Doing a side by side comparison between WinDVD 6.0 and PowerDVD 6.0, there is for all practically purposes no difference between the video quality of both players. In previous versions of PowerDVD, it's picture tend to produce a softer picture, but with less artifacts, but the difference is small enough not to be noticed unless one is specifically looking for differences. With both players configured without video acceleration and with brightness/contrast at the original/default settings, PowerDVD 6.0 now actually looks a little sharper than WinDVD, although again, the differences are very subtle. I think both players have reached a stage where it is almost impossible to improve upon picture quality.
Rating : A+
Decoder efficiency was tested with 2 channel decoding turned on, video acceleration turned off and all other filters/effects turned off. The result was a bit of a surprise. WinDVD averaged around 20% CPU usage, which is quite normal, but with PowerDVD 6.0, the average was much higher, at around 70% and occasionally going into the 90's. Thinking this was a mistake, I tested PowerDVD 6.0 on another computer (this time a P4 3.2 GHz), and the results were more normal, with both WinDVD and PowerDVD consuming roughly the same amount of CPU resources. A Windows restart did not seem to help, although with video acceleration turned on, the performance was much better (at around 30%), but still higher than it should be. Right now, I am suspecting it's an issue with DMA busmastering on my test system, because ripped DVD files playback without the high CPU usage - but it's strange that WinDVD is not affected by this problem on the same system.
PowerDVD's does feels more efficient due to its faster loading speed and a less laggy interface.
Rating : A
CLEV has been updated in PowerDVD 6.0, and with CLEV turned on, the picture looked brighter with more vibrant colors. But as with any picture enhancement (mostly just adjustments of specific contrast settings), details is lost and color bleeding and loss of color accuracy can occur. An example of CLEV enhancement is shown below (actual screenshot of CLEV in action):
WinDVD's "Video Effects" (and in particular, the "Movie Effector" filter) and PowerDVD 6.0's CLEV both do similar things and both have similar effects. WinDVD does have a few extra "Video Effects" presets (such as "Negative"), but as I mentioned in the WinDVD review, I personally do not find much use for this feature.
Smart De-Interlacing is the major new video feature in the latest version of PowerDVD. This is one of those set and forget settings, and whether this will improve your picture of not depends on the kind of content (ie. interlaced content) being viewed. Most DVDs now carry progressive content, and have interlaced content for extras and made for TV material. The "bitstream analysis" option is particularly welcomed, since many DVDs do not properly set the correct bitstream flag for interlaced content.
WMV-HD playback is now available, and playback was good within PowerDVD (because my test WMV-HD files were on the hard disk, the excessive CPU problem I noticed earlier made it more CPU intensive to playback a DVD than a WMV-HD file). I did notice some aspect ratio problems with the T2 HD sample trailer available from Microsoft's WMV-HD website.
DivX support has been upgraded to support DivX Pro features in the Deluxe version.
Overall, WinDVD just shades PowerDVD in this area because it has more video filters, and can do most if not all the things that PowerDVD can do (including WMV-HD playback, without the aspect ratio problems noted in the T2 sample trailer).
Rating : A
Audio quality was top notch in the previous version of PowerDVD, and it remains so here. There are many settings here to improve audio volume due to DVD's dynamic range, but with everything turned on to improve volume, it's still a little bit softer than WinDVD with the same enhancements. Excessive volume amplification can cause loss of audio quality, so it's a fine balance.
In terms of audio features, this is where most of PowerDVD 6.0's changes are. A trend by Cyberlink has been to implement their own versions licensed audio technologies, such as virtual surround and headphones technologies. This trend is very obvious in PowerDVD 6.0, as all the TruSurround technologies have been replaced by Cyberlink versions that works exactly the same.
Before we get to that, let concentrate on the improvements made to existing audio features. CLMEI (Cyberlink Multi-Channel Environment Impression - Cyberlink's own "simulated surround" engine) has been upgraded to CLMEI-2. It converts stereo sources for multi-channel (eg. 4, 6 or 8 channels) use.
This functionality also exists in the form of Dolby Pro-Logic II - but CLMEI offers more configuration options in that it allows you to adjust each speaker's output level. This is part of the trend I mentioned before about Cyberlink introducing their own versions of licensed technologies, and replaces the existing TruSurround version. Dolby Pro-Logic IIx is also available in the Deluxe version of PowerDVD.
PowerDVD 5.0 added Dolby Virtual Speakers, which does the opposite of CLMEI and plays back multi-channel audio using only 2 speakers (with audio tricks to trick your ears into thinking there are more than just two speakers - not a substitute for multi-channel audio, but works quite well). Again, the trend continues here since Cyberlink has introduced CLVS (Cyberlink Virtual Speaker). The available settings determine how big you want your listening environment to sound, just like Dolby Virtual Speaker, but here you get more meaningful option names like "Theatre" or "Stadium", rather than just "Wide 1" and "Wide 2".
The trend continues with CLHP (Cyberlink Headphone), again Cyberlink's version of a licensed Dolby technology. The same options ("Living Room", "Theatre", "Stadium") for CLVS are available here.
This trend will allow Cyberlink to reduce licensing costs, and it would be interesting to see a low budget version of PowerDVD that does not have Dolby Pro-Logic IIx, Virtual Speaker and Headphones, but only Cyberlink equivalent of the same technologies.
DVD-Audio (with video content) playback is now available as well in the Deluxe version, which is a welcomed addition. CPPM protected content is supported, but I was not able to continue pass the CPPM activation check. Other than that, DVD-Audio playback was flawless and all the normal DVD audio features (like CLHP) are available as well.
New in PowerDVD 6.0 are audio presets (DSP) - 14 preset like "Classical", "Techno", "Country" are included. PowerDVD is doing a little bit of catching up in this area because WinDVD already includes DSP, which includes 17 presets and a custom equalizer mode.
Audio Quality Rating : A+ Audio Support Rating : A+
There has been no apparent change in terms of subtitles support between version 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and now 6.0.
PowerDVD 5.0 like 3.0 and 4.0 supports both closed captions and subtitles - in fact, it even supports dual subtitles (2 different subtitles can be displayed at the same time, one on top of the screen, the other on the bottom) - and dual subtitles can also be displayed at the same time as closed captions, which means 3 subtitles/captions can be simultaneously displayed at the same time. Closed captions are displayed as white text on a transparent background, which isn't as clear as WinDVD's white text on a black background setup - WinDVD no longer supports multiple subtitles.
Rating : B+
Update 28th June 2005: The release of WinDVD 7.0 has decreased the Captions/Subtitles rating for PowerDVD because of improvements made by WinDVD, particular in the area of DivX subtitle support.
With PowerDVD's implementation, you have the ability to capture to clipboard, instead of a file, and you have the ability to specify a location to store the captured file. PowerDVD even includes a option to capture to your Windows desktop wallpaper. PowerDVD 6.0 does not add anything new to this area. WinDVD has the additional ability to preview captures before saving, select between JPG/BMP and email integration.
NVDVD has introduced audio capturing, and so both WinDVD and PowerDVD will have to catch up in this area.
Rating : A
The interface of PowerDVD 6.0 remains largely unchanged from that of PowerDVD 3.0/4.0/5.0. There is a new skin and some options have been moved to the main console in a left sided sub-panel, as I wished for in my PowerDVD 5.0 review. It's similar to WinDVD's sub-panel idea, but only the essential settings are present. This new sub-panel also works with the previous skins that are included.
The only thing I don't like about the new skin is that it moves the eject button to the navigational sub-panel.
Below is the User Interface Review for PowerDVD 3.0/4.0 :
The interface is very flexible, allowing you to change the "skin" whenever one become available (currently there are 5 skins included in the retail package). Menus are easy to access, all the options are available with a right-click as well as on the main console. PowerDVD 3.0 also now a toolbar option, which overlays a toolbar at the side of your desktop screen that contains the most used controls (see this page and this page for more information and screen shots) - although the implementation of this toolbar could have been done better (eg. the inclusion of a "auto hide" feature).
There is also a wide range of shortcut keys, which is also nice to have for those with good memories and/or a dislike of multiple mouse movements/clicks.
As noted earlier, the interface does not feel laggy and the program loads quite quickly, so it's slightly ahead of WinDVD in this area.
Rating : A
Update 28th June 2005: The release of WinDVD 7.0 has decreased the Interface rating for PowerDVD because of improvements made by WinDVD.
PowerDVD is supported under a wide range of Windows version, including 98, Me, 2000, XP, as well as NT 4.0. Because of the limitations of driver/multimedia support under NT/2000, not all of the enhanced features (like acceleration support) will be available.
For mobile computing, power saving and other features are usually built into the OS. WinDVD 5.0 adds a Mobility Technology Pack which bundles mobile computing features (such as power saving profiles) into the DVD player itself, which is a good way of extending playback time, even if your OS does not have proper mobile technology support. PowerDVD now has mobile power setting options as well, surprisingly something that Cyberlink hasn't made a big fuss over, although mobile multimedia computing is very important these days.
Rating : A+
This section describes zooming and aspect ratio issues, and mostly remain unchanged from PowerDVD 5.0
CLPV (Cyberlink Pano Vision) is Cyberlink's new zooming algorithm (for widescreen to fullscreen and more importantly, fullscreen to widescreen conversion/zooming). With CLPV, the center of the picture is zoomed less than the outer edges of the picture - assuming most of the action is near the center of the screen, this presents less distortions to the viewer. It sort of has a telescopic/panoramic look to it. This is actually quite a neat feature, and I was pleased to say that it works quite well, especially for fullscreen to widescreen conversion.
Unfortunately, none of the zooming options are available when playing back non DVD content, which is a shame.
Previously, neither PowerDVD nor WinDVD supports custom zoom (ie. allows you to set, on a scale, how much to zoom in the X/Y directions) - this feature could prove very useful for those that permanently connects their computer to their 16:9 home theater device (eg. projector or television). PowerDVD tries to solve this problem by allowing you to set a custom aspect ratio (eg. 16:9, 16:10) for the secondary graphic device. While this helps, it would be better if the primary device's aspect ratio could also be changed, or more precisely, allow completely custom aspect ratios (eg. 17:8, or any other random aspect ratio) for both the primary and secondary playback devices. But it's a move in the right direction.
PowerDVD now also has dual display settings for setting up cloning/mirroring of displays across two displays, although your graphics driver should already have these type of options available.
Rating : A
As mentioned previously, there are two versions of PowerDVD, Standard and Deluxe. The standard versions retails for $49.95 (an increase of $10 over the previous version) and the deluxe version is $20 dearer, at $69.95. The only difference between these versions are noted in the review above, but to sum up, the Deluxe version has Dolby Pro-Logic IIx decoding, DTS decoding, DVD-Audio playback and DivX Pro support (Dolby Virtual Speaker has been added to PowerDVD 6.0 Standard). The Standard version stands for very good value, but the Deluxe version is only slighly more expensive, very well priced compared to the competition and now has quite a few additional features over the Standard version.