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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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 7 DELUXE
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
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 –
PowerDVD REMOTE CONTROL
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.
to read it.