Note : This is an archived review for an older version of WinDVD. For the latest review, please refer to this page.
Below is a review for the latest version of WinDVD. Please take into account the fact that all ratings are for WinDVD Platinum 5.0 with Audio Booster Pack and Mobile Technology Pack, and so not all the features may be available in all versions of WinDVD.
Below is the specs for the test system used :
512 MB PC-133 CAS-2 SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce2 Ultra
SB-Live Platinum 5.1
Pioneer A05 16X DVD-ROM drive
Windows 98SE and 2000
WinDVD Platinum 5.0 with Audio Booster Pack and Mobile Technology Pack
Video quality has not noticeably changed (for good or bad) since the previous version of WinDVD (WinDVD Platinum 1.0). The unprocessed (all display settings at default, no additional video filters/effects) picture is brighter than that of PowerDVD, which gives the impression of superior quality. The picture also appears sharper.
However, upon closer inspection, one could tell that the extra brightness/contrast and sharpness does yield just slightly more artifacts.
Notice in the comparison above the extra definition of the fur for WinDVD 5.0 over PowerDVD 5.0, but notice that when zoomed in, the same area presents more artifacts. It certainly looks like a sharpness filter (notice the bright edge around the two strands of hair in the lower comparison) has been applied in WinDVD 5.0's case. On a computer monitor, the extra sharpness and brightness of WinDVD 5.0 does give a better looking picture, but on a larger display, the artifacts would be quite noticeable. The artifacts are even more noticeable when there are patches of color, like the blue sky background. On this occasion, while WinDVD's sharpness impressed me, I prefer PowerDVD's lack of artifacts, as I am more inclined to playback DVDs on a large screen (where the sharpness is lost, but the artifacts are amplified). If you mainly playback DVDs on your PC monitor, than WinDVD's picture quality will not disappoint. Call it a tie.
Rating : A
Decoder efficiency was tested with 2 channel decoding turned on and all other filters/effects turned off. With modern CPUs, there is almost no difference between the performance of PowerDVD and WinDVD, so efficiency is becoming less of a problem all the time. PowerDVD does seem to have a more volatile CPU usage (eg. going from 26% to 38%, while WinDVD hovered around 33-35%) - this won't be a problem unless you have an older CPU (eg. a PIII-500). I doubt efficiency can be increased without sacrificing quality, not that it matters all that much with today's range of CPUs.
Rating : A+
The graphics acceleration support documentation has not been updated (eg. it does not include GeForce4), so it isn't easy to say which card is supported. I would expect most forms of Motion Compensation and some forms of iDCT are supported, along the lines of PowerDVD.
PAL TruSpeed is present again, I am pleased to say (I was a little upset when the previous version of WinDVD accidentally left out this option). PAL TruSpeed, for those that don't know, is for correcting the playback speed of PAL movie DVDs, which unfortunately, play a little faster than the original movie frame-rate of 23.976 FPS (PAL plays at 25 FPS). NTSC DVDs do not suffer from this problem, and this is why if you look at the running length of PAL movies, they are always shorter than the NTSC equivalent.
"Always on top" mode is available, as with NVDVD, which was one of those options a lot of people requested. As with WinDVD 4/Platinum 1.0, there is a "Video Desktop" mode, which allows you to playback the DVD as the background image of your Windows desktop - so for those who have called for animated Windows desktop backgrounds, your wish has (sort of) come true. "Video Desktop" may not be very practical (if you have multiple windows open, your desktop is most likely blocked out), but at the very least it makes an interesting screensaver/desktop background.
A similar feature that was previously available in WinDVD 4/Platinum is time stretching playback, which allows you to playback a movie either faster or slower, but with the audio's pitch unchanged (just the playback speed) - you'll have to see it to believe it, but it works quite well. WinDVD 5.0 has added a slider bar for adjusting the playback speed, which makes speed control slightly easier.
One of the new features exclusive to the top-of-the-range Platinum version of WinDVD is Progressive De-Interlacing.
To test the de-interlacing filter, I got out what I believe to be a classic example of interlaced content - the "Making of The X-Files Movie" feature from the original R1 The X-Files Movie DVD (the one with non 16:9 enhanced video). I wasn't able to get a good screen capture of Progressive De-Interlacing in action, but I was able to capture both force weave mode (interlacing at full glory) and force bob (the normal de-interlacing algorithm).
Note the interlacing lines on the weave capture, and the blurry outline of the bob capture. Normal bob de-interlacing removes the interlacing lines from the first capture but adds the blurry glowing effect, but progressive de-interlacing removes the blurry outline from the bob capture. Note that you can only notice these effects during fast moving shots, so the difference between bob and progressive de-interlacing is hard to tell sometimes, but should be much more visible on larger screens.
As mentioned in the "What's New" page, Video Effects are now stackable. I am not totally convinced about the necessity to apply effects to the video in the first place, let alone multiple effects at the same time, so while it does add something new, it's not a feature on the top of my wishlist.
Like PowerDVD, there is a range of brightness, contrast, color and gamma controls. The Platinum version of WinDVD 5.0 provide a few presets for these controls designed for different types of display devices (monitor, LCD, TV, Projector), and can be useful if your computer is connected frequently to different devices.
Rating : A+
For the most part, audio quality in WinDVD 5.0 remains the same as WinDVD 4/Platinum 1.0.
The last release of WinDVD added 96 kHz/24 Bit audio decoding mode, Dolby Virtual Speakers and more headphone support (for both Dolby and SRS). Previous releases added 4/6/8 speaker support, SRS enhancements, Karaoke options and tons of DSP effects. There is also the late night mode, which is just another way of saying dynamic compression (which is what PowerDVD calls it). This brings PowerDVD and WinDVD practically equal in terms of both audio quality and support - I guess that tend to happen after 5 generations of continued competition. If you need your sound to be loud, clear and adjustable, then either PowerDVD or WinDVD will be more than adequate.
What differentiates PowerDVD and WinDVD eventually is WinDVD's support for DSP modes, and with the Audio Booster add-on pack, an equalizer. DSP effects include Hall, Soft, Echo, Rock, Vocal, Classic ... The Audio Booster pack also adds individual speaker adjustments (volume and delay), which is actually quite a useful feature, essential if you have non matching speakers in non uniform distances from the listener.
To compare with PowerDVD, both player's audio quality are about equal, while WinDVD 5.0 has just pulled ahead of PowerDVD in terms of audio support. Note that PowerDVD's audio support is still quite extensive, and more than enough for most people - WinDVD just happens to have more :)
Audio Quality Rating : A+ Audio Support Rating : A+
Nothing really has changed in this area over the previous version of WinDVD, and you can read what I wrote for the previous version below :
Both subtitles and captions are supported here, the same as WinDVD 4. Only one set of subtitle/captions are supported at a time (WinDVD 3.0 could display up to four different subtitles at the same time), as opposed to the two different subtitles that PowerDVD can display at the same time. Granted, having multiple subtitles on screen is pretty useless for most situations, although it is odd to remove a feature that was already present, even if it is not that useful.
Closed captions are available as white text on black background, which enhances visibility (PowerDVD implements closed captions as white text with a transparent background, which isn't as clear).
Neither PowerDVD nor WinDVD allows you to change the position of the subtitle/captions, which if possible, would be a good feature to consider for the future.
Rating : B+
WinDVD 5.0's capture facility is similar to that of WinDVD 4/Platinum's. The capture browser allows you to capture multiple frames and preview/delete/save them here with ease - captured frames can be viewed as thumbnails, or as a plain text list. It's one of those "why didn't I think of it" features that just make life a whole lot easier (if your life revolved around capturing still frames from DVDs, that is). This allows for multiple captures at the same time and preview them before saving. New in 5.0 is the ability to select which format to save the capture under, either as JPG or BMP. It also adds email integration, which automatically launches your email client with the captured image as the attachment.
One disappointing exclusion in the previous version of WinDVD is the option to specify which directory captured files are saved to. Thankfully, this has been addressed, and you can now specify the capture/bookmark directory in the setup section.
For a reviewer, the ability to capture to the clipboard would have been a nice options to include as well. Overall, both PowerDVD and WinDVD's capture facilities are about the same. WinDVD has the ability to preview captures before saving, select between JPG/BMP and email integration. PowerDVD, on the other hand, has custom resolutions captures and clipboard capturing.
NVDVD has introduced audio capturing, and so both WinDVD and PowerDVD will have to catch up in this area.
Rating : A
WinDVD 5.0's interface extends upon the interface found in WinDVD Platinum 1.0, although the skin used has been completely re-designed, and improved in most areas.
The first thing you notice is the new skin, which I am glad to say, is quite well designed with clear and large buttons, as well as a large numerical display.
The subpanel way of organising options continues. There are less subpanels than the previous version, with some of the audio subpanels being moved to the Audio Booster interface (there is a configurable option in the setup section that allows you to move them back to the subpanels), offering functions ranging from the standard navigation (select up/down left/right, titles, chapters ...) to language selection (audio/subtitle). I quite like subpanels, since it allows you to get to important functions quickly and easily, as opposed to navigating page after page of configuration panels, or menu options.
The time stretching functions have been moved from the main console to one of the subpanels, which is better since it is now easier to make the playback speed adjustments.
As mentioned previously on the "What's New" page, there are now controls on the top of the main playback screen. These controls allow you to select the source of playback, and access Zoom, Audio Booster, Capture Browser, Bookmark Browser and the Playlist. This is a nice touch, although these controls can only be accessed when using WinDVD in windowed mode, not in fullscreen mode.
"Video docking" is still supported - it is a feature which allows you to attach and detach the main control console with the playback window. For those that read my NVDVD review, I mentioned that the NVDVD's docked style interface (the controls are attached to the playback window) was a nice feature that makes moving the window around much easier, although it really depends on personal taste. With WinDVD "Video docking", you can now have the best of both worlds. In WinDVD 5.0, more component can now be docked, including the capture/bookmark browser and the new playlist editor.
The new and improved playlist editor is now part of the capture/bookmark browser component. Buttons on the playlist editor allows you add/delete playlists and to load in individual files, or entire directories into these playlists. Playlists are saved whenever you exit the playlist window.
I should also mention WinDVD's "Play DVD from folder" option, which allows you to playback ripped DVDs from your hard-drive directly. PowerDVD 5.0 has improved its equivalent option by opening ripped folders, instead of opening the IFO file, and so both players have pretty much the same ripped playback support. However what I found a little annoying was the fact that WinDVD refused to remember that last opened ripped DVD folder, meaning that I have to locate the ripped folder each and every time I wanted to playback from it. The resume function does work with ripped DVDs, which is something PowerDVD doesn't seem to be able to do.
I guess this is as good a place to mention the DVD Movie Encyclopedia function, which allows you to search the net for information regarding the currently playing movie. I am not sure how useful this will be, considering one could just open a browser and search IMDB to get the same information, with greater detail as well.
Rating : A+
WinDVD 5.0 now supports all versions of Windows (98 SE, Me, 2000, XP), after WinDVD Platinum 1.0 was only released for Windows 2000 and XP. This is a good move, since while it may be hard for some of you to imagine, there are plenty of users that are satisfied with their Windows 9x/Me setups and excluding them would be unfair.
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.
Rating : A+
This section describes zooming and aspect ratio issues.
Zooming in WinDVD 5.0 mostly remains the same as in WinDVD 4/Platinum, which is actually a little disappointing. As you may remember, the zooming in WinDVD 4 seems to have gone a little backwards compared to WinDVD 3.0. You are not limited to zooming into a fixed area, which is at the same aspect ratio as the current movie. The way to specify where to zoom is actually quite good. Once you enter zoom mode by pressing the zoom button, you can select the area to which you want to zoom to using a white rectangle shown on the screen - you can click the left mouse button to zoom in to this area. You can repeat this several times, before the zoom is cancelled. Once zoomed into an area, you can right click to bring up the zoom menu, and select the panning option to pan the zoomed area.
However, WinDVD does have a function which allows you to turn a widescreen movie into a fullscreen one, which is one of the most requested features. Fortunately, this feature is easy to access, and does not require tricky configuration as with some other DVD players. All one needs to do to activate this feature is to go to the "Display" sub-panel, and change the "Widescreen" option to "Pan & Scan" (this option is only available in fullscreen mode). This doesn't appear to work for non anamorphic enhanced title (such as The X-Files DVD I was testing progressive de-interlacing on). There is also a "widescreen" which is designed for widescreen TV output (using non square pixels). There is also a "Panorama Widescreen" mode, which I think coverts a 2.35:1 movie to 1:85:1.
Compared to PowerDVD 5.0, these zooming features does seem a little less featured. PowerDVD 5.0 has CLPV aspect ratio conversion and custom aspect ratios for secondary display. WinDVD does feature non square pixel support though and a point and click type zooming. What would make both players more attractive would be custom aspect ratio (eg. allowing the user to specify any random aspect ratio, like 19:6) - this would be very useful for people who connect their computers to widescreen displays (such as projectors) at non standard resolutions (eg. 1280x720). Again, a tie.
Rating : A
Update (7th November) : There has been a couple of updates to the pricing structure of WinDVD. First of all, WinDVD Platinum now includes the Mobile Technology Pack and has reduced the price by $10 to $69.95. The prices of the Audio Booster and Mobile Technology Pack (still available separately for users of WinDVD Gold) have also been dropped. The price of WinDVD Gold has gone up, however. There is also an additional DVD-Audio Pack (not reviewed in this review, but basically offers DVD-Audio playback for those with Creative Audigy 2 sound cards).
The combinations of WinDVD (not taking into account the DVD-Audio, Interactual and Remote Control add-ons) are now as follows :
WinDVD Gold - $49.95
WinDVD Gold with the Audio Booster Pack - $62.90
WinDVD Gold with the Mobile Technology Pack - $69.90
WinDVD Gold with the Audio Booster Pack + the Mobile Technology Pack - $82.85
WinDVD Platinum (includes Mobile Technology Pack) - $69.95
WinDVD Platinum (includes Mobile Technology Pack) with the Audio Booster Pack - $82.90
This represents a savings of almost $63 for WinDVD Platinum with the Audio Booster Pack (and the Mobile Technology Pack, which is now bundled with WinDVD 5 Platinum), and it's certainly a move in the right direction. With this in mind, WinDVD 5 is in a much better position to compete with PowerDVD in the value stakes, and the scoring in this section (and hence the review) has been updated accordingly.
Below is the original review :
WinDVD's new pricing structure is a little complicated. The "budget" version is known as the Gold version, while the "top-of-range" version is the Platinum version - nothing too complicated here. Unfortunately, the "top-of-the-range" version is not really the best version available, because you have the Audio Booster and Mobile Technology add-on packs. The complication arises when you consider both the Gold version and Platinum version can get upgraded with the add-on packs. This essentially creates 8 possible versions of WinDVD (let's not even consider the optional remote control), their prices (with the currently on offer discount coupons included) :
WinDVD Gold - $39.95
WinDVD Gold with the Audio Booster Pack - $64.90
WinDVD Gold with the Mobile Technology Pack - $79.90
WinDVD Gold with the Audio Booster Pack + the Mobile Technology Pack - $104.85
WinDVD Platinum - $79.95
WinDVD Platinum with the Audio Booster Pack - $104.90
WinDVD Platinum with the Mobile Technology Pack - $119.90
WinDVD Platinum with the Audio Booster Pack + the Mobile Technology Pack - $144.85
$144.85 is a lot to pay for a software DVD player, even when you consider the huge feature set (although I do believe the most essential features are already present in plain versions of WinDVD Gold/Platinum).
When you take into account the fact that PowerDVD Deluxe, the most featured version of PowerDVD, is only $69.95, the value of WinDVD 5.0 seems to be a little on the average side. PowerDVD Deluxe happens to have about 80% of the features found in the most expensive WinDVD version, including most of the audio and video support features, and of course, excellent audio and video quality. If you really need the mobility features, or the additional features found in the audio booster pack, the doubling in price is a little hard to explain.
That is not to say that WinDVD 5.0 isn't worth it - if you want something that is comparable to PowerDVD Deluxe, then WinDVD Gold with the Audio Booster Pack seems like a very good combination, and perhaps even better in value than PowerDVD Deluxe. The extra $40 for WinDVD Platinum over Gold hardly seems justified, and the $39.95 Mobility Pack, just like quite a lot of mobile technology today, is a little too expensive.
The rating for this section of the review, as are the other review ratings, is for the most expensive combination of WinDVD. While the feature scores are very high compared to PowerDVD Deluxe (and meant that the relative ratings of both NVDVD and PowerDVD have dropped), the value score takes a hit here. The added complication of 8 different combinations just makes things worse.