Review: PowerDVD 13 Ultra media player is loaded with under-the-hood improvements
At a Glance
The PowerDVD Ultra series have been the most powerful, feature-laden DVD, Blu-ray, and media players available at retail. On the other hand, each version has also been somewhat slow to launch and sluggish to respond. Version 13 starts up more quickly and is better all around, although it's not a startling upgrade if you already have version 12. That said, there are more than a few new features here, including a user interface that Windows 8 aficionados will find appealing.
Before getting into the new stuff, a quick but impressive list of what PowerDVD Ultra already supports: Playback of DVDs and 2D and 3D Blu-ray movies with resolution enhancement; cataloging and playback of large collections of photos, music files, and videos; a 10-foot interface for use with a remote; and playback of media streamed via DLNA media servers (e.g., other PCs and NAS boxes).
PowerDVD 13 Ultra ($100) now supports every major video technology, including 2K/4K resolution, AVCHD 2.0 and 3D, and it comes with free players and remote-control apps for iOS and Android devices, plus PowerDVD Mobile for Windows tablets (both Windows 8 and RT). The Android and iOS apps are also free with the $80 Pro version, but you’ll need to pay $20 for PowerDVD Mobile. The Pro version drops support for 3D, 7.1-channel surround sound, and DLNA. You’ll need to pay for all three apps if you buy the $60 Deluxe version, which subtracts both Blu-ray and 3D support. Upgrades from previous versions of PowerDVD start at $45.
The last two versions of PowerDVD had the program morphing into a jack-of-all-trades media player, and version 13 continues that trend—albeit mildly. There’s a new a movie library with art for video files (not just movies), though as with many players, it's rather hit or miss on whether the art is correct. If the file name is explicit enough, it does okay. PowerDVD is also ready for Ultra Violet, the online movie storage/delivery service, and it already supports video streaming from most social networks (Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
PowerDVD 13 Ultra now provides its TrueTheater enhancements for 1920-by-1080p video. TrueTheater bypasses GPU hardware acceleration, though, so the hardware requirements are extreme. Even on a Core i7 965 test bed, enhanced video wouldn't play smoothly beyond about 25 Mbps. That’s fine for smaller downloaded files, but not for most Blu-ray movies. If you have the horsepower, TrueTheater really makes video look better. The ability to disable BD-live to speed movie start times is another significant improvement.
Cyberlink added support for two lossless audio codecs that will endear it to hard-core music fans everywhere: FLAC and APE. There's also a software EQ with common settings, and you can use Dolby to produce more spacious sound, but there’s no support for bass enhancement such as Windows Media Player's SRS TruBass. A new mini-player keeps the program out of the way when playing music.
With PowerDVD, CyberLink aspires to deliver the ultimate all-in-one solution for multimedia on the desktop. Version 13 is closer to that ideal, but still lacks a few features, including live TV support. It remains the best available video and movie playback application for state-of-the-art technologies (there are no free Blu-ray 3D alternatives). Only Corel's $50 WinDVD 11 comes close.