ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre **** Software Review 090108

The Product = ***
When I first purchased Cyberlink's 'PowerDVD Ultra 8' I was almost immediately frustrated with the cumbersome Blu-ray restrictions that are a part of the software. Maybe it was pressure from Microsoft or maybe it was something else but whatever the case, the screen capture function was disabled while playing Blu-ray discs, no doubt out of fears of breaching copy protection. Having used 'PowerDVD Ultra 8' for a period I eventually grew too frustrated to stick with just the program (see my review HERE.) I ultimately made the jump to ArcSoft's 'TotalMedia Theatre'. After some initial apprehension, I found 'TotalMedia Theatre' to be a slightly better solution for playing Blu-ray on the PC than 'PowerDVD Ultra 8'.

I should be clear: I'm running both of these programs on Windows Ultimate 64-bit. From scanning some of the forums it seems that early versions of 'TotalMedia Theatre' were supposedly buggy and did not support some Blu-ray discs. I tried Arcsoft's intro version of the program with their latest updates and I found the program to be stable for the most part. I will admit there were a few crashes ('PowerDVD' only had one that I recall) but 'TotalMedia Theatre' was able to play some films that 'PowerDVD' was not. Now some of this is tricky because playback involves software as well as your computer hardware. I am using a 2.4 AMD quad core with 4 gig of ram, an LG HD-DVD/Blu-ray drive and an Nvidia Gforce 9800 GT graphics card with 1 gig of video ram.

On my set up, 'TotalMedia Theatre' looked consistently better than 'PowerDVD' or at least as good as 'PowerDVD' when playing back Blu-ray discs. Most of the time, no amount of tinkering or updating could bring 'PowerDVD' quite up to 'TotalMedia Theatre's playback quality. Now, I have both versions updated to the most recent patches from each manufacturer and 'TotalMedia Theatre' required almost no adjustment (other than the usual little display tweaks.) There might be some way to bump up 'PowerDVD's playback (in fact I suspect it is some graphics card setting) but I was not able to figure it out. For what it is worth, there may also be a driver update or a future patch of 'PowerDVD' that will bump up playback quality on my machine. When watching films, 'TotalMedia Theatre' generally seemed to have a slightly sharper image and a bit smoother playback. Not only that but the software seemed to tax my system less than 'PowerDVD'.

However, 'TotalMedia Theatre' was not perfect. When playing the film 'Dawn of the Dead', 'TotalMedia Theatre' would occasionally speed up (usually for just a few seconds.) The film looked as if I tapped the fast forward button and then quickly hit play. The strange thing is, the speed up would occur at the same point every time. It is entirely possible that this was due to a bad disc and not the software but it did not happen when I played the same film in 'PowerDVD'. This oddity also occurred while playing the film 'Goodfellas'. Just, like 'Dawn of the Dead' the oddities occurred at the same points during the film and did not occur when using 'PowerDVD'.

Both programs offer playback of media files and that was where my crashes in 'TotalMedia Theatre' came in to play. For what ever reason, when playing back a group of files, 'TotalMedia Theatre' would sometimes crash when I got to the last file in the bunch and pressed the “next chapter” button. Instead of jumping back to the first file in the group, the player would freeze and crash. There were one or two other crashes with file playback but I was not able to replicate them. Even with the crashes and the speed up glitch, 'TotalMedia Theatre' still gets a slightly higher recommendation in my book simply because everything seemed to look the same or better when played in it.

I should mention that unfortunately 'TotalMedia Theatre' does not allow screen captures of copy protected Blu-ray discs. While this is certainly a bummer, it is no worse a situation than what one gets with 'PowerDVD'. (In fact it is somewhat better because 'TotalMedia Theatre' will at least allow you to make screen captures during non copy protected material.) There are three retail Blu-ray playback programs that I am aware of: 'WinDVD', 'PowerDVD', and 'TotalMedia Theatre'. I have now used two of the three and between 'PowerDVD' and 'TotalMedia Theatre', ArcSoft's 'TotalMedia Theatre' is the winner for me. I still do stand by my moderate recommendation of 'PowerDVD' as it is arguably the more stable of the pair.

However, I still have both programs and if this review tells you anything, it is that unfortunately, as of this writing, there is no one stop solution for Blu-ray playback on the PC. You may spend a lot of cash but chances are you will still have to get more than one program to play the Blu-ray discs. Neither program is cheap but since you can try 'TotalMedia Theatre' it also gets a bit of an edge. Also, since the playback tended to be better, even with the occasional glitches, it is the winner. That being said 'PowerDVD' will still do the trick but you will probably have to at least look into getting a secondary program for playing the odd discs that 'PowerDVD' won't. 'TotalMedia Theatre' is recommended even with the disappointing glitches.


'TotalMedia Theatre' Links:

Click here for my review of PowerDVD 8 Ultra.

'Blu-ray Special or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blue-ray' (a short article I wrote about switching to the format.

Go here for the 'TotalMedia Theatre' page.

Click here to downloard the intro version of 'TotalMedia Theatre'.


Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.