The prospect of playing DVD movies on a PC or notebook is quite an appealing one. True, you won’t usually have the luxury of a wide-screen monitor (unless you can plug your PC into your TV) and the computer’s cooling fans can be a bit of a distraction, but playback quality is usually good and it’s a lot cheaper than buying a stand-alone DVD player. For notebook owners, it’s a nice way to pass the time during train and ‘plane journeys too.
Any new-ish PC with a DVD drive can be used for DVD movie-watching, but you’ll need some good playback software. For the best results, this software should take advantage of any acceleration features offered by your graphics card and sound card. Some graphics cards, particularly the more expensive, faster ones, are shipped with card-specific software DVD players.
But for those that aren’t, a software player such as SoftDVD Max 6.0 can be used. This DVD player, which incorporates Dolby Headphone Technology for 5.1-speaker equivalent surround sound, isn’t tied to a particular graphics chipset because it’s based on a software decoding algorithm. So even if you don’t have a graphics card that’s specifically designed to handle DVD/MPEG-2 acceleration, you should still be able to use it.
That said, the program will take advantage of cards with hardware motion compensation, such as ATI’s Rage, Radeon, Fury and Mobility, nVidia’s GeForce, GeForce 2 and GeForce 3, S3′s Savage 4, Extreme, 2000 and Mobility and Intel’s 8xx series. With these chipsets you can get away with a 400MHz processor, while for other cards (as long as they support Direct Draw Overlay, which most do), you’ll need 450 to 500MHz.
Once installed, the program is as easy to use as any other DVD player, with an interface that looks like that of a home stereo or home DVD player. Clicking the ‘Play’ button will launch any DVD movie that’s in the PC’s DVD drive, while you can also navigate to particular files in other drives or directories and play those. In addition to DVD files, VideoCD, AVI, WMC and other video formats are supported, as are MP3, WAV, MID and other audio files.
For those who feel the need to configure the appearance of their software, SoftDVD Max 6.0 is ‘skinnable’, but more importantly it has numerous additional features such as zooming (up to 9x) and panning, screen capture, book-marking, multiple drive support, SPDIF audio output on some cards, subtitle control and parental locking. Movies can be viewed either full-screen or in a window and the playback quality is excellent.
So, it’s a good quality software DVD player. But why would you want to buy a stand-alone DVD playback tool when many of the latest graphics cards – and therefore PCs – come with DVD playback software anyway? Well, we can think of a few possible reasons. For example, perhaps you’ve upgraded your PC with a bare DVD drive, or your graphics card is an entry-level model without DVD software, or the software supplied was a ‘lite’ version with little in the way of added features.
In these circumstances, and assuming you have the minimum spec processor and graphics card, spending the extra twenty quid for SoftDVD Max 6.0 could make sense.
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