PowerDVD 20 Ultra review: The best media player. Now with social distancing!

PowerDVD 20 offers the best video playback money can buy, bar none. Yes, more than competent freebies such as VLC are available, but when it comes to image quality, Cyberlink’s pay-player has no peers. And peers, you and yours, is largely what this latest version is all about—you can now upload, share, and stream your videos to nearly any device and anyone via the company’s cloud service.

Updated to provide a link to our news story about the release of PowerDVD 21.

Interface and usability

PowerDVD features two interfaces: one for use while you’re at your PC, and the other—TV Mode—for use with a remote when you’re playing couch potato. To facilitate your slothfulness, Cyberlink provides the Power Remote app, so your phone can fill that role. Sweet.

tv mode IDG

PowerDVD 20’s TV mode interface is designed for use with a remote control. Normally, this page will show all available movies. I liked the capture bare. Use your imagination, or look at the next image.

The TV Mode interface shown above is simple and easy, but the PC version below, while attractive and efficient enough for basics such as browsing and playing, could use some work in the nooks and crannies. Cascaded dialog boxes are convoluted, and it’s occasionally difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Additionally, the popup menus aren’t always completely contextualized, showing numerous selections that aren’t germane to the task at hand.

To be fair, most video player configuration dialog boxes and menus are even less efficient, while not being nearly as good-looking. And I’m being picky—you’ll adapt in short order.

latest movies 20 Cyberlink

Cyberlink’s PC interface is attractive and efficient with basic tasks. But it could use some work in the dialogs and menus.

Legacy features

Before I get to the new stuff—a basic overview of what PowerDVD 20 does and what makes it better than the rest. As you might suspect from the name, the program started life as a tool to play DVD movies (including copy-protected commercial titles) from a PC. It still does that, as well as supporting new Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray movie discs if you have an HDCP-capable GPU. 

It also plays a very wide variety of the most popular video, audio, and image files, though it’s not quite as universal as the company has at times trumpeted. Some legacy (RealMedia) and oddball codecs (some FLV, and even some older AVC) that VLC handles easily won’t play, or play only as audio with PowerDVD. The program is also a more than capable librarian and organizer with playlists, rankings, and the like. 

While it’s not obliging of antiques, PowerDVD’s real value lies in its TrueTheater enhancements: HD upscaling, HDR color, lighting, motion compensation, noise reduction, and stabilization. The latter is useful if your camera didn’t take care of this on its own. Not all are available with all material or hardware, however; HDR color enhancement, for example, is only available if your PC’s graphics hardware supports it.

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