In a Nutshell
Finding and investing in good video playback software may not be at the top of everyone's list since almost all computer systems include some default application, like Windows Media Player, that handles most of the basics. However, if you want to get the best playback experience possible and you want to take full advantage of your PC's capabilities, it doesn't hurt to see what other apps are available.
WinDVD Pro 11 is a full-featured app that supports the latest technology in Blu-ray 3D, AVCHD and DVD playback – plus, it bundles a number of additional capabilities designed to maximize the home theater experience. Here is a list of some of the new and enhanced features found in the latest version of the software:
- Enhanced 3D playback
- FlixFinder, a search tool for finding online movies and television shows
- 2D to 3D conversion tools
- Blu-ray 3D support
- New file support for FLV, MP4 and MKV
- Playlist creation
- DVD playback enhancements
Sleek, Minimalist Interface
All the bells and whistles aside, the most important aspect of any video playback software is … well, how the video looks when it's playing. Other types of apps can get away with having a ton of toolbars and icons cluttering up the screen, but not video playback software. Nothing ruins the movie-viewing experience faster than a random toolbar popping up and blocking a key area of the scene.
On the other hand, while we want these tools to be virtually invisible, we also want them to be easily accessible in case we need to make an adjustment to volume or other settings – or if we want to quickly grab a screen capture or check a playlist.
WinDVD Pro 11 does a fantastic job in this area. The entire screen area is devoted to the video being watched, with toolbars and menus only appearing if you mouse over a certain portion of the screen. Also, the software takes into account that sometimes we all "accidentally" will touch the mouse, causing the toolbar to appear. If that happens, simply move the mouse away and the toolbar immediately disappears – it won't linger for several seconds as it does in other more basic applications.
The ability to create playlists is another fundamental feature that every video playback application should support. And, most do, but to different degrees of usability. One of the nice things about WinDVD Pro 11 is that you can create a new playlist or add to an existing one without exiting the movie you're watching.
All you have to do is right-click anywhere on the video screen and choose Show Playlist. Then you can add or delete an item to that list, or jump immediately to another entry. Your playlists can include a combination of video and audio files, and you can even click on the + sign to add files from other directories.
Capturing Clips and Frames
The Capture utility in WinDVD Pro 11 makes it extremely easy to quickly clip a single frame or short excerpt from the video you're watching. You can even leave the Capture tool open in the software if you want to grab several frames from the same movie. A collapsible panel shows you thumbnails of the most recently captured images, whether from the current video or not, so you can pause the video and scroll through the thumbnails without having to check your progress in another application.
Individual frames are saved as BMP images and video clips are saved as animated GIFs, making both types of screen captures easily compatible with other software, like general photo or video editing apps.
Convert 2D to 3D
I'm not really big on the whole 3D video craze, since 3D movies tend to make me feel seasick. Still, the 2D to 3D conversion capabilities of WinDVD Pro 11 are pretty impressive. To activate this feature, just click on the 3D icon on the main toolbar that appears on the bottom of the screen when you mouse over that area. Then, once the 3D is highlighted, click on the down arrow next to the letters to pull up the 3D Settings menu. Here, you can just leave everything set to Auto or you can tweak the settings for a more custom result.
This feature isn't supported for all file types, but it is compatible with DVD-Video as well as HD and SD video files.
Cinematic Surround Sound
I may not be a big fan of 3D movies, but I do love surround sound – and WinDVD Pro 11 has some great tools for audio optimization and enhancement. The software will scan and automatically detect the optimal settings for your sound system, but you can also override these defaults with very little effort. Just click on the Tools icon from the main toolbar, choose Enhancements and select Audio.
There's also a collection of Karaoke settings, just in case you want to use the software to play back your Karaoke DVDs. Make sure you take a video of that to play at your next party – or to use as blackmail, if the situation merits it.
Get the Most From Your Display
Even if you have the latest and greatest in video hardware, it doesn't matter very much if your software doesn't support it. WinDVD Pro 11 does recognize and utilize the most recent display technologies so you can take full advantage of your system's capabilities.
If you want to adjust these settings manually, click on the down arrow next to 3D. This will bring up the 3D settings box. Look for the Display monitor button and click that. Another window will appear, like the one shown in the screenshot above, where you can make manual adjustments or just verify the settings found using the automated detection tools.
I was pretty excited when I heard about FlixFinder, because I thought it might somehow let me watch movies from Hulu within the WinDVD interface. Considering all the legal mumbo-jumbo related to streaming video content, I'm not quite sure why or how I thought that would work … but anyway! That's not FlixFinder's function.
FlixFinder is still quite a nice tool that lets you search multiple online databases to find movies and television shows you want to watch – and it includes price, where applicable, so you can comparison shop. Also, for Hulu and Netflix, there are quick links that will take you directly to the movie's page on its respective site so you don't have to search twice for the same title. And yes, you will need to go to that site if you want to watch the show.
The vendors listed in FlixFinder vary by geographical locale – basically, you'll see results based on what's available in your country.
Supported File Types
So what does WinDVD Pro 11 play? Most common audio and video file formats are supported, including WMV, FLV, QuickTime, MPEG, MTS, M2TS, MKV, MP4, DivX, DVD-Video, Blu-ray 3D, BD-Live, BDXL and AVCREC. For a full list, check out the Corel website.
Also note that there is a Standard version of WinDVD that is less expensive, but has fewer features. One of the limited capabilities of the Standard version is that it supports fewer file types. So, if you're thinking of saving a few bucks by going with the Standard option, you may want to double-check the supported files list just to make sure it will handle the formats you watch and/or listen to.
Worth the Price?
So far, we haven't touched too much on the audio and video enhancement capabilities of WinDVD Pro 11, but the software definitely does a nice job in this area as well. When you're watching a movie, WinDVD Pro works behind the scenes to clear up the quality automatically by correcting issues related to color, shakiness and blurring so you don't have to worry about making these adjustments manually. However, if you do want to tweak these settings, you can through the Enhancements panel.
What's the bottom line? At a price of $79.99 for the full version of WinDVD Pro 11 ($59.99 for upgrades), you really do get a lot of value, especially if your PC is an important component to your home theater system. If you rarely watch movies on your computer, you might want to look at other options – such as WinDVD Standard, which is priced at $49.99. Either way, you can test-drive the software for free by downloading a 30-day trial. If you do decide to check it out, let us know what you think!
- WinDVD Pro 11 Official Site, http://www.corel.com/servlet/Satellite/us/en/Product/1189528458632