With CyberLink's PowerDVD getting most of the OEM bundled disc-playing software action these days, Corel's once-dominant WinDVD has begun to fade. The current version hasn't been updated since 2011, but the company informs me that a new version will be coming soon. Look for an update of our review when it does ship. For a product that claims to have sold 250 million copies, it's a bit of a disappointment, but the software does some things quite well. Read on to see if WinDVD has what you need.
Corel WinDVD runs on Windows 7, Vista, and XP. You can try it out with a 30-day, full-function trial download. Windows 8 is compatible with Windows 7 applications in desktop mode, and WinDVD ran fine except for Blu-ray. It's a 118MB download, considerably less than PowerDVD's 161, but there are caveats, as you'll see below.
The whole installation process on my test Windows 8 laptop, a Lenovo G580 with 4GB RAM and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, took just 3 minutes. During the process you're asked your zone for DVD playback. Oddly and annoyingly, it tries to install a browser toolbar, something people just no longer need or want. You can set up with recommended or custom settings, which let you choose file association for the product. You're required to fill in the online registration form, and at first run, I had to download additional codecs.
WinDVD has a very Windows Vista look to it, with lots of elements sporting that once-fashionable shiny 3D, transparent look. It couldn't look more different than ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater's modern Windows 8 appearance, but that said, WinDVD's is not an unpleasant or unattractive interface to work in. And it's a lot simpler looking than PowerDVD's, mostly because it doesn?t offer as many playback options as that CyberLink program.
The Corel Guide, accessible from an icon at the top of the program's window offers not only tutorial videos, but even has the FlixFinder video search page, which can find movies available on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. A search bar at the top of the interface lets you do the same. But when I typed in Skins, which I know is on Netflix, the response said 0 results on Netflix, as it did for all searches. When I did find a free Amazon show to play, it played in the site's web-player, not in WinDVD, so this search is less useful than it might be.
Since Windows 7 and later now can play DVDs in Windows Media Player without external software, straightforward DVD playback isn't enough to justify the purchase of a separate application for that purpose. Like PowerDVD, WinDVD earns its keep by adding playback improvements like lighting improvements, stabilization, upscaling to HD quality, and 2D-to-3D conversion. WinDVD 11 does all that, but how well?
To improve DVD playback quality for viewing on an HD screen, WinDVD offers the Enhancements dialog, popped up by clicking the tool icon on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and choosing Enhancements. Other tools available are Bookmarks and Capture, which lets you save a picture from the movie. The Enhancements dialog offers both Audio and Video modes. We'll concern ourselves with the latter first, which is itself divided among four tabs?Video Effect, Color, Ratio, and Time Stretch.
Video Effects include an upscaler, to make DVD look HD; Stabilizer; and Motion Streamliner. To really see the effects of these Effects, a split screen option lets you see them in action alongside the unmodified original video. The image indeed looks sharper and brighter with Video Upscaler turned on, and I liked that you can adjust the strength of this effect with a slider control?something not available in ArcSoft's similar tool.
The Motion Streamliner effect, which effectively increases the frame rate, did make some video easier on the eyes. And I was surprised that the stabilizer effect was available for movie title discs as well as for your own shot video clips. This could be useful for some of those handheld Scandinavian art films. This stabilizer did a great job on my iPhone videos, and let me adjust the effect with a slider and a choice between lateral and rotational motion.
A final couple of tools in WinDVD for DVD playback deserve mention. The first is Time Stretch, which gets its own tab on the Effects dialog. Here you get options to adjust playback speed, choose a time the movie should end, or specify a target length for the movie. When I tried making an hour-and-a-half movie just one hour, the dialog was clipped, too fast. Lesser adjustments are livable, but do you really want to alter a movie's pacing, just because you don't have enough time to watch?
The second, Capture, lets you snap a screen capture or video clip of the currently playing video. It's a well-designed tool, showing a tray of all your captures, and even offers direct emailing of the captures using your default mail client.