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Having been pleased the DVD playback our experiences with Blu-ray playback were equally positive. We didn't encounter any performance issues and among the number of Blu-ray discs we tested, no compatibility issues either. Hardware acceleration is completely supported, as you would expect, but beyond this Power DVD 9 wisely doesn't interfere with processing unduly, producing the sharp, well-defined images that we all associate with Blu-ray. We'd wager a proper hardware player will always deliver better overall image quality, but only the exceedingly picky will find fault with Power DVD 9's output.
While we've spent a fair amount of time looking into the basic performance of Power DVD 9, Cyberlink has also implemented a number of user interface (UI) enhancements, too. This includes a rather nifty animated DVD browsing system with a rather idiosyncratic title: 'FancyView'. This leans heavily on inspiration taken from Apple and its Cover Flow interface, but here it's applied to navigating the chapters from DVDs. It's a really neat implementation and is certainly preferable to using the menus in DVDs, which can often be very clunky, though this feature doesn't work for Blu-ray discs due to the different system they use.
Of more interest to HTPC users, though, will be the new Cinema mode. Like the MCE integrated element this is designed to be used with a remote from a distance, utilising the red, green, yellow and blue context sensitive buttons found on most remotes to good effect. Other useful elements include Cyberlink's Moovie Live online companion service and the linked movie collection interface. When connected to the Internet, info on what you're watching, including user ratings, cover art and other trivia (cast, director, tag lines etc.) is fetched. You can then choose to add the film to your collection, adding tags should you so wish, and sync this with your online profile.
All of this is interesting and useful for those that care, but not everyone wants such integration. As such it would have been nice to have to had the option to turn this feature off, especially since it can be a little intrusive at times. A connected feature is the Movie Remix mode, where you can play around with scene ordering to create your own "remix" of a film, but this is something few will want to pay attention to: it's pure gimmickry.
Our only other concern regarding Power DVD 9 is the pricing. While it's easy to understand the cost of the Ultra version due to the number of licenses, if you do want Blu-ray playback this is your only option since the £30 Deluxe version doesn't support Blu-ray. A stripped down Blu-ray version, sans HDMI 1.3 support and some of the more advanced codecs, would make a lot of sense for those that just want to watch a Blu-ray disc every now and again.
Power DVD 9 Ultra brings with it plenty of enhancements that regular PC users and HTPC users will appreciate. Its excellent Media Center integration is a particular boon and though some elements of the TrueTheatre DVD video processing engine could be deemed superfluous, the upscaling element is outstanding, breathing new life into DVDs and arguably justifying the outlay alone.