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These 2011 reviews are now obsolete. Go to the 2012 version here.
Last year we did a comparison of the available options for BD playback on Windows PC systems. This article updates our previous Blu-ray player software reviews and clarifies the current situation on the Windows market.
Let's start with the obvious question: are there any free options for Windows Blu-ray playback? The short answer is no and it concerns not only the Windows market. The reason is that the bluray patent holders (that happen to be Sony, Panasonic and Philips) require license fees for any software or hardware unit made. For that matter, there are fees applicable to the manufacturing of actual bluray discs too. Some systems equipped with BD drives come with OEM software for playing bluray discs. But OEM versions tend to be stripped of features and are also rarely updated, if ever.
There are 5 commercial packages offering Windows BD playback. These are Cyberlink's PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D Mark II (become PowerDVD 11 as of April, 2011), ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 5, Corel's WinDVD 2010 Pro, Roxio's CinePlayer BD with 3D and Nero's Blu-ray Disc Playback plug-in. Most of these companies offer their video playing software in various packages with some functionality missing in the low-end versions, but for BD playback you will always need the high-end variant. For brevity, we will often use the shorter brand name, or even abbreviations, and in all cases this will denote the high-end edition of the respective Blu-ray playback software. For example, PowerDVD will be used instead of PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D Mark II, CinePlayer instead of Cineplayer BD with 3D, etc. Also note that CinePlayer and Nero's plug-in are covered below for comprehensiveness but not actually thoroughly tested because Roxio and Nero do not offer trial versions.
Common features and limitations of all five Blu-ray player software products
Before starting with the particular Windows Blu-ray player reviews, let's mention some of the common features. All players:
- Are compatible with Windows 7 and will also run on Windows Vista or Windows XP.
- Are BD-Live compliant (player profile 2.0).
- Support Blu-ray 3D. In the last months Blu-ray 3D support has become the norm. (Nero excluded)
- Have HDMI 1.4 support. This currently requires high-end graphics cards from nVidia and ATI (Radeon 6000 series), but also spells "future-proof" in regard to support for upcoming 3D displays. (Nero excluded)
- Manage image quality during BD playback that is virtually indistinguishable on a full HD display between the different players. Note that this is not necessarily the case when upscaling lower resolution content to HD.
- Support AVCHD formatted video. AVCHD is the most common HD video format used by consumer camcorders.
- Have hardware acceleration support. In other words, they utilize the available Graphics Card to offload calculations from the CPU to the GPU, which makes HD video playback possible on systems with slower or older CPUs. As a side effect, hardware acceleration will render some video processing options unavailable as it relies on the graphics hardware driver.
- Upscale DVDs and lower resolution video files to full HD.
- Handle Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio.
- Support Remote Control.
- Provide for a limited amount of region setting changes (usually 5) in the software.
- Have content protection implemented and will disable frame capture from BD movies. The same applies to clip capture if available. Other functionality may also be rendered unavailable for 2D or 3D Blu-ray content.
Our Windows Blu-ray player reviews continue with Cyberlink's PowerDVD 10 Ultra 3D Mark II Blu-ray player software.