CyberLink PowerDVD 16 Ultra

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Most people don't think about watching DVD or Blu-ray movies on their PCs these days. Though CyberLink's PowerDVD Ultra started life with just that purpose, it does a lot more now. Its non-disc features include playing cloud-based content, and working as a home theater server. In fact, the highlight of the version 16 is big screen mode, which offers media casting to HDTVs, premium audio playback, and an improved PowerDVD Remote app. The update also adds more file-standard support, speeds up startup, and reduces the load on system resources.

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Pricing and Startup
PowerDVD is available for Windows 10, 8.1, and 7. It's a 32-bit application, but of course will run on 64-bit PCs. Three levels are available for purchase: The full PowerDVD 16 Ultra ($84.95) that comes with all features; Pro, which lacks Blu-ray, TV Mode, and other features ($79.95), and Standard ($59.95) for basic DVD playing. You can also get it through a subscription to PowerDVD Live ($44.99 per year), which gets you all features and updates. A full-featured, free 30-day trial version is available for those who don't want to commit before trying. And if you've bought a PC with an optical drive recently, there's a good chance you have a free basic version of PowerDVD already, though that lacks most of the advanced features discussed below.

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Once you've entered the license key, you'll want to set up your media library and sign up for a cloud storage account. A link from the setup wizard takes you to the cloud storage webpage, where you simply create or sign into an online account. The PowerDVD installer also places a tray icon in the notification area of the taskbar, which pops up to import media when you insert a USB drive.

PowerDVD first menu

Interface
PowerDVD's interface is more modern than its closest competitor, Corel WinDVD, whose interface is somewhat stuck in the past. PowerDVD's interface is, however, less simple than that of another important competitor, Microsoft's Movies & TV, which also plays your local video files and offers a movie and TV store—important because it's free and comes with every copy of Windows 10. PowerDVD's starting splash screen offers just two big option buttons: PC Mode and TV Mode. You can set it to always go to one or the other if you prefer, and you can switch to the one you're not using at any time.

Far more than just a player of disc-based video, PowerDVD handles all your media, including locally and remotely stored music, photos, and videos. And those are all accessible from a left panel in the PC interface. If you prefer one app to rule all your media, as opposed to Windows 10's separate Movies & TV, Photos, and Groove Music apps, then PowerDVD will appeal to you.

There are sections for added media, CyberLink Cloud-stored media, local folders, playlists, online video (from YouTube and Vimeo), and Devices (including DLNA-connected devices and attached storage). You can customize the menus so that only options you use frequently are displayed, and you can use wallpapers to gussy them up. As you'd expect, the TV layout features much larger buttons, and they're in a horizontal menu instead of the PC version's vertical layout. This view made playing a Blu-ray much easier than PC mode.

When using TV mode, you can't use the mouse for playback controls—only the keyboard, an on-screen remote, or the mobile remote app. The mere existence of mobile apps, by the way, is a big differentiator between PowerDVD and the Corel and Microsoft software, which lack remote control (or viewing) apps.

Features
The Corel and Microsoft applications can play video files sitting on your drive or on disc, but PowerDVD adds TrueTheater image correction and enhancement. This can really heighten the watching experience and give more intensity and clarity in both the video and audio of a movie. WinDVD offers lighting and color correction, but not an automatic picture improver like TrueTheater. Both also offer image stabilization, though I found PowerDVD's more proficient. It doesn't fix large camera movements, but works well for jittery shaking.

Another TrueTheater enhancement is Motion, which up-samples video to make motion smoother. These two features certainly make watching shaky home footage easier on the eyes. TrueTheater also corrects color, lighting, and sharpness, and you can even adjust the strength of these effects with slider controls. You get to these simply by tapping the eye icon below the video. You can even use a split-screen view to compare the effects with the unadorned image.

One issue I ran into with PowerDVD was that it played my Window Phone video upside down, even though the thumbnail was right-side up. CyberLink staff told me that this was because of a bug with UHD displays like the one I test on. Microsoft Movies & TV and iTunes (of course) don't have this issue, but CyberLink assured me that the bug would be fixed in short order. If you're not viewing on a 4K monitor, it won't affect you.

Casting to Larger Screens
One new feature that's tied to the new TV mode (and one that's shared with Microsoft Movies & TV) is the ability to cast video and audio to an external device such as an HDTV, either wired or wirelessly using Wi-Fi and Miracast, or through DLNA. An unfortunate limitation of this technology, however, is that it doesn't let you stream Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, movie folders, and .ISO files. One surprising capability, though, is that it can stream your video to Apple TVs. But PowerDVD isn't the only PC media-playing software that can do that: Apple iTunes can too, and even with big Hollywood movies you buy from Apple's content store.

Unlike iTunes and Windows Movies & TV, PowerDVD doesn't include any content-buying option: You've got to download your movies and shows through some other means and then can organize and play them back in PowerDVD. It does let you watch trailers, rate titles, and interact with the MoovieLive online fan community.

Cloud Storage
PowerDVD Ultra includes a year of 30GB of CyberLink Cloud online storage. If you're a CyberLink Live subscriber, that amount continues as long as you subscribe. If not, you can buy online storage at $9.99 for 10GB for a year, up to 100GB for $100 per year. It's not the cheapest storage around, compared with iCloud, Google Drive, or OneDrive, but it ties in with your CyberLink products. You can upload photos and video from the program, as well as from the mobile apps and then play the content from any device. You can enjoy content and create folders, but not upload files, from the Web interface.

Mobile Apps
Its mobile apps are one aspect of PowerDVD that set the product apart from the competition. The two apps, PowerDVD Remote and PowerDVD Player work both as remote players for all your content stored on the PC and as remote controls for playback on the bigger PC and HDTV screens. They also tie in with the CyberLink Cloud: Any content you store there will be playable in the mobile apps, but that's also true of the Apple iTunes store and Windows Movies & TV and Groove for audio.

PowerDVD Remote

Setting up the remote app is a simple matter of making sure the phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the computer running PowerDVD and then entering a code from the application's Devices page. The app shows an overlay of its functions, which are pretty clear even without this mini-tutorial. It's a nicely designed app that includes keyboard and mouse functions, volume buttons, and skip buttons. But the remote app would be easier to use if you didn't need three modes—Navigation, Playback, and Mouse. The same problem with the PC mouse of not being able to click on on-screen buttons exists for the app. You can however, click on the PowerDVD play controls at the bottom of the screen.

The Media Play app sports a woodgrain, bookshelf-like home page with choices for Music, Video, and Photo. I was able to load and play video from my PC running PowerDVD, and after logging into a CyberLink Cloud account, I could play videos from that source, too, for when I'm not on the same Wi-Fi network as the PC. The video doesn't play until it's completely downloaded, however. Video stored on OneDrive can stream to the service's mobile apps before full download.

Power for Your Binge Watching
If you download a lot of media to your PC and want a way to play in on a big screen, CyberLink PowerDVD 16 Ultra is a good way to go. The Microsoft Movies & TV app and iTunes offer playback with casting to larger screens, too, as well as stores for purchasing commercial video and music, but they lack PowerDVD's TrueTheater image improvement and mobile remote-control and media playing apps. Meanwhile, PowerDVD's closest competitor, Corel WinDVD, hasn't been updated in several years and also lacks mobile apps and a cloud storage option. All of this earns CyberLink PowerDVD our Editors' Choice honors.

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