Like Photoshop and Microsoft Word, CyberLink’s PowerDVD has the ability to give users upgrade fatigue. Sure, the new features are nice, but is the latest version really worth it? For many, the answer has been no, thus you find a lot of folks still rolling Word 2003, Photoshop 7, and, well, PowerDVD 9.
PowerDVD 13 supports video sharpening that makes Blu-ray content without it look like DVDs (left).
We’re here to tell you that if you’ve waited this long, it might finally be time to get off the pot because PowerDVD 13 brings some compelling features worthy of upgrading. The most eye-popping of these is the ability to do real-time sharpening of HD video streams. If you think there’s no point in sharpening Blu-ray content, think again—in our tests, the results of this feature applied to even high-def content were stunning at times. This so-called “TrueTheater HD” has been included in previous versions of PowerDVD, but until now it was only used to upscale standard-def content to “HD.” The ability to use it on Blu-ray streams is unique to the newest version.
To test the feature, we ran PowerDVD 13 on an Acer all-in-one, a couple of high-end gaming rigs, and a Sapphire Edge VS8 box, with monitors varying from 23 to 30 inches. PowerDVD 13’s official minimum spec for HD sharpening is Win7 and up, with a second- or third-gen Core proc, and a GeForce 8400 or Radeon HD 4000 and up part. The slowest box we ran the application on was the Edge VS8 with a quad-core A8-4555M. While the monitor can greatly impact the image quality, we still saw an increase in sharpness across several different display sizes and qualities of glass. We also tried the feature on a Samsung 50-inch LCD set, with the Sapphire playing Avatar with sharpness manually cranked, and the difference was phenomenal. There can be some sharpening artifacts if turned up too high, but at TV viewing distances we couldn’t see them while being impressed by the difference.
There are other changes to PowerDVD, including a faster startup time, and—bravo!—the annoying-as-hell MoovieLive startup page that began popping up a couple of versions ago can now be found on the side of a milk carton. To many long-time PowerDVD users, that alone is worth the upgrade. Since many people aren’t even using discs anymore, PowerDVD has adapted to supporting most of the esoteric codecs in use today and has powerful subtitle support, allowing timing offsets and positioning, too. We used everyone’s favorite free player, VLC, next to PowerDVD 13 and found PowerDVD 13’s rendering to have better contrast and tones by default.
Of course, there’s still the cool ability to control PowerDVD 13 using the free smartphone app. There really is a whole lot of win here for people who still watch legacy disc formats or even HD ripped content.
CyberLink offers three tiers for PowerDVD 13: Deluxe, Pro, and Ultra. At $55, Deluxe is the bottom feeder and doesn’t offer any 3D or Blu-ray support. For $80, Pro gets you Blu-ray support, but not Blu-ray 3D support. Both do support HD-res files, so if you primarily play your own ripped files, this might be a good budget option. At $99, you get 3D support and support for streaming files with DTCP, as well as a free license for the company’s Android, iOS, and Windows 8/RT versions, which would otherwise run you $20.
Perhaps the biggest negative to PowerDVD 13 is that most people have outgrown it, just as they have moved beyond physical media. For the most part, the freebie VLC does everything you need. But for those of you who do demand higher image quality from your video or who run an HTPC to play Blu-ray discs, PowerDVD 13 is well worth the cash.