Logical and feature packed
PowerDVD comes in two packages: Deluxe ($69.95) and Standard ($49.95). Deluxe offers DTS Digital Surround and SRS TruSurround XT audio support. Both share a range of audio- and video-related features that equal or exceed those offered by other software DVD players; you get Dolby Headphone, which enhances audio playback for headphone users, and Pro Logic II support, which makes dual speaker systems sound more like 5.1-speaker surround sound.
The program's interface is bright and compact. You'll find basic playback controls logically presented in a small wheel on the right of the player, with a pull-out panel just beyond that lets you change camera angles and create and jump to bookmarks. (These bookmarks themselves are handy, too: they let you jump back to random playback locations in the movie.) PowerDVD also lets you export bookmarks as a separate BMK file that you can e-mail to your friends and associates, allowing you to share your video highlights with other users or on multiple computers.
The main body of the player contains most other playback and configuration controls; unfortunately, these tools are inconsistently presented and difficult to decipher. For example, if you click the Subtitle or Language icons, you can toggle between their available options. By contrast, the Current Audio Mode icon simply reports the mode that you're currently using--you can't click it to access any tools. Fortunately, you can ignore the majority of these icons and simply access most controls by right-clicking in the video playback window itself. Unfortunately, the color and brightness controls are buried two menus deep, so it's tough to display them without blocking some of the video window.
PowerDVD counters its awkward tools with an advanced feature set. It offers near-universal support for most popular audio and video formats, including MP3, AC3, QuickTime, and audio CD tracks, plus it can build and replay playlists. You can also use PowerDVD to capture images from your DVDs--the app lets you grab either the current or aspect-ratio-corrected window and save it as wallpaper or to the clipboard or a file. However, you can save grabbed images in BMP format only.
As far as other features go, PowerDVD supports DVD-based zoom and pan so that you can also digitally zoom in to your videos, then scan around them manually. Oddly, these controls work only in full-screen video mode. You can configure your wheel-mouse--another big hit--to function as a shuttle or volume control or use it to jump between chapters. You can also toggle the display to a miniplayer and a configurable toolbar player when you're viewing in full-screen mode.
PowerDVD wins our video-quality trials, producing video that's slightly sharper than that of the other players, with more vivid color. In addition, the program ranks only slightly behind CinePlayer for playback efficiency honors in both CPU (52 percent compared to CinePlayer's 47 percent on our Pentium IV, 1GHz test bed) and memory consumption (87MB to 79MB).
CyberLink doesn't come with a warranty, but it does provide free updates and patches. The company offers free e-mail support for registered users, as well as free telephone and fax support. PowerDVD proved stable in our trials, though, so this shouldn't be much of a deterrent. Overall, considering quality, feature set, and playback efficiency, PowerDVD is a great choice for most users.
PowerDVD's playback controls are logical, but its screen icons are too small and a bit confusing.