD display between the different players.
  • Play AVCHD files. That's the most common HD video format used by consumer camcorders.
  • Utilize the available Graphics Card to offload calculations from the CPU which should improve performance on lower end systems. In fact, all players will enforce the utilization of the graphics card. As a side effect this hardware acceleration will render some video processing options unavailable during BD playback.
  • Upscale DVDs and non-HD video files.
  • Handle Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio.
  • Support Remote Control.
  • Allow for a limited amount of region setting changes (usually 5).
  • Enforce content protection and disable frame capture when playing Blu-ray discs. Same with clip capture where applicable. Other features may also be disabled for Blu-ray disc content.

Cyberlink's PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D

PowerDVD is the oldest in the pack being around since 1996. The latest installment is PowerDVD 10 offered in three versions: Standard, Deluxe and Ultra 3D. Ultra 3D is the version capable of BD playback. The flagship feature, suggested by the name (previous high-end installments were called just Ultra), is Blu-ray 3D support. PowerDVD is the first, and currently the only, Blu-ray software player certified by the Blu-ray Disc Association under the Blu-ray 3D standard established in the end of 2009. To fully take advantage of this you will need 3D capable graphics card, display and glasses: for example a NVIDIA 3D Vision Ready kit. And, of course, you will need 3D movies. Some of these are supposed to come out on home video media later this year. A related feature is the ability to transform good old 2D DVDs into 3D with some control over the strength of the effect. An upcoming update is supposed to add the same functionality for more 2D file formats.

PowerDVD is integrated with Cyberlink's online service MoovieLive. MoovieLive is free and acts as both a movie database and community portal. If you are connected to the Internet you can get more info on the movie currently in your Blu-ray drive, write reviews, rate movies, organize and sync your movie collection with your MoovieLive profile, post live comments on MoovieLive, Twitter and/or Facebook while watching and share information with other users. The short live comments feature is especially appealing as it is perfectly in tune with the Twitter paradigm and effectively allows for live online commentary. As PowerDVD keeps track how many times a movie has been watched, sharing this information online allows a global counter to be kept and displayed per title thus serving as a popularity meter amongst PowerDVD users. The related MovieMarks feature allows for bookmarking, playing and sharing scenes in movies (currently not available for BD movies; working for DVDs, though). Another community-oriented feature allows you to upload videos to YouTube, converting them to a YouTube compatible format if necessary and providing a form to fill meta information in.

Home theater enthusiasts will appreciate the seamless integration with Windows Media Center. WMC comes with no native BD support so this is a welcome feature. PowerDVD is integrated with WMC through its Cinema Mode which is essentially a minimalistic version of the interface. In Cinema Mode the color scheme changes to match WMC and the interface is simplified and designed to be remote control friendly. Switching between Classic Mode and Cinema Mode is accomplished through an icon on the title bar. Continuing the Windows 7 integration is the full support of the Windows 7 Music Library. PowerDVD also supports HDMI 1.3 pass-through for audio output through receivers.

Last but not least: as expected, movie playback is smooth; loading times are pretty good and both video and audio quality are excellent.

ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 3 Platinum

TotalMedia Theatre 3
TotalMedia Theatre 3 also comes in three versions: Standard, Gold and Platinum. The Platinum edition is BD playback enabled. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of PowerDVD feature-wise but it does the job.

TotalMedia Theatre comes with a Windows Media Center plug-in exposing Bluray playback functionality and Remote Control compatibility. As is the case with PowerDVD, HDMI 1.3 pass-through for audio is supported enabling 192 KHz 24-bit audio to be transferred to receivers for exceptional sound experience. Additional features include: 3 different Power Management profiles for perfect balance between power saving and performance; direct playback from camcorders; a time-stretch function to ensure you won't miss the end of the movie you are watching while traveling or under time pressure. There is also a Parental Control. Some rudimentary Disc Library management functions are available, plus the option to bookmark scenes in videos, including Blu-ray movies.

ArcSoft also seems to have technology for transforming 2D videos and photos into 3D, probably similar to the tech included in PowerDVD Ultra 3D. It is called Sim3D and is in the form of a plug-in for TotalMedia Theatre but is only available for OEM licensing. Too bad, apparently they don't want to give it to you unless you own selected 3D hardware.

Blu-ray Disc playback is smooth, picture quality is great, loading times are perfectly acceptable but a bit on the slower side compared to PowerDVD and WinDVD.

Corel's WinDVD 2010 Pro

WinDVD is the oldest competitor of PowerDVD dating back to 1998. It is currently being offered in 2 variations: WinDVD 2010 and WinDVD 2010 Pro, the latter being the Blu-ray playing version.

WinDVD is quite barebones compared to both PowerDVD and TotalMedia Theatre. While it offers different video processing options and enhancements, they are all disabled when hardware acceleration is turned on, which is always the case for HD video playback. It does have some power management options to squeeze more battery life for longer playback on mobile computers. There is a time-stretch function similar to the one in TotalMedia Theatre. Direct playback from camcorders will work. A parental control option is also available. Windows 7 Touch is supported in the interface but there is no Windows Media Center integration. Bookmarking is disabled for Blu-ray disc content.

Video quality is excellent, loading times are good, a fraction slower than PowerDVD.

Comparison table and conclusion

The performance of each PC Blu-ray player was tested on a system with an Intel i5-430m CPU, 4GB DDR3 memory and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics card, running Windows 7.

PowerDVDTotalMedia TheatreWinDVD
CPU load18.5%12.1%13.2%
Loading times27:73s13:05s9:02s
Blu-ray 3DYesNoNo
2D to 3DYesYes3No
Upscale to HDYesYesYes
WMC integrationYesYesNo
HDMI pass-throughYesYesNo
Online featuresYesNoNo
Time stretchNoYesYes
Matroska .mkv supportYesPartialNo
Built-in updates checkYesYesYes
Free trialYesYesYes

1. Average CPU load during MPEG-4 AVC stream playback.
2. Blu-ray disc loading times averaged over 5 measurements.
3. For OEM licensing only.
4. Listed price; discounts or promotions may apply.

On a funny note, PrintScreen doesn't work for screen capturing while WinDVD is running. Same with TotalMedia Theatre. It does work with PowerDVD though. And that's why you get to see a screenshot from PowerDVD here and not from the other two, ha.

In conclusion: PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D is, no doubt, the best Blu-ray disc playing software available at the moment. Its feature selection is the largest, Blu-ray 3D support makes it future-proof, and it outperforms the competition. It is the only one offering online features to feed any movie fan's addiction. And it is also the closest to a general media player. ArcSoft and especially Corel surely need to do some catching up in terms of both performance and features.

Look for other software reviews in the Review Maze.


Anonymous said...

Just want (to be the first???) to say thanks for this great comparison and review. You've helped out a lot of people. Really appreciate all the hard work you put into this.

Anonymous said...

Great Review. Answered all the question I had. Thank you for the work you put into this.

John Moscow said...

Thanks both of you for the nice words!

Anonymous said...

Caveat Emptor! I purchased an HP Pavillion with the OEM version of CyberLink PowerDVD that HP bundles. It plays Star Trek BluRay fine, but fails when playing Inception. I called HP and they said I invalidated my support when I upgraded from OEM Vista to Windows 7 Ultimate. I downloaded the trial of PowerDVD and it plays Inception fine. I guess I'll have to buy PowerDVD; however I'm trying to get upgrade pricing.

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