Previous versions of PowerDVD had a problem of the video picture being too soft and blurry. From initial testing, the new version of PowerDVD appears to be better, although it still does appear a little softer than WinDVD 5.0.
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.
With that said, the picture quality of both players are near perfect, and more than acceptable for computer based DVD playback.
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 sacrifising quality, not that it matters all that much with today's range of CPUs.
Rating : A+
Acceleration support remains largely unchanged from the previous version of PowerDVD. The single biggest video support feature is CLEV (I'll talk about CLPV when I get to zooming). As described previously on the "What's New" page, CLEV (Cyberlink Eagle Vision) is a technology that promises to dynamically improve picture quality by adjusting the contrast/saturation/brightness. In other words, it aims to improve the picture quality by changing the scene's brightness/contrast/colors as appropriate. While it does seem to work (details in darker scenes are more visible, and color more vibrant), some scenes are meant to be dark, and applying CLEV (or WinDVD's similar Video Effects) on these scenes brought out grain and other artifacts.
There are two CLEV modes - full screen and split screen. I really don't see how the split screen view would help anyone (except for us reviewers, when testing the effects of CLEV), but it is included here (just as it was included with WinDVD's similar "Video Effects").
WinDVD's "Video Effects" (and in particular, the "Movie Effector" filter) and PowerDVD 5.0'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.
The other major new video feature is time stretching, which was added in WinDVD 4.0. This feature allows you to playback the movie at a faster rate with audio that does not have it's pitch distorted. Again, the importance of this feature is debatable, although WinDVD does have "PAL TruSpeed" as a result of this feature (the ability to playback PAL content at the right speed of 23.976 FPS, instead of 25 FPS) - PowerDVD does not have an equivalent of this feature.
DivX support has been added as well (WinDVD also has DivX Support) - this allows you to playback DivX (5.x) content without the DivX codec.
Rating : A
Audio quality hasn't changed much, and is of a very high quality. With special effects (such as dynamic range compression) turned off with both PowerDVD and WinDVD, PowerDVD does seem a little louder and clearer, but the differences are small.
The last release of PowerDVD concentrated on bringing more audio support to the PC-DVD platform (including DTS, Dolby Pro-Logic II, Dolby Digital Surround EX, SRS TruSurround XT and DS3D/A3D Virtual Speaker support), so it's not too surprising to find that not much has changed in the latest version of PowerDVD. The main additions are CLMEI, Dolby Virtual Speakers (Deluxe version only) and TruSurroundXT Headphone.
CLMEI (Cyberlink Multi-Channel Environment Impression) is Cyberlink's own "simulated surround" engine. It converts stereo sources for multi-channel (eg. 4, 6 channels) use.
This functionality actually already exists in the previous version of PowerDVD, 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.
Dolby Virtual Speakers was first added in WinDVD, and now PowerDVD also have this feature. This does the opposite of CLMEI, and reduces multi-channel audio to fit into 2 speakers, and uses techniques to trick your ears into thinking that there are in fact more speakers than that.
Again following WinDVD, PowerDVD 5.0 now also adds TruSurroundXT Headphones support, again similar to Dolby Headphones and basically does Dolby Virtual Speakers with headphones.
Audio Quality Rating : A+ Audio Support Rating : A
There has been no apparent change in terms of subtitles support between version 3.0 and 4.0 and 5.0.
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 : A
With PowerDVD's implementation, you do 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. PowerDVD 5.0 adds the option to capture at a custom resolution, as well as at the original resolution of the video source, or at the current window size. Overall, both PowerDVD and WinDVD's capture facilities are about the same. 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 5.0 remains largely unchanged from that of PowerDVD 3.0/4.0, apart from the new skin. The main difference is the ability to hide parts of the right click menu, as to reduce the size of the menu.
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.
Ripped DVD playback support has been improved. In the previous version, you had to load in the "video_ts.ifo" file of the ripped folder in order to playback the ripped DVD. This was somewhat confusing, as many people didn't know which IFO file to open. PowerDVD 5.0 now, like WinDVD, allows you to open the ripped directory, instead of the "video_ts.ifo", which makes more sense.
PowerDVD could improve it's interface by introducing the docking concept (the main console can be docked to the playback window, to form one entity) that WinDVD now uses and to move more of the right click menu and configuration options to be available on the main console (eg. WinDVD's sub-panel idea). It should also move some of the advanced settings away from the configuration section, and make it accessible from the main console or the right click menu.
Rating : A
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 loses points because it lacks this functionality.
Rating : A
(Updated 5th July)
This section describes zooming and aspect ratio issues.
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 5.0 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.
Rating : A
As mentioned previously, there are two versions of PowerDVD, Standard and Deluxe. The standard versions retails for $39.95 and the deluxe version is $30 dearer, at $69.95. The only difference between these versions is DTS decoding and Dolby Virtual Speaker support. If you don't have lots of DTS DVDs, or don't mind listening to the 2.0 or 5.1 Dolby tracks that are mandatory for DTS DVDs, then the Standard version stands for excellent value, while the Deluxe version is still very well priced compared to the competition.