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Review: CyberLink PowerDVD 11 Ultra

27 April 2011, Mike Williams

CyberLink’s PowerDVD has long been many people’s DVD and Blu-ray player of choice. But that’s no longer enough for CyberLink, who boast that PowerDVD 11 “is the world’s leading universal media player for the PC”, so powerful that it can “play any media format, from any source”.

Universal media player? Any media format? Big claims, then – but have CyberLink delivered? We took PowerDVD 11 for a spin in an effort to find out.

The interface hasn’t changed too much, with simple tabs allowing you to play particular content types. And the core DVD and Blu-ray functionality is also similar to PowerDVD 10, though there are a few useful additions dotted throughout the package.

The program doesn’t only play DVDs, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D discs, for instance: it can now also handle recorded 3D TV.

Enhanced audio features include new support for HDMI 1.4, which should take much of the hassle out of getting multi-channel, high definition sound. There’s also lossless pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and 5.1 DTS support is now available even in the standard PowerDVD edition.

Cinema Mode (an alternative view optimised for remote control use, which integrates with Windows Media Centre) has been enhanced with a 3D interface. Nothing too adventurous – it’s still essentially just buttons and text menus – but it looks good and is fun to use.

And TrueTheater 3D has seen a major upgrade since the last version, which means it does a much better job of converting your DVDs, video files and photos (though not 2D Blu-ray discs) to 3D. The results can still be poor sometimes, depending on your source material, but it’s still a fun technology that can bring new life to your old movies.

Videos, music, photos

There’s more to PowerDVD 11 than DVDs and Blu-ray, of course. The program is also able to browse and play most music file formats. And improved video handling meant that PowerDVD was able to play most of the files we threw at it, although there were problems with a couple of MKV files, and Ogg video files aren’t recognised at all.

New to this version is a Photos tab, which displays a simple thumbnail browser that makes it easy to locate and view your favourite digital images (including 3D formats like MPO and JPS), or organise them into slideshows.

CyberLink recognise that the content you need won’t always be on your hard drive, and so the program now automatically detects and allows streaming from DLNA-compliant media servers. You’re able to download store its media locally, which is convenient, and the program can also stream copy protected files that use the DTCP-IP scheme.

You also get useful social media features. So the Videos tab provides an easy way to browse YouTube, with one-click access to the current “Featured” and “Most Viewed” clips, your own personal favourites, playlists, subscriptions and more. And the Pictures tab allows you to browse your Flickr and Facebook photos, as well as (more usefully) displaying all your Flickr and Facebook friends’ photos in a single screen.

There are some limitations here. You can’t run keyword searches for pictures or videos, for instance. There’s no way to open a particular YouTube video in your browser, perhaps to view the comments. And there’s no option to save a copy of a chosen clip to your hard drive.

But on the plus side, everything PowerDVD plays can be enhanced by its TrueTheater technology, which automatically adjusts brightness, colours, removes noise and carries out great quality upscaling. This is great for making your DVDs look good, even at HD resolutions, and it can make a real difference to the quality of your YouTube clips, too.

And PowerDVD also offers easy upload to your YouTube, Flickr and Facebook accounts, so for instance you can use the program to convert a few home movies to 3D, then share them with the world in just a few clicks. (Sadly, while you can create 3D photos, they’re for display only: you can’t easily upload them elsewhere to share with others.)

Devices

One of the most interesting PowerDVD 11 additions is a new Devices tab, which allows you to access content on Apple or Android devices across a wireless network, and use them as remote controls for the PowerDVD 11 interface.

You’ll need to install the PowerDVD Remote app (free with PowerDVD Ultra and Deluxe, $4.99 if you only have the standard version) to make this happen, though. It needs an iOS 4 device, so we added it to a convenient iPod Touch.

On launch, the app detected our PowerDVD installation, and launched the program on our PC. Clicking the Device tab allowed us to browse pictures and videos on our iPod, and play them just as though they were on a local drive. Well, a few of them: PowerDVD only supports playing MOV videos on Apple devices, unfortunately (the Android Remote app can handle H.264 (MPEG-4), MOV, MPEG-2 PS, MPEG-2 TS and WMV files).

And if you want to sit back and use PowerDVD 11 as a home entertainment system, then the remote control side of the app works well. A “Modules” option lets you jump straight to a particular tab (Movie, Videos, Music and so on); the “Mouse Pad” allowed us to drag a finger over our iPod screen to control the mouse cursor on our PC; and selecting “Controls” displayed all the buttons we needed to control playback (Play, Pause, Back, Next, Mute, and so on). It’s all very easy to use, and the apps are a welcome new addition to PowerDVD 11.

Editions

Whether these extras justify PowerDVD 11 Ultra’s $99.95 is more open to question, but as with previous versions, if you don’t need all the features then you can move to a lesser edition and save a little money.

PowerDVD 11 Deluxe, for instance, drops Blu-ray, DTC-IP and some high-end audio features (7.1, DTS-HD, and so on), but also cuts the list price to $69.95.

And PowerDVD 11 Standard goes a little further, also removing 3D, AVCREC/AVCHD and DLNA support, and cutting audio features to a minimum (5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS). But if that’s all you need, then the $49.95 list price may look like a bargain.

There are other complications to consider across the range, though; Blu-ray playback requires an HDCP-compliant display, for instance, while NVIDIA 3D Vision isn’t supported on Windows XP. And so if you’re interested in PowerDVD 11 then it’s a very good idea to take the trial for a spin, first, just to confirm that everything works exactly as you’d expect.

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