Technology

A Review of PowerDVD Linux – expensive, but just works

PowerDVD Linux

PowerDVD Linux has been around for years. Originally sold only to embedded Linux developers, the software made its way onto the desktop by being included by hardware makers in Dell’s Ubuntu laptops and more recently Asus eeePCs.

The software is now finally available to the general Ubuntu-using public via The Ubuntu Store.

As a rule, we generally don’t like a lot of proprietary software – not for any ethical reason, but because a lot of proprietary Linux apps are crap, with weird installers, no menu entries, EULAs in pop up terminals, and unnecessary requests to reboot.

On the other hand. Totem requires some setup (although it works out of the box if you use Ubuntu derivative Linux Mint) and at its best seems to use incorrect colors, giving a slightly yellowish tinge to the picture. MPlayer has a horrible UI, and frequently has issues with menus, chapters and subtitles.

We took a gamble and purchased on PowerDVD Linux. It’s expensive – $50 US (24 pounds UK) – and we were quite prepared to trash the software as publicly as we could if it failed to live up to expectations – which we expected it to do.

We were pleasantly surprised.

Installation

PowerDVD Linux comes properly packaged for Ubuntu. Click the deb, install it, and click Applications → Sound and Video → PowerDVD Linux to launch the app.

Desktop Integration

The app installs itself as the default player for film DVDs. This means when you pop in a DVD movie, Ubuntu will ask if you’d like to play it with PowerDVD,.and when you browse a DVD that has a movie on it, Nautilus will ask if you’d like to play the film.

The app will also automatically start if you insert a video DVD, resuming the film where you left off.

PowerDVD works with Compiz, but will switch to Metacity when it starts and resume Compiz when it exits. The switch is seamless and you don’t have to do anything.

Asides from the on-screen UI shown above, hitting Esc during a film, or starting the app without a disc in the drive, will bring up the regular UI shown below. The regular UI is simple, and contains various options for tweaking color correction and switching between stereo and Dolby surround. Thankfully, it avoids the ‘chromed-up-car-stereo-ala-WinAmp-1996′ looks that a lot of DVD players have.

Playing Movies

We a wide variety of films and found subtitles, languages, and menus worked fine.

Colors are great out of the box. There’s a color menu for those that would like to tweak, but we didn’t need to.

Rewind and fast forward work well, with 2x to 16x speed We’d like to have seen more frames when playing at 16x speed, however. Also note that since PowerDVD is a licensed DVD Consortium product, it refuses to skip some advertisements and copyright notices if the disc maker has requested to prevent you from doing these things. Most discs aren’t quite so annoying, however.

Reliability

In normal usage, the app was fine. In our torture test, playing a badly scratched DVD had the following results:

Shock After shaking the laptop violently, our disc resumed playing.
Mildly scratched disc Was not noticable.
Very badly scratched disc Stopped playing. We had to hit ESC to return to the main menu, and restart the disc from there.

PowerDVD Linux never crashed on either test.

Overall

As much as we hate to say this, PowerDVD is damn nice. There was no setup required, and it was reliable as all hell. While some distros (eg, Linux Mint) come out of the box with Open-Source DVD players, PowerDVDs colors simply looked a lot better. None of the weird stuff – automatic playing, subtitles, menuing, slow motion – was a problem.

The app simply got out of the way and let us enjoy our film.

At $49 US, it’s damn expensive, but we don’t regret our purchase at all.

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