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 7.0, and so not all the features may be available in the Gold version of WinDVD.
Below is the specs for the test system used :
Pentium-4 3.2 GHz
1GB DDR400 RAM
ATI Radeon 9800 XT
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro
Liteon 16x DVD-ROM
Windows XP Pro SP2
WinDVD Platinum 7.0
Samsung SyncMaster 193T (LCD)
In terms of video quality, not much has changed from the previous version. WinDVD 7.0 has upgraded Trimension™ DNM (Digital Natural Motion), and it works a treat using the demo clip provided. However, during playback of a few PAL DVDs I tried, it resulted in fast motion video followed by some jerky motion - the result is not very watchable, so it suggest that the source content is important (perhaps interlaced 29.97 NTSC content).
As for video quality, the default setting (available acceleration turned on and all color/contrast/brightness settings set to the default setting) showed that WinDVD produces a more vivid and contrasting picture than PowerDVD 6.0 - the colors in PowerDVD tend to look a little washed out. In terms of detail, both software were quite good, although WinDVD might just be a bit sharper (as it has been in previous versions as well) - the problem with a sharper picture is the artifacts are sharper as well.
With the increasing popularity of LCD monitors, it might also be worthwhile to see if there are any problems related to playback LCD monitors. The monitor I've used for this review is a 19 inch one with a fairly high response time (so blurry pictures during motion are quite noticeable). What I did notice at my default resolution of 1024x768 @ 60 Hz refresh that playing a PAL DVD resulted in jerky motion, certainly worse than that found in PowerDVD. This is actually expected, because PAL DVDs should not be played back at 60 Hz refresh rate due to the the 25 FPS used by PAL DVDs not being perfectly divisible into 60 (50 or 75 or 100 Hz is better for PAL DVDs, as it is divisible by 25 FPS). It is no surprise that playing back an NTSC DVD didn't result in any jumpiness in motion. Interestingly, playing back the menu animation for the same NTSC DVD resulted in jumpiness in PowerDVD, but perfect motion in WinDVD. The actual film played back fine. This was probably being due to the menu being encoded in interlaced 29.97 FPS, whereas the film was in 23.976 FPS - turning off de-interlacing for PowerDVD did solve the jumpy menu problem. To sum up, play PAL DVDs at 75 Hz or 100 Hz, and play around with the de-interlacing setting in PowerDVD (actually force it to be "off", instead of just "Auto") if you find any problems.
Anyway, WinDVD's picture quality is excellent, as you would expect from a seventh generation product.
Rating : A+
Decoder efficiency was tested with 4 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 consume more CPU cycles than WinDVD, 19% to 35% compared to WinDVD's 4% to 19%. This situation was almost reversed in the previous version of WinDVD (I suspect the more "heavy" interface used may have something to do with it), so while there is very little real difference, WinDVD is just slightly ahead in this area.
Rating : A+
Most forms of DVD playback acceleration is supported by WinDVD, and for most video cards.
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. There is also a pitch difference when PAL movies are not played back at the right speed, which some people cannot stand.
Most of the other features have been moved into the "Video Center" control panel, accessible from the main console or from the right click menu.
"Always on top" mode is available, as with NVDVD, which was one of those options a lot of people requested. As with previous versions of WinDVD, 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.
One of the new features exclusive to the top-of-the-range Platinum version of WinDVD, as noted before, is Trimension™ DNM Advanced, which can be changed in the "Display" tab of the Video Center. Progressive de-interlacing, introduced in the previous version, is also accessible here.
A similar feature that was previously available in the previous version 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 has "Finish on time" (set the time of the day you wish to finish watching the movie, and the playback speed is automatically adjusted for you) and "Play on time" (set the time in hours and minutes you wish to finish watching the movie) buttons, that allows you to further customize the time stretching mode.
Video Effects has been stackable since the last version. 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. The only effects that might prove useful are the sharpness and the Movie Effector settings. Changing the effects is much easier now, with the configuration options now easily accessible next to the effects checklist.
Like PowerDVD, there is a range of brightness, contrast, color and gamma controls. WinDVD 7.0 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.
WinDVD also now supports the playback of many formats, including HDTV Transport Streams, 3GPP/3GPP2, H.264, as well as QuickTime/Real (both require the third party QuickTime/Real players to be installed). This does make WinDVD official list of supported playback format quite impressive, and while PowerDVD can playback some of these formats as well, this is one area in which WinDVD has advanced further than PowerDVD>
Overall, the video support part of WinDVD remains a very high standard, and while not a lot of it is new in this version, the added playback formats means that WinDVD has taken a slight lead in this area.
Rating : A+
For the most part, audio quality in WinDVD 7.0 remains the same as WinDVD 4/Platinum 1.0/5.0/6.0.
WinDVD Platinum 1.0 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 7 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.
Most of the audio features have been moved into the new "Audio Center" control panel, accessible from the main console or from the right click menu.
What differentiates PowerDVD and WinDVD eventually is WinDVD's support for DSP modes, an equalizer and now Hall Effects (which is another form of DSP, to similate different room sizes and qualities). DSP effects include Hall, Soft, Echo, Rock, Vocal, Classic and many other presets, while the Hall Effects include preset for Sydney, Chicago and Broadway theaters. Individual speaker volume and delay adjustments (including for left/right/center back speakers) are now easier to perform than in previous versions.
At default settings, the volume is lounder for WinDVD than PowerDVD as well, although there are many settings in both players that you can adjust and would then make both players of about equal volume. In terms of audio quality, both player's are about equal.
WinDVD 7.0 Platinum now also supports AAC audio playback. There is also music visualisation support, much like the function found in PowerDVD and Windows Media Player.
The previous version of WinDVD received the highest possible score in this area, and there is no change in the new version. However, there is nothing significantly new (apart from more DSP effects in the form of Hall Effects) here to justify reducing PowerDVD's score in this area either (our ratings for each DVD player is relative to the other players, so an improvement in one player's ratings may mean a decrease in another player's ratings).
Audio Quality Rating : A+ Audio Support Rating : A+
As a DVD player, there is nothing new about WinDVD 7.0's subtitle support. Both subtitles and captions are supported here. Only one set of subtitle/captions are supported at a 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. Subtitles and captions can be set to be displayed as transparent or solid, which is something PowerDVD does not have.
The one little quirk is not being able to turn on closed captions from the right click menu (where subtitles are enabled). Instead, it can be found in the sub-panel (where subtitles can also be selected).
While there is no much new in DVD subtitle support, there is now DivX/AVI subtitle support, which is quite new. Subtitles files for DivX/AVI movies are loaded automatically, or can be loaded separately from the sub-panel. You can control the vertical position of the subtitles, as well as the subtitle size (this being possible due the DivX subtitle files being text files, while DVD subtitles are actually video images).
Because of the DivX subtitle support, WinDVD has again gone ahead of its rival PowerDVD, and so the rating has been improved from the last version.
Rating : B+
Update 12th May 2006: The release of PowerDVD 7.0 has decreased the Captions rating for WinDVD because of improvements made by PowerDVD.
WinDVD 7.0's capture facility is similar to that of WinDVD 4/Platinum/5.0/6.0'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 you can preview them before saving. Captures can be saved as JPG or BMP, or as the Windows desktop image. It also adds email integration, which automatically launches your email client with the captured image as the attachment.
A default saving location for captures can be specified (although when you capture a still and select to save it, it will still prompt you for the save location).
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, as well as being able to specify tile/centered options for the wallpaper.
New in version 6.0 of WinDVD was animated GIF capture, or what is referred to as "Quick Clip". The target audience of this feature seems to be mobile/cellular users. WinDVD 7.0 improves upon this by including the ability to set the resolution, as well as capture interval and playback speed. You can now also preview the capture within WinDVD.
Overall, this new mode works quite well, although the limitations of the animated GIF format does show here (ie. poor quality, large file size). I would have prefered maybe MPEG-4 capturing, since many mobile devices now support this format natively, and it has a much better quality/file size ratio than GIF. Perhaps copyright issues prevents MPEG-4 from being used... QuickClip 2 is an improvement, but it is still far from being useful.
NVDVD, and a few other DVD players, now have audio capturing, and so both WinDVD and PowerDVD will have to catch up in this area.
Rating : A
WinDVD 7.0's interface is quite a difference from that found in WinDVD 6.0. The What's New page already describes most of the changes, so I won't go through them here again. Overall, I am very pleased with the new interface, and especially noticeable is the increased response time (and the lower CPU usage that comes with this).
While I was a fan of the previous sub-panels implementation, I must say that the new single sub-panel and the Audio/Video Centers is a much better way to organize the many functions that comes with this software.
There are controls on the top of the main playback screen. These controls allow you to select the source of playback, and access Zoom, the UPnP client, Capture, QuickClip, Bookmark controls and the Playlist. This is a nice touch, and while in previous versions these controls can only be accessed when using WinDVD in windowed mode, WinDVD 7.0 now allows you to access them in fullscreen mode as well. Nice!
"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. Most component can be docked, including the capture/QuickClip/bookmark browser and the playlist editor.
The best change, in my opinion, is the full-screen mode, and how it interacts with the controls. As mentioned above, the top controls are now accessible in the full-screen mode, and as mentioned on the What's New page, a single mouse click brings up and hides these controls (in both attached and detached modes). This makes it very simple to bring up the controls, and hide them, and unlike Windows Media Player, moving the mouse won't accidentally bring up the controls. There is also a slow forward/backwards button now (in both windowed and full-screen modes) when the video is paused, which is a nice touch.
Playlists can now be saved and imported, but other than this, the playlist editor interface remains mostly unchanged.
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 (still) 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.
The bookmark functionality seems unchanged from previous versions, and you can easily add a bookmark for a DVD, or choose to automatically add every chapter (which seems to have improved from the last version, where is saved chapters for even the extra features as well). You can choose to import or export your bookmarks as a file. The list can also be viewed as a text list or as thumbnails.
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. Most of the DVDs I tried this one did not bring up any information (you can submit information to the database if it isn't present), so I'm not sure how useful it is. Perhaps it is better to refer to IMDb or my new DVD database site, dvdloc8.com.
WinDVD's interface improvements has worked to make it a more user friendly player, and so the rating has improved since the last version.
Rating : A
Update 12th May 2006: The release of PowerDVD 7.0 has decreased the Interface rating for WinDVD because of improvements made by PowerDVD.
WinDVD 7.0 now supports only Windows 2000 and XP. In the past, I would say this could be a problem, but since the majority of Windows users are now using one of these two version (most likely XP), it's not much of an issue.
While strictly not an OS issue, WinDVD does not support UPnP networks and can act as a client.
I don't have an UPnP server to test this out, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.
Rating : A+
This section describes zooming and aspect ratio issues.
Zooming in WinDVD 7.0 remains similar to the previous versions, although zooming is no longer restricted into the same area (but for 16:9 enhanced DVDs, it is restricted to the 16:9 area). Zooming is relatively simply, just drag out an area, and right click to confirm the zoom mode. Clicking on the zoom button again turns off the zoom.
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 Video Center's "Display" tab, 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). The "widescreen" option previous here has been moved into the Setup -> Preferences section, (using non square pixels).
WinDVD also has Smart Stretch, which is similar to PowerDVD's CLPV, but has greater flexibility. Smart Strech allows you to view fullscreen content on widescreen monitors and vice versa using non-linear stretching (eg. the center of the picture is stretched less than the sides). PowerDVD's CLPV has fixed settings which you cannot adjust, but Smart Stretch allows you to adjust the width and height of the display.
Along with PowerDVD 5.0, these zooming features does seem a little less featured. 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. Again, a tie.
Rating : A
The pricing structure of WinDVD is the same as PowerDVD - a fully featured version and a limited version. There is now only a single add-on pack (for Interactual DVD-ROM content support), as opposed to the 8 different combinations of add-on packs in the original release of WinDVD 5.0 (which was then simplified with a reduced price).
At $49.95 and $69.95, there is almost no reason why one would go for the Gold version over the Platinum version, since the Platinum version offers so much more for only a little bit of a premium.