Thursday, February 23, 2012

CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra Review: Blu-ray, DVD & Media Player

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CyberLink's PowerDVD is the oldest media player in this pack. It is also the first that introduced Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D playback. The current version is the freshly released PowerDVD 12.

In the new edition of their 3D Blu-ray player software, CyberLink have diminished the significance of the monikers TrueTheater HD and TrueTheater 3D for the corresponding upscaling and 2D to 3D converting parts of their video processing engine. In PowerDVD 12 they simply call the whole engine TrueTheater Effects. It is only available when hardware acceleration is disabled though as acceleration relies on the video card driver which is not entirely controlled by the software. TrueTheater Effects offer three notable new features. All of these are pretty nice to have for homemade videos, but we don't recommend them turned on for movies.

PowerDVD 12 Ultra

First, there is frame rate smoothing which interpolates frames to increase apparent smoothness in movement. This is pretty nice for video, especially home videos, but don't ever turn it on for movies unless you want to make them look like TV. Cinema is shot in 24 frames per second, which induces the strobing effect in object movement and camera pans. Some people call it the dream effect. No reason for anyone to want to get rid of it in a movie, so, again, only use this for home videos. Next, there is a video stabilizer, which attempts to decrease image shaking from handheld cameras. Note that it will cut the borders of the video in order to manage a stable core. Last, there is a denoiser to strip videos from noise. Again, nice for home video, but don't use on movies or you will remove filmic grain from the image.

For some time now CyberLink have put focus on online features. Since version 10 PowerDVD integrates MoovieLive, CyberLink's online movie database and community portal. Initially somewhat lacking in content, this service is now more richly populated. The integration allows the user to post ratings and reviews online and to get context information related to the currently watched movie. There is also a counter taking track how many times a movie has been watched globally. This includes all PowerDVD users and is essentially serving as a popularity rating amongst the PowerDVD community. The Live Comments feature enables status updates to Twitter, Facebook and MoovieLive from within PowerDVD. It is probably most appropriate to use with Twitter as it is closely related to the Twitter paradigm. And for the purists, there are options to turn all these online features off. Publishing to YouTube has been streamlined and you can now publish videos to Facebook. YouTube support has been extended to include 3D videos as well as 2D to 3D conversion for YouTube videos. 2D to 3D support has been made universal, now being extended to Blu-ray playback too. The new version also integrates support for the online music store 7Digital, a DRM free music store with a huge selection of tracks and, coincidentally, our music store of choice. (7Digital integration is supported in selected countries initially; US, UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, to be precise.)

CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra
As expected, PowerDVD 12 can be integrated with Windows Media Center. In this case it launches a minimalistic interface (the so called Cinema mode), which blends beautifully with WMC. This interface mode is simple, clean and designed to be friendly to remote control use, but nevertheless includes most features of the Classic mode (except files playback). Cinema mode can also be toggled on through an icon in the standard Classic mode interface. The Classic mode itself has been polished and now looks slicker. The media browser also got some new toys and now can rearrange and scale thumbnails. Scaling also extends to actual playback allowing for real time video zoom in and zoom out.

In another move towards integration PowerDVD can now work and cooperate with various devices. Android and iOS devices (smartphones, tablets) can be used as remote controls for PowerDVD 12. Media files and playlists can be synced with Android and Blackberry devices. Syncing will also take care of any format conversions necessary if the mobile device does not support the source format. PowerDVD can also act as both DLNA server and DLNA client and stream from and to devices connected to the home network. Intel WiDi is also supported for wireless streaming to TVs (Blu-ray playback included).

PowerDVD has always been in the forefront amongst commercial video players in terms of format support. Now in a welcome addition there is support for OGG and FLAC audio files (about time, we may say). The new Matroska 3D format MK3D is also supported. And new is support for DTS-HD 7.1 sound from Blu-ray discs. PowerDVD 12 Ultra can now also play from Blu-ray folders, a feature which was previously unique to ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre. An interesting move toward strengthening its status of a universal media player is the support for various picture RAW file formats from advanced photo cameras. Photo enthusiasts will probably enjoy this.

Follow the link to check for a current CyberLink coupon code.

Our 2012 Blu-ray player software reviews continue with ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 5.

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