Thursday, February 23, 2012

(3D) Blu-ray Player Software for Windows: 2012 Reviews

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CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra
TotalMedia Theatre 5
Corel WinDVD Pro 11
Nero 11 Platinum
1. Introduction, shared features and limitations (this page)
2. CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra Review
3. ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 5 Review
4. Corel WinDVD Pro 11, Nero 11 Platinum and Roxio CinePlayer with 3D Reviews
5. Comparison table, overall impressions and conclusion

Here is the new installment in our traditional Windows Blu-ray player software reviews. There's been quite some development in the field since our 2011's comparison. But first things first. Nope, the year may be 2012 (and the end of the world approaching) but there are still no free Windows Blu-ray players. As explained before this mostly comes down to patents and licenses. Licensing Blu-ray technology costs money, which makes it an unlikely proposition for free media players. Laptops which feature BD drives sometimes come with OEM versions of one of the software movie players described here. But OEM versions are often lacking features and they are not updated as regularly as the retail versions of any Blu-ray / DVD player software package.

Since last year Roxio stopped offering Blu-ray playback in their CinePlayer with 3D although it's apparently still marketed as a 3D player. We don't know the exact reason behind this move but it's probably something related to licensing again. And then Corel bought Roxio altogether. So currently there are just four commercial software packages for Windows supporting BD playback. These are CyberLink's PowerDVD 12 Ultra, ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 5, Corel's WinDVD Pro 11 and Nero 11 Platinum. Some of these manufacturers sell also low-end packages offering cheaper video playing software with restricted functionality (like CyberLink's PowerDVD 12 Pro or PowerDVD 12 Standard), but for Bluray disc playback you will always have to purchase the high-end edition. Note that sometimes we will shorten or abbreviate the name of the reviewed 3D Blu-ray player software package but in all instances we will refer to the highest-end version, e.g., PowerDVD will stand for PowerDVD 12 Ultra. Since Nero have disabled BD playback in their trial version and it's more of an add-on anyway, Nero Platinum 11 is included mainly for completeness rather than being actually tested.

Before we delve into the individual Blu-ray player reviews, here are some of the features and restrictions PowerDVD 12 Ultra, TotalMedia Theatre 5 and WinDVD Pro 11 share in common. All of these Windows media players:
  • Run on Microsoft Windows 7, Windows XP (with Service Pack 3) and Windows Vista.
  • Are capable of Blu-ray 3D playback.
  • Offer support of HDMI 1.4.
  • Can convert 2D video to 3D.
  • Achieve very high picture quality during BD playback and any distinctions among the video players are practically impalpable on a full HD display. (But this is not exactly the case in regard to upscaling standard definition content or any other content of lower resolution to high definition displays.)
  • Support hardware acceleration. This means that decoding calculations are done on the graphics hardware, which enables HD video playback on systems having slow CPUs. Note that hardware acceleration will disable some video processing features because it relegates work to the graphics card driver.
  • Work with DTS-HD audio and Dolby TrueHD audio.
  • Upscale standard definition / low res video files and DVDs to full HD.
  • Support AVCHD video playback. AVCHD is currently the most popular HD video format for video enabled photo cameras and consumer camcorders.
  • Offer Remote Control support.
  • Enforce content protection and will disable frame capture and clip capture (if applicable) from BDs. Other functions may also be disabled when playing content protected 2D or 3D Blu-ray discs.
  • Support player profile 2.0 of BD-Live.
  • Allow for several changes of the Blu-ray region code setting (usually limited to 5) inside the BD player software. Not writing the region setting directly in the drive itself uncovers a nice opportunity for turning your PC into a region free Blu-ray player: Windows 7, XP or Vista, two or three different bluray playback software packages and just one BD drive on your computer will do the trick.

Our (3D) Blu-ray player software reviews continue with CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra.

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Anonymous said...

Nice review. There've been some rumours about VLC media player becoming capable of playing BDs for free. As of today it doesn't seem VideoLAN is offering a real Blu-ray software player cause it is still not able to play retail Blu-rays. Any freeware software that claims to support Blue-ray discs is actually only supporting unprotected discs. The retail/rented movies have protection and since there are fees for almost everything related to BDs it's not likely that a free BD player will appear soon.

Anonymous said...

DAPlayer works for Bluray.....sometimes. Free download.

John Moscow said...

I liked the "sometimes" part about DAPlayer. :)

Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with pretty much every free player for BDs.

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