PowerDVD 19 review: 8K UHD playback and 4K UHD TrueTheater enhancements

Yes, there are precious few 8K TVs, and hardly any 8K content, but PC support is already here thanks to Cyberlink.

PowerDVD 19
Cyberlink
At a Glance

PowerDVD, the most powerful and complete video playback solution on the planet, is once again playing well ahead of the curve. Revving to version 19 results in the industry’s first 8K Ultra HD playback software for the PC. Between the dearth of 8K displays and TVs (and the cost of what is available) and the fact that 8K content is virtually non-existent, PowerDVD 19 is a solution in search of a problem. But it never hurts to be prepared, and the new software does deliver practical enhancements for 4K UHD content as well.

Those new features include 360-degree-video spatial audio (sounds emanate from the proper location in surround systems); color, lighting, and HDR TrueTheater enhancements for 4K video (these were formerly available only for 1080 video); an internal 64-bit engine for more precise processing; support for external subtitles (streamed across the web); HEIC/HEIF and GIF image support; and support for WebM, a free and open-source video codec (VP9/9.2 + Opus & VP9 + Vorbis). Nice one there. Royalty-free is better.

Two other minor tweaks are the ability to change the program background image, and to select the quality of YouTube videos before you pin them. “Pin” in PowerDVD speak means download for offline viewing. Yup, it does that.

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YouTube videos available for viewing and pinning (downloading) in PowerDVD 19

PowerDVD also does a whole lot more, such as playing a number of music formats, pull double-duty as a music/video/image librarian, sync with portable devices, stream from network locations, and interface with Cyberlink’s online storage. For more granular info on other features, check out our reviews of PowerDVD 18, PowerDVD 17, and PowerDVD 16.

8K Ultra HD support

Full disclosure: I didn’t have an 8K display available during my evaulation period, and I had just two 8K UHD test files to work with. The software successfully decoded these files and displayed them on a 4K display.

Be aware that decoding 8K video requires a lot of processor horsepower due to the compression and sheer amount of data involved. My older Intel Core i7-2700 couldn’t cut it, but my newer computers did. You’ll need a PC with an Intel Kaby Lake (ix-6xxx) CPU or better, or a discrete graphics card that supports HDCP 2.2 to play back the Ultra HD Blu-ray discs that PowerDVD also handles.

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PowerDVD 19 playing an 8K Ultra HD file.

I must say that while I’ve seen 8K images that show distinct improvement in detail over 4K, the videos I’ve seen so far don’t offer the same increase. I suspect that’s the heavier compression at work, as might be the case in most broadcasts. In other words, sexy it may sound, but it’s not going to be all it could be until still larger pipes are available or it arrives on disc (Ultra HD Blu-ray will support it).

New spatial audio

If you haven’t seen 360 video, it’s quite the treat. It hasn’t taken off as quickly as I thought it would (it’s a no-brainer promotional tool for travel companies and tourist destinations), but it is quite interesting. Previous iterations of PowerDVD, however, were unable to convince your ears that audio was emanating from the locations where your eyes told you it should. PowerDVD 19 can, although you’ll need a surround-sound system or a VR headset to experience it.

Broad file format support

As previously mentioned, PowerDVD 19 supports HEIC/HEIF and GIF images. That it didn’t support GIF before was a bit of a puzzler, as it’s a very popular format on the web, especially for animation. HEIF stands for High-Efficiency Image Format (basically a companion to HEVC/h.265) developed by the Motion Pictures Experts Group, more famously known as MPEG.

It’s said to halve the size of current JPEG photos, or double the amount of information in the same size file—whichever way you prefer to look at it. HEIC (High-Efficiency Image Compression) is simply another file extension for the same format. 

PowerDVD versions

I reviewed PowerDVD 19 Ultra ($99.95), but the software is available in three other configurations: The Live edition is essentially a subscription that delivers all the features in Ultra in three-month ($19.95) or one-year ($44.99) increments. PowerDVD 19 Pro costs $79.95, but it drops support for the h.265 codec—that means it can’t play Blu-ray Ultra HD video. PowerDVD 19 Standard costs $59.95, but it lacks even more features than the Pro version. Cyberlink publishes a table explaining what is and isn’t in each version here. Peruse it carefully before you buy, as many of the features I  described above are only available in Ultra.

If you’re going to buy this program, the best value is to go all in with PowerDVD 19 Ultra. That said, PowerDVD Standard does a bang-up job on old movies, and that’s  what I use if for the most.

A worthwhile purchase

Not everyone needs PowerDVD in any of its forms. There are plenty of free alternatives, including VLC, Media Player Classic, Windows Video, and more. But PowerDVD is the only Windows software (there is no MacOS version) that can play virtually any type of video, including copy-protected commercial Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, 3D video, 360 video, and more.

And for videophiles, PowerDVD’s ability to transform older and less-pristine video into something far more pleasant to watch makes it a must-have. Good stuff from Cyberlink.

This story, "PowerDVD 19 review: 8K UHD playback and 4K UHD TrueTheater enhancements" was originally published by TechHive.

At a Glance
  • There's little urgency for PowerDVD 18 owners to upgrade, given the dearth of 8K video content, but PowerDVD 19's 4K TrueTheater FX, spatially accurate audio for 360-degree video, and its support for WebM video and HEIC/HEIF and GIF images do sweeten the pot.

    Pros

    • Supports 8K UHD video
    • Plays a wide variety of video, music, and images
    • Both 10-foot and PC user interfaces

    Cons

    • Heavy hardware requirements for 4K, Ultra HD Blu-ray, and 8K video playback (the video codecs need the horsepower, not Cyberlink's software)
    • Pricey given the number of high-quality free players available
  
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