The latest Ultra version of CyberLink PowerDVD 9 expands its Blu-ray hi-def decoding capabilities, and adds picture processing for standard DVD video too.

In PowerDVD, CyberLink already has one of the most popular playback solutions for DVD and Blu-ray on Windows PCs. With its new version 9 Ultra, CyberLink introduces several new features, including TrueTheatre video enhancement, support for HDMI 1.3, different playback screen modes, FancyView graphical browsing, and support for more high-definition video and audio formats.

Meanwhile there are two versions of CyberLink PowerDVD 9 offered without Blu-ray compatibility - for those who have no need to pay expensive levies to the Blu-ray Disc License Office - namely PowerDVD 9 Standard and PowerDVD 9 Deluxe, the latter priced at £39.

TrueTheater Technology, found on all versions of CyberLink PowerDVD 9, is designed to improve picture quality of standard-definition video such as that from DVD. You can also use invoke TTT to create a pseudo-surround effect from stereo audio.

A split-screen view mode in CyberLink PowerDVD 9 lets you easily see the difference between normal and processed picture, and sure enough, the image looks brighter and sharper - but we found this often showed up more unwanted artefacts, in particular interlaced-video lines that were not entirely cleaned up by the deinterlacing process.

While you can tweak the strength of these TTT effects with Sharpness and Brightness manual override sliders, it's difficult to switch off TrueTheater Technology entirely until you dig into the program's Settings and manually de-check various boxes. Or you can elect there to use hardware acceleration of video, in which case all of CyberLink's proprietary digital signal processing (DSP) will be switched off, as direct graphics card decoding does not allow post-processing.

CyberLink PowerDVD 9 is said to be approved for use with Windows 7, although with our Windows 7 Release Candidate installation at least, we encountered problems with an anonymous background process crashing whenever a disc started to play. The program continued to run, however, after clicking through an Ignore warning palette a few times.

CyberLink tells us that Microsoft's approval was granted to a later, near-final, build of Windows 7, so this issue ought not be a problem when used with the new Windows OS when it's officially launched in a few months.

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We inititally had difficulty testing the Blu-ray functionality of CyberLink PowerDVD 9, as the latest build of the software refused to run thanks to the program's annoying online activation system. After entering the program's unlock serial code, it then attempts to connect to a CyberLink server to ‘authorise' the installation. When it repeatedly failed to connect, we were left without a working copy of the program.

The online activation system, we've been told, only applies to the direct download versions of the software sold through the CyberLink website, although no reason for our hopefully isolated mishap was found. A retail disc later provided a reduced hassle installation.

CyberLink kowtows to the film industry's insistence on ‘locking down' media, so beware that CyberLink PowerDVD 9 will not let Blu-ray discs be viewed on two screens at once in mirror mode, and nor can you play high-definition video on a screen unless that display has been deemed 'secure' by Intel's high-bandwith digital content protection (HDCP) approval system.

More worrying, our setup refused to play a Blu-ray film after our screen was incorrectly identified by CyberLink PowerDVD 9 as not being HDCP-approved. Installing CyberLink PowerDVD 9 onto a different PC allowed the film to play on the same screen.

Anyone used to connecting modern Blu-ray players to projectors and displays may be familiar with the pain of random roadblocks caused by a failure to digitally ‘handshake' with this obstructive DRM scheme.

Screengrabs of still images from films, while possible when playing DVD, are denied if you try doing the same with a Blu-ray film running.

Basic playback of discs worked well, with the multi-speed fast-forward/rewind controls responsive to requests. By clicking these controls you can cycle through various speeds, and sped-up audio is also included when scanning up to 2x speed.

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