As Easy as A-B-C-DVD

December, 2007. Once

upon a time, people at home watched movies on their television. Once upon a time, people used their computer

for computing. But just as a genius

figured out that putting chocolate and peanut butter together was a brilliant

idea, movie watching has long-since entered the realm of the PC. And (to carry that snack theme one more step)

once you mix the chocolate of movies with the peanut butter of computers, the

viewer today has as much control as he or she wants for making the home movie-going

experience almost anything. This is no

longer just pop in the DVD and go – now, you have the option to control movies

as if you were on the captain's deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise.









For what eventually turned out to be a well-made piece of

software, I oddly had problems setting up InterVideo's WinDVD. At first, my system froze, which appeared to cause

many other conflicts. At last, I

re-installed in "repair mode," and everything worked fine. Whether this was likely a glitch caused by an

initial conflict that wouldn't occur on other computers, or something else, I

couldn't say. The bottom line is that

the program eventually loaded properly.


WinDVD Setup


One other slight annoyance with the installation: WinDVD wants to load third-party applications

on your computer – like Google Toolbar, RealPlayer and Quicktime. The option to install them should be given on

the main install screen, not within the installation process when people tend

to just click "OK" by default.


But once all that is out of the way, and WinDVD is running,

it's an impressive program, with an effective interface for fairly easy use. (And an interface you can personalize to your

taste with different themes.)




In truth, unless you're a movie techie fanatic, most of the

features on WinDVD are things you'll ignore.

Pop in and play is what most people do.

However, even if you never touch the high-end bells-and-whistles, there

are still options that a user might indeed find beneficial.


Most of the choices are found in the Video

Center and Audio Center.


The area of the Video

Center that users will

likely access most is Display. Most

notably, here's where you can select widescreen (or Pan & Scan for those

who don't care for the black borders of "letterboxing"), or the intriguing Smart

Stretch. This can adjust a movie that normally

plays in basic 4×3 ratio and make it a wide 16×9 image that looks reasonably normal. It does so by focusing on the edges of the

frame and leaving the action in the center pretty much alone.


WinDVD Video center


Another "stretch" option is Time Stretch, where the speed can

be adjusted in small increments up to 2X or down to 1/2X. That alone might be interesting should the

occasion arise when want to get through a movie a bit faster, but there are a

few side options that enhance the feature.

Finish Time allows you to set a specific time you want the movie to end

(for instance, before a TV show you want to watch will be starting), and the

software will adjust the speed accordingly.

Similarly, Total Movie Time lets you set how long you want the movie to

play. They're essentially opposite ends

of the same thing. The Remaining Time

display will adjust itself in terms of what speed the movie is playing.


(You can also adjust the playback speed with the Speed Menu

on the main screen, up to 60X. However,

above 2X, you'll only get a fast picture without sound.)


Video Effect has a few nice applications, particularly if

you're watching an old movie that might have degraded, and can sharpen the

image. Other effects sound fascinating,

but dance on the border of useless – for instance, one will invert the colors,

another adds a sepia tone, or you can create a blurry, dreamlike image. However, unless 1) it's a home movie you want

to tweak, 2) you're watching a movie with your toddler for the 80th

time and want to shake things up, or 3) you're on drugs, it's hard to imagine

too many people using these features.

That said, a helpful touch is that you can choose "Half Screen" to see

how an effect will look on part of the screen in comparison to normal on the

other half.


WinDVD preferences

You can tweak video options even more by clicking the Setup

button on the Video Effect window and bring up Preferences. Most of these you'll likely leave as default,

but some people (officially known as Movie Tech Geeks) like to get under the

hood. One thing missing, though, is that

there's no Help button on the Preference window, which would explain some of

the options.


Given that running movies on a laptop can cause drain on a

system, the Setup options include Mobile

Technology Pack, which can configure WindDVD for a mobile player, when running

in battery mode. Among the options, you

can determine are how to use memory (aggressive, conservative) or select a mobile

power scheme.


The Audio

Center handles a wide

range of sound preferences. And

depending on how you set it up (for example, speakers or headphones), the options

will change. For some reason, the

default is headphones.


WinDVD Audio Center


If your system has multi-speakers and surround speakers, the

software can control each one. You also

can create a wide variety of effects:


The option called Environment lets you choose between Normal (which is

optimized for most PCs), Theater (retaining the range of the movie for,

supposedly, "theater-quality" sound), and Late Night (that lowers the bass for

a softer sound, and limits peak volumes)


Hall Effect simulates the experience of sitting in a large

theater, which can be adjusted for size of room and warmth. (The choices provided are Broadway, Chicago or Sydney

Theaters. Go figure.)

It's not likely a feature most people will use often, but for

audiophiles it's something to play around with once in a while.


WinDVD also includes some handy bells-and-whistles. Capture can save a movie image as a picture,

wallpaper for your Desktop, or to directly send by email. Quick Clip can create a segment of up to 30

seconds of footage, though as far as I can tell, it's picture-only, no

sound. You can Bookmark any number of

places within movie that you might later want to instantly jump to. And Instant Replay will revert back a few



WinDVD Quickclip


Zoom-and-Pan is an offbeat feature that allows you to

enlarge any image for a closer look. It

works quite well – which is not always the case when enlarging a graphic, since

it can get very fuzzy. Conversely, you

can minimize the image. (Hence, the



WinDVD does far more than most people will ever use it for –

or dream about using it for. Or even

conjure possibilities of use. But it

does them all well. On the more human

level, some of the bells-and-whistles are quite nice to have. And the basics – popping in a DVD, pausing

and fast-forwarding – are laid-out well with a clear interface for

user-friendly simplicity.








To increase the home viewing experience even further,

InterVideo makes the WinDVD remote control, which has a receiver that hooks up

to your computer via a USB port.


Like most such devices, it's overloaded with buttons that

can get a bit overwhelming, but overall the main functions are fairly well-identified,

though a few buttons (notably Mute) aren't as conveniently placed as one might

wish. In addition to basic playback,

fastforwarding and volume functions, the remote will load WinDVD, jump to scene

selections and access quite a few other features.


One oddity: the Power

button shuts down Windows! According to

a tech representative, this is a feature, but considering that slip of a finger

can close down your system, this comes across as more an

intentionally-programmed glitch.


WinDVD Remote


The downside is that I had more difficulty getting it to

initially install properly than I did with the WinDVD software. Several of the auxiliary buttons wouldn't

access the correct features. Te main

(and most important) features of the remote did run, but it required a call to

tech support to iron out everything else.


Though there's an abundance of buttons, many are for

functions that aren't supposed to do anything for the basic WinDVD system

configurations (for instance, the buttons for Videos, TV, Music, Pictures and

Radio, would require a different set-up).


A difficulty in determining button usability is that there's

no manual, other than a brief downloadable pamphlet that explains how to

install the device. However, many remote

controls have programmable buttons, and there's no way of knowing if that's

possible with the WinDVD remote, or what some of the more obscure buttons do.


If you want a remote control to play your WinDVD software,

this device does the basic job fine and would suffice. But some of the buttons that would expand

functionality, even just a little bit, are problematic, and the absence of a

usable manual is notable.







PowerDVD has a been a worthy competitor of WinDVD. Filled with its own bells and whistles, it

seems to have fewer options than WinDVD, though what it has are options most

people are likely to use, and they're presented in a slightly more

user-friendly way.


The program installed smoothly, with only a minor glitch not

loading the Read Me file.

There are several modes to choose from, starting with

toggling between Fullscreen and the standard screen. Dock Mode will place the controls directly on

the PowerDVD screen, while Player Mode creates a floating control panel – the

latter takes up screen space, but provides more options; it can be expanded

even further by clicking. Wheel Control

Mode is a smaller version of the Player with limited controls (though it too

can be expanded). Finally, Mini Mode sticks

controls down in the Taskbar: moreover, the

screen itself is made small, though this allows you to work on your computer

while watching a movie.


In Dock Mode, the controls are very well laid-out, though

with a few oddities. For instance, there's

no Fast Forward/Reverse button – these are controlled by the scroll wheel on

your mouse. It's extremely convenient,

but takes some adjusting to. You do have

the option to change what function the scroll wheel control does, but changing

it to something else would remove the ease of Fast Forwarding. (Fast Forwarding/Rewind is always available

however in a comprehensive pop-up menu when you right-click your mouse.) You can also alter the speed of a movie with

a well-placed slider control.


PowerDVD uses your keyboard to add some convenient

touches. The PgUp/ PgDn keys will move

the video back or forward 5 seconds.

Also, keyboard commands are available without having to hit an extra

"Alt" key – just tap the letter "C" directly to capture an image, for example.


The program makes it easy to control other movement

throughout a movie. The "Step

Forward/Back" button moves the image one frame, and other buttons jump to the

next section (or right-clicking on the Play button brings up all sections). Clicking anywhere on the Speed Bar will zip

you throughout the movie.


Related to this are two clever features: Say-It-Again and AB Repeat (the latter is only

accessible in Player Mode, after clicking on Open Menu/Number Pad). Neither are things you will likely use often,

but handy. The first will continually

repeat the previous dialogue (for instance, if you didn't understand something

being said) until your re-click it. AB

Repeat lets you create any self-selected passage to repeat until you remove it.


Bookmarking is especially convenient – not just to save a

location, but the Viewer presents images of your bookmarks, making them simple

to find and jump to.


Similarly, Capturing an image is very easy (just tap the

letter "C" on your keyboard or click a button), as well as particularly configurable,

not only letting you determine where you'd like the image captured to (a file, the

clipboard or as wallpaper for your desktop), but even the type of file (whether

you'd like it saved as a JPG or BMP file.)

However, there is no option to capture a segment of video, as with



If the movie you're watching allows for it, you can choose

the angle to watch. And the Digital Zoom

will let you increase an image by 4x or 9x by selecting the option on the

right-click menu. PowerDVD has an option

which removes the "letterboxing" for those who don't like such things, and makes

the picture full screen, similar to the Pan-and-Scan feature in WinDVD. A nice addition allows you drag the screen to

see what has been "cut off."


The Help files are extremely comprehensive for the most

part. They explain features well – the

one failure is that they don't always make clear where the features can be

found. Also, oddly, the Help button

doesn't show up when in Full Screen Mode, or on the right-click menu. It only appears in Standard Mode – though

there also is a Help button in the Configuration files, something missing in



As for the Configuration area, it's generally quite clear, just

not overloaded with choices. Make no

mistake, there are a great many, just not an avalanche. This is basically a good thing – options are

easier to find, and what's there, you're more likely to use.


A few configurations of note:


You have a choice of the number of speaker outputs, and can

set the "environment" (Living Room, Theater and Stadium Modes). These were buried a bit, but not too hard to

find. I didn't detect much difference in

the effects, which could be because my personal speaker set-up is not high end

– though when testing PowerDVD's sound environments, the impact was detectable.


There's another nice sound-related feature, which lets you

adjust the Dolby Digital sound range depending on the surroundings where you're

watching the movie (from noisy to quiet).

The difference was negligible on several of the options, but again that

might related to my own set-up.


With Read-It-Clearly, you can get around the problem of

subtitles sometimes washing out in background.

This option will place the subtitles of a letterboxed movie within the

black bars on the bottom of your screen.

I wasn't able to get this to work – the option was grayed out, no matter

what format I tried, but it's possible that's a result of the movie I was

testing it with.


Eagle Vision lets you adjust the brightness and color, which

could be affected by the ambiance of the room you're in.


And the interface itself is configurable, with the ability

to change skins.


One other feature is

worth mention. See-It-All calculates a

notebook's battery power in relation to the movie length and then will then

adjust the movie playback speed. The

program also includes power-saving mobility controls. That said, I was unable to find these

options, but that may well be because they only install or appear if a notebook

computer is detected. I ran the program

on a desktop.


And a final word,

not to be left out – the image presented by PowerDVD is impressively crisp and



Overall, PowerDVD is an extremely good program. While WinDVD offers more features, PowerDVD

provides a slightly better mix of options that are likely to be used in a

particularly clean and user-friendly interface.

Both programs are very good – the choice depends on whether the added

features of WinDVD are what you're looking for, or the slightly-better

usability of PowerDVD. It's a coin toss,

but my personal preference falls just a bit on the side of PowerDVD.


But that leaves one variable, worth tossing into the

mix. And that's next –





There's not all that much to say about the PowerDVD remote

control – because what it does, it does as expected, and well. It's very nicely laid out, with a large

"Play" button easily accessible. The

Pause, Mute and other important keys are all set close to each other (not the

case with the WinDVD remote), and there is a Fast Forward/Rewind button here,

as well – something that's not on the PowerDVD control panel.


Its receiver plugs into a USB port on your computer. The DVD button on the remote brings up

PowerDVD automatically, and unlike the WinDVD remote, there's (happily) no

button which will shut down your entire system if you accidentally hit it. Although there are many buttons on the remote

that can't be used with PowerDVD, since they're for other applications, there

are no buttons intended for PowerDVD which don't act properly, as is the case

with the WinDVD.


The only quibble is that when you bring up the program by

hitting the DVD button, PowerDVD will automatically launch full-screen, even if

you have it configured not to. (It will

load properly if you manually double-click on the file.) Of course, it's easy to get out of

full-screen mode with a simple click.

Also, one tech note: when

installing the remote, you're told to go to support page for available

updates. However, it should be the Download



If you plan to run your software with a remote control, the

PowerDVD device is solidly better than the WinDVD. The latter works fine, but has some annoying

issues. The Cyberlink PowerDVD remote works smoothly and has a particularly

nice feel to it. If you're caught directly

in the middle of the decision which video program to get – and you'll be using

a remote control – the PowerDVD remote should tilt the decision.






As digital cameras proliferated, so too did websites

designed for displaying and sharing the results. Among the most popular are sites like Flickr

and the relatively new Bluestring. And

now, Microsoft may be planning to jump into the fray. At this point, it's only a hiring ad, looking

for a program manager as part of its Windows Live division, but that ad is

pretty blunt: "This feature team is

building a next-generation photo and video sharing service that will compete

with Flickr, SmugMug and other photo web

solutions today." The ad continued,

"This role will work across the new Windows Live division with teams like

Spaces, SkyDrive, Messenger and Hotmail to construct a winning strategy for

Microsoft in photo and video sharing."


The risk of email attachments from unknown sources is

well-known. Less recognized are emails

from what appear to be standard companies asking for updated information. This excellent CNET analysis show the length

one can go to in order to determine the validity of something of you've

received. In this specific case, sure,

you could have just called the company, but the article is a good demonstration

of what's at stake and how to protect yourself.

Click here

to read it.