Function over form
WinDVD is designed for ease of use, not to win style points, so its controls are large, easy to see, and logically placed--if not extremely attractive. Basic navigation controls, such as stop, start, and fast-forward, sit on the primary screen, with less frequently used controls, such as color adjustments and audio modes, accessible via a small pull-out panel on the right. The well-placed tools mean that you can adjust the video gamma, which usually produces better results than simply adjusting brightness and contrast, and the color characteristics without obscuring major chunks of the video with the control panel, unlike with CyberLink PowerDVD, Sonic CinePlayer, or DirectDVD.
Speaking of video controls, WinDVD is also the only program we've tested that enables gamma adjustment on all tested graphics cards, allowing us to brighten videos without under- or overexposing the video. Other programs, which rely exclusively on Microsoft's DirectShow for color adjustments, let you adjust gamma only if your graphics card supports the program.
In addition to its powerful video tools, WinDVD includes a killer feature called Time Stretching, which lets you accelerate video playback up to 200 percent or decrease it by 50 percent, with minimal audio distortion. You can adjust your speed in 5 percent increments, choose an end time with the Finish By control, or determine a movie's duration with a Play In option--ensuring that you complete the movie before it's time to return your seatbacks and tray tables to their original upright positions.
We also like WinDVD's screen-capture function, which captures images to a filmstrip that you can later save to disk. You can store bookmarks that let you jump back to random playback locations in the movie in a similar filmstrip, providing a thumbnail image to go with the chapter and time-code data. WinDVD lets you manually zoom in to a DVD picture and pan and scan within the display, in addition to supporting the automatic pan-and-scan feature embedded in many DVDs. You can even play the video on the desktop, behind your icons--something that no other program we tested can do.
Pay up for audio
WinDVD offers extensive audio features in the basic version. But if you want advanced digital audio features, such as DTS Digital Surround, Dolby EX and Dolby Prologic II, you'll have to pay extra and get the Plus version. Headphone wearers will be thankful that the standard WinDVD supports Dolby Headphone, a technology that noticeably improves audio quality with simple stereo headphones and reproduced almost movie-theater sound with our Sennheiser HD490 headphones.
In performance tests, WinDVD proved moderate, consuming 99MB of memory when loaded and averaging about 55 percent CPU load during our test sequence, compared to leader CinePlayer's 47 percent and 79MB. In side-by-side still-image comparisons, WinDVD trailed PowerDVD very slightly in image quality, but it's unlikely that any but the most discerning viewers would notice during normal playback.
InterVideo offers a long, 90-day warranty and provides e-mail support with a 24-hour turnaround, as well as an impressively complete online FAQ. The company also offers free telephone support via a toll call, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT.
If you're a traveler who wants to get the most out of watching a DVD on your laptop, look to WinDVD for its digital audio support and advanced video-adjustment capabilities. If you want to work while you watch, consider a low-overhead program such as Sonic CinePlayer.
WinDVD is the only player we've seen with widely compatible gamma correction and controls that don't obscure the video that you're attempting to adjust.