Where once it was essential to have Power DVD (or an equivalent) to watch a film on a PC, DVD playback has been native to Windows for a long time now. For many this is more than adequate, but with the advent of Home Theatre PCs and high definition TVs and displays, there's a greater demand for a software player that can do a little more than the basics. This includes DVD upscaling, now a prerequisite for playing back standard definition content on HDTVs, but also Blu-ray playback, which won't be supported natively by Windows until Windows 7 is released.
Being the top of the range version of the software (the others being Deluxe and Standard), Power DVD 9 Ultra has more or less every feature imaginable. Newly added support for the HDMI 1.3 standard means you benefit from Dolby TrueHD support up to 7.1 channels and DTS-HD Master Audio support up to 5.1 channels, while Dolby Digital (5.1), Dolby Digital Plus (7.1) Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Headphone, DTS (5.1), DTS 96/24 (5.1) AAC (5.1) and lossless MLP finish off the audio codec support.
Video codec support and Blu-ray profile support is also very comprehensive. BonusView and BD Live are both supported, making Power DVD 9 Ultra fully Profile 2.0 certified, while video codec support includes MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), AVCREC, AVCHD, MPEG-2 HD, WMV HD, VC-1 and DivX Pro - you can view the full feature support on Cyberlink's website.
Beyond codec support, though, there's quite a bit more to the latest version of Power DVD. No doubt its headline feature (among HTPC users at least) is the integration into Windows Media Center, since this allows you to launch Blu-ray playback within MCE and retain a consistent interface and navigation that's remote friendly. This also means you can play DVDs using Power DVD within MCE, bringing into play Power DVD 9's other key feature: software-based upscaling.
This comes under what Cyberlink calls TrueTheater. This encompasses three different processing technologies: TrueTheater HD, TrueTheatre Lighting and TrueTheatre Motion, all of which aim to enhance your DVD viewing to unprecedented levels. This technology is native to all the different versions (Ultra, Deluxe & Standard) of PowerDVD 9, too, so if you don't need or want Blu-ray playback then you can still enjoy better DVD playback and not pay for the extra licenses. It should be noted, though, that none of these technologies impact Blu-ray playback since HD material is hardly in need of heavy processing to tart it up.