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InterVideo WinDVD 7: 
    Beyond DVD to the Networked Home   (11/2005)

    by Douglas Dixon

New Look
New Formats
New Home
Universal Access
References

Do you watch DVDs on a PC? This may not be the kind of use the movie industry was thinking about when the DVD format was created -- and certainly it's not what the consumer electronics industry had in mind. But the DVD viewing experience can be greatly enhanced using DVD player software on a PC, with the ability to punch up the video and audio, speed up playback to finish the movie during the plane ride, or slow down to examine the special effects in detail. Plus, you can dig into the structure of the DVD to easily display alternate (or even multiple) audio and subtitle tracks, and find extra bonus footage.

   

Products like InterVideo WinDVD (www.intervideo.com) and CyberLink PowerDVD (www.gocyberlink.com) do all this and more -- as they have expanded from DVD players to general media players for all formats of discs and data files. Recent versions have focused on supporting the latest media formats -- DVD-Audio, Windows Media Video High Definition (WMV-HD), MPEG-4 -- and enhancing the video and audio playback, with picture improvements for fast-action and widescreen display, and audio options like virtual surround sound for speakers and headphones.

But there's more to be done, as demonstrated by the release of InterVideo WinDVD 7 in June 2005. In particular, version 7 goes beyond desktop playback to support the growing range of other consumer electronics and portable devices around the home -- next-generation MPEG-4 / 3GPP video from camera phones, digital TV content, and even media sharing by serving as a UPnP player to play files from devices on your home network.

New Look

The most visible change with WinDVD 7 is the clean new interface. The main window frames the video display with playback controls on the bottom, plus a side-in subpanel with additional playback controls including DVD audio and subtitle tracks. The full suite of enhancements then is accessed from two floating panels, the Video Center, with display adjustments and effects plus time stretch, and the Audio Center, with headphone / speaker / surround technology settings and enhancement effects. Version 7 adds home theatre surround speaker control and environmental effects such as simulating a Broadway theatre.

   

The top of the main window displays additional tools, including Capture screen grab, QuickClip for grabbing short videos, and Bookmark and Playlist management. Both the playback controls and this capture / bookmark browser also can be undocked in order to float separately from the video playback window.

New Formats

As with other DVD player software, WinDVD 7 has expanded to become something of a universal media player, for playing a wide variety of files on hard disk, along with all those DVD formats. It supports QuickTime, Real Media, and Windows Media files, along with newer formats including DivX 5.2 Pro, HD Audio, and MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 Main Profile.

This means you can play many files prepared for the new world of portable audio and video player devices, although you will need the proper licenses to play files protected with DRM (Digital Rights Management). WinDVD also now supports playback of the 3GPP/3GPP2 MPEG-4 variant created by camera phones -- although different phones can create files with slightly different variants of the standards, sometimes enough to cause playback problems.

Another new class of devices in the home is digital video and audio recorders. WinDVD 7 now can play files typically created by these devices, including MPEG2-TS (Transport Stream) video and MPEG AAC audio.

New Home

But beyond new enhancements and formats, WinDVD 7 also is leading the way to the next evolution in home entertainments -- the networked digital home, in which consumer electronics (CE) devices and computer systems can easily share content throughout the home.

This is the vision of interoperable equipment promoted by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA, www.dlna.org), through the magic of Universal Plug and Play technology (UPnP, www.upnp.org) -- simple and robust connectivity not only among PCs, but also simpler stand-alone devices. A networked radio could not only play songs stored on your PC, but also streaming from Internet radio stations. And a networked DVD player could play content that you have downloaded to your PC (included purchased protected content), or even act as a server so you could go to bed and watch the end of the movie networked to your bedroom TV.

You can see glimpses of these possibilities in early UPnP products, and in some similar approaches for sharing from PCs over the existing IP and Microsoft Networking protocols. For example, Microsoft Windows XP Media Center PCs can be accessed from remote Media Center Extender devices (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter), and other player devices (including the Xbox) can support Windows networking, so you can browse and view your shared My Music, My Pictures, and My Videos files. Other devices like the ADS Tech Media-Link entertainment receiver can play PC files on a TV, but require a separate dedicated server application (www.adstech.com).

The advantage of UPnP is that it is a simpler protocol that can be the universal language across these devices, for discovery and identification of new devices, and for understanding and communicating the content that they make available.

You actually can start experimenting with UPnP without any such devices using WinDVD 7, which includes UPnP player support. And to act as the server, Microsoft has released the Windows Media Connect option for Windows XP, so you don't need a special Media Center system, and can connect to any new UPnP device (available as a free download, www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/devices/wmconnect).

   
        Sharing files using Windows Media Connect

Fire up both Windows Media Connect on your host PC and InterVideo WinDVD on another machine. Windows Media Connect will see WinDVD as a device with which you can share files. And WinDVD will see three types of shared files: Music, Pictures, and Video. The music is listed in the same nice Album / Artist / Genre categories used by Windows Media Player, and video is listed by Album (folder). Just select and start playing your media files across the network.

   
        WinDVD lists files shared from the UPnP server

Universal Access

WinDVD 7 is a nice redesign of a perennially useful DVD player tool. But even more, WinDVD 7 is a beginning step into the promise of universal interoperability, and a great way to begin experimenting with the promise of UPnP. As with all new technologies, there will be glitches and surprises as different vendors implement UPnP -- for example in my testing UPnP did not support playlists, and the Actor and Genre metadata was not available for video files. Also, Windows server listed the audio tracks as available converted to PCM format as well as the original WMV, but these did not play in WinDVD. However, you still can see how this kind of interface will allow consumer devices to share the resources of much more powerful computers throughout the home.

WinDVD 7 is available for U.S. $49.95, or $69.95 for the full Platinum edition with support for high-end video and audio (including MPEG-4 AVC and 3GPP) and the UPnP media client. The InterActual Pack is available separately for $19.95 to play enhanced DVDs on PCs. A full trial version is available as a free download from the InterVideo website.

References

InterVideo - WinDVD 7
    www.intervideo.com

CyberLink PowerDVD
    www.gocyberlink.com

InterActual Player
    player.interactual.com

ADS Tech - Media-Link entertainment receiver
    www.adstech.com

Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)
    www.dlna.org

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
    www.upnp.org

Microsoft Windows XP Media Center
    www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter

Microsoft Windows Media Connect - UPnP server
    www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/devices/wmconnect