ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 6 review

If you're looking for the simplest possible software for playing DVDs and Blu-rays, ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 6 is worth a look.
Photo of ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre 6

Sure, the disc is dead. Technophiles love to say something or other is “dead.” Funny, I still frequently see a lot of people reading “books” actually printed on paper. Anyway, in case you haven’t heard about the death of the optical disc and still need or want to play a DVD or Blu-ray on your PC, you could do far worse than ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Theatre 6. Though not quite as feature-laden as CyberLink’s PowerDVD Ultra 13 (4.5 stars), it handled the media I tested it with more aplomb than Corel’s WinDVD Pro 11 (2.5 stars) did, for the most part, and sported the simplest user interface of the lot.

Setup
TotalMedia Theatre is a quicker, smaller download file if you’re getting it via the Web, at just 80MB. It runs on Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP. You can try it out as a full-featured 15-day trial. It installed in just 2 minutes on my test PC, a Lenovo G580 laptop with 4GB RAM and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 running Windows 8. I had to allow it past my software firewall during installation, since it can act as a media server.

The setup also requires a reboot, but I was refreshed to find out that it didn’t try to install irrelevant third-party software such as browser toolbars, as some competitors do. If you install the trial version, you can simply buy a serial number and activate—much easier than CyberLink PowerDirector, which makes you uninstall the trial and reinstall the full app.

Interface
Even though it’s a desktop application that runs on all recent flavors of Windows, TotalMedia Theatre looks and feels like a Windows 8 app, especially since it runs in borderless full screen by default. This can actually make things a little confusing, since the app doesn’t show up in the Windows 8 running app list. I also noticed that other apps couldn’t show their windows when TotalMedia was in full screen—even after switching to the second app.

Playing Blu-ray
When I first popped in a Blu-ray movie, a Windows 8 like message bar across the screen informed me that the content didn’t support the use of a mouse, and would I like to enable the ArcSoft Mouse Solution? Yes, thank you! This adds a remote-like control pad to the screen, which you could click to move back and forth in the movie menu. The software played my Blu-ray edition of The Big Year in glorious HD without breaking a sweat.

I could search TMDB—TotalMedia database. I could even use unpinch gestures to zoom in! The software also offers a slew of keyboard shortcuts, some for actions for which I couldn’t find on-screen menu equivalents. 

DVD Enhancements
The main enhancement for DVD playback is SimHD. This is controlled by a single switch from a Settings panel with just two choices: On and Off. The feature really did improve the quality of DVD playback—it was somewhat sharper and better lit and more contrast-y. I would, however, have liked to be able to adjust the strength of this effect, as the sharpening at times looked harsh. 

Playing 3D
TotalMedia Theatre played my test 3D Blu-ray movie, Fascination Coral Reef, using an Nvidia 3D Vision technology without the slightest complaint. Corel WinDVD wouldn’t play it at all, and PowerDVD warned me that it could only play in full screen. It also did a tolerable job of converting a 2D DVD to 3D.

Playing Video Files
First for a disappointment: One thing the software wouldn’t play was
4K video clips from a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camcorder. It does, however, play quite a lot of file formats, though, including AVCHD,WMV, MPEG, AVI, and more. MKV and AVS are new additions for version 6.

I could not rotate my upside-down iPhone video with TotalMedia Theatre. PowerDVD graciously (and easily) let me do this. But the ArcSoft software did play that HD video from my iPhone with less waiting than PowerDVD did.

Mobile’s Little Helpers
Though it doesn’t offer the kind of app possibilities you get with PowerDVD, there are iOS and Android apps to use those devices as remote controls—something very useful if you’re using the software on a home-theater PC. And setup for the ArcSoft app was miles simpler than with the PowerDVD setup. Basically, there was no setup, it just worked. The app has two pages, the basic remote fast forward, reverse, next chapter, and so on, and an arrow key plus center enter button page. The large buttons made couch-potatoing a snap; I could change the volume, and red power button even lets you shut down and turn on the PC application. 

Performance
TotalMedia Theatre can take advantage of Nvidia CUDA parallel computing architecture and OpenCL for AMD processors. I foundprogram response and playback snappy, and didn’t run into any program crashes or failures to respond.

Let’s Go to the Theatre—Or Stay!
If you’re looking for a super simple way to play DVD, Blu-ray, and other video content on your Windows PC, you could do a lot worse than ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre. It handles any of the 3D and other type of video content you’re likely to play. The interface is super simple, though you may confuse it with a new-style Windows 8 app. The software’s mobile remote control app was a snap to set up and easy to control playback with from the couch. If you’re a real video aficionado, though, you’ll want our Editors’ Choice, CyberLink PowerDVD 13 Ultra, which offers more playback options and streaming playback to and from mobile devices.

Specifications
Tech Support Online chat, phone, web form.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Personal

Verdict
If you're looking for the simplest possible software for playing DVDs and Blu-rays, ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 6 is worth a look.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc