Archive for April 2009
When I set up Windows 7 (Media Center) as the main HTPC in our household back in January – I also decided to take the plunge and install a LG Combo BluRay/HDVD drive (which I picked up for around AUD$110) . Prior to that – all BluRay playback was being handled by a Playstation 3 – which worked well – but since I didn’t have the proper remote control – it was a little bit painful trying to use the PS3 joystick.
In the past – I’d been more than happy to use the inbuilt DVD player in Media Center (in Vista and TVPack) – which seemed to do everything I needed. In the Windows 7 Beta however – the inbuilt DVD playback had a few random issues that was making it frustrating to use (such as randomly pausing playback – restarting the dvd). Also – now that I was armed with a BluRay player – I wanted to also use the same machine to play these back too.
The combo drive was bundled with a free Cyberlink PowerDVD v7 lite version– but this seemed to have a lot of issues running on Windows 7 – and it’s BluRay support seemed to be quite outdated (didn’t work with most new titles I tried – and was restricted to 2 ch audio only). On top of that – that version was very much a 2 foot only experience – requiring a mouse and windows desktop (not MC remote friendly). It also wasn’t the latest version – as v8 was available for some time.
So BluRay playback ended up on the PS3 again while I waited for something better.
Then in February – Cyberlink released PowerDVD v9 – which boasted a bunch of new features (such as support for latest BluRay titles) – and full Media Center integration. So I decided to see if this would give me the solution I needed.
To my delight the new version was able to play (almost) all the bluray titles I threw at it – however there was a major bug which meant the application could only be launched if your vertical resolution was 720 or higher. (on my RPTV the optimal resolution to use for 720p is slightly less than 720). So I basically had to change the desktop resolution before I started it – meaning also that it couldn’t be launched from Media Center (which was also running in resolution <x720 vertical pixels).
So I gave up for a while – as I couldn’t do too much with v9 either.
But then – at the end of March – an update patch was released for v9 – fixing the problems with the resolution check. All of a sudden I was able to use it and give it a proper test – and have been pretty pleased with the results. I’ve been a happy PowerDVD 9 user ever since – and it’s now been a few weeks since the PS3 was called upon.
So here’s a few thoughts on using PowerDVD v9 with Media Center (as the Cyberlink site doesn’t provide much information on this side of things). NB: The picture below is taken from the Cyberlink site – and looks ‘similar’ to the 10 foot ui’s you get with the Integrated mode.
Media Center Integration
The Media Center integration is done pretty well – and when playing media from a disc (DVD/BluRay) – you can pretty much get by with only your remote control. For part of the experience – Cyberlink have provided some 10 foot (Remote Control/TV Friendly) UI’s – and while you’re watching media – most of the standard and special buttons on your Media Center Remote seem to work well (ie. DVD Menu/Info, Chapter Skipping etc).
One issue I had was that there didn’t seem to be any way to trigger playback of DVD movies from the hard drive (the hooks into media center seemed to only work for dvd/bluray discs) – so you need to launch PowerDVD v9 (via the MC start menu icon) – and then use your mouse to open the dvd hd directory (which is all 2 foot).
Another small issue was that as I have multiple rom drives in the machine (2 x DVD, 1 x Combo DVD/Bluray/HDDVD) – when I inserted discs – I had to sometimes tell the PowerDVD application which of the drives to launch the movie from (even though Media Center is able to determine which drive contains the new disc – it doesn’t seem that the info was being passed through to PowerDVD ).
Also – as expected – no Media Center extender support is provided. (and is strictly for your main console only)
PowerDVD 10 foot UI
The way the UI works – is that when the PowerDVD 10 foot UI is being displayed – you’re using a custom ‘full screen’ desktop application developed by Cyberlink (and Media Center shell is minimized to the task bar) – rather than it using a MCPL (Media Center Presentation Layer) application being hosted inside MC itself (as you would normally do with addins). This sort of makes sense – as due to a number of technical requirements – the actual playback can’t be done inside the Media Center video viewport itself – so would need an external (non MCPL) application to do it’s thing anyhow.
However, the PowerDVD 10 foot UI is a little bit shabby looking – and a big visual anti-climax after navigating to it from inside the spit and polish of the Media Center UI. I think Cyberlink may have been better off relegating all the 10 foot screens (prior to playback) to a MCPL application – which would then launch the external fullscreen player as the final destination.
I won’t go into the actual playback quality/decoding etc of PowerDVD9 – as it’s a given that Cyberlink are one of the industry leaders in producing dvd playback software – so as you’d expect – this side of things are all excellent.
One small complaint was that in comparison to Windows 7 Media Center (DVD Playback) – the sub-picture overlays don’t look quite as nice (ie. for captions). I think this is possibly due to Media Center using some anti-aliasing effects when rendering the captions (making PowerDVD’s version look a little chunky).
The product is excellent if you need a way to playback BluRay titles on Media Center – and if you’ve got it installed – it’s also good for DVD playback. (although you’d probably be hard pressed to chose a reason to use it over the internal MC player if that works for you on the Windows 7 beta). It’s probably a little pricey if you compare it to the cost of the o/s (USD$99 for full Ultimate version) – but a lot cheaper than purchasing an external player.
What I’d like to see…
Since Cyberlink obviously have good technical knowledge on working with BluRay/DVD’s codecs and disc formats (at a low level) – a killer feature would be a realtime transcoder combined with a MCPL host application (for the playback). This way it would not only work perfectly on extenders (as content could be streamed in a codec that is supported by extender device) – but it would also provide a really tightly integrated experience in Media Center – without having to switch in and out of an external application.