PowerCinema 4

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, July 2006
Published by: Cyberlink
Requires: Windows XP Home or Professional Edition, Pentium 4. 2.6GHz/equivalent or higher, 512MB RAM, up to 1.5GB free hard drive space, 32-bit color display and adapter
MSRP: US$99.95 (Analog Edition w/TV Tuner card), $119.95 (Digital TV Edition)

Some people think that because they don't own a PC running Windows XP Multimedia Edition, there's no way to create a fully functional multimedia environment on their computer without going through the laborious process of finding and installing an array of standalone programs. Nothing could be further from the truth however because several multimedia software companies have worked quite hard to assemble their wares into a cohesive bundle designed to create a comprehensive entertainment environment. PowerCinema 4 is Cyberlink's entry into this growing product category.

We know Cyberlink from our reviews of their well-regarded standalone DVD authoring, viewing, and video editing software. If you've ever purchased a DVD player for your PC, it's likely that you're already familiar with Cyberlink because the company's ubiquitous PowerDVD software is bundled with a vast array of products related to DVD playing. PowerCinema 4 is an integrated multimedia suite which consists of a interface through which you access all sorts of entertainment and digital media sources: On-air television channels and FM radio stations through the TV/FM tuner card supplied with the software, video files and digital photos stored on your computer or network, music from digital files stored on your computer or from CD and DVD, and time-shifted TV and radio shows recorded through the TV/FM tuner.


The bundled FunTV/FM tuner card is supplied with a separate installation CD containing the card drivers. It's an obvious thing to do of course, but if you're going to bundle a perfectly usable TV/FM card with your main multimedia software, why not add the driver installation routines to the installer for the main program? Please. Make it easier for people to use this type of product by reducing the clutter involved in getting started. For us, it wasn't difficult to install the card, but multiple CDs are an inefficient waste nonetheless and detract from the initial "getting started" experience with the PowerCinema product. PowerCinema 4 is clearly aimed at novice users, so the inclusion of a component with a separate installation CD is doubly inappropriate.

Whenever we come across software which uses a limited and non-standard user interface (UI) our mental warning radar starts beeping insistently. After installing and launching PowerCinema 4, the warning noises became deafening. Cyberlink's typically intuitive UI was nowhere to be found. On first launch, it took a good 30 seconds for all of the item selections to even appear in the UI. In fact, the Slide Show function didn't actually appear at all until we used the up/down arrows in the lower right corner of the main screen, after which the slightest move of the mouse cursor over the module selections caused everything to scroll up or down seemingly at random. So the initial impression is that PowerCinema (v4 so-called notwithstanding) operated more like an untested beta version than anything which should be released to the public.

It doesn't get any better when you delve into the individual modules. The Slide Show module allows you to select a single folder of images, nothing more. Individual images within the selected folder can be edited to remove red-eye (it's clunky, hard to control and often makes the image look worse), rotate the image, and auto-fix brightness, contrast and color balance. Unfortunately, the auto-fix routine tends to overexpose everything. There's no was to attach or even play a music file while running a slide show, nor is there any way to select a custom image group and save it as a unique show.

The music module is nothing more than a featureless player, with no facility for creating custom playlists, and no online access to CDDB or any other music information database. During the installation, the auto detect function looks for music on the PC but includes duplicates and files for which is does not have a codec.

The TV and FM channel selector functions are a royal pain. TV channel detection is painfully slow, while the FM station detector couldn't actually detect any FM stations. TV recording quality is terrible, with compression artifacts and no option to select a different codec. The time shifting controls are unintuitive. The only easy way to set up FM station presets in the tuner software is to go to your car radio with a pen & paper, mark down the local station frequencies, then input them into PowerCinema. If you try to use the station selector/tuner control to scroll through whatever is available, you could be fiddling around for an hour. It's difficult to believe that reputable quality assurance testers and a sane product manager let this product out of the gate. It's certainly not up to Cyberlink's usual standards—not even close.

Last but not least, we come to the DVD movie viewing experience. It's actually fine. Audio quality and video quality are both quite good. Unfortunately again, Cyberlink transferred little of its PowerDVD feature set into PowerCinema. None of the extended DVD viewing features are accessible within PowerCinema, there's no context menu, and some of the controls don't work properly (it took three attempts at selecting "None" in the subtitles menu before the text finally disappeared).

Cons: There's no Quick Start guide in the box, so novice users have to figure out for themselves that the FunTV/FM tuner card has to be installed first. The PowerCinema user interface (UI) is rudimentary and comparatively featureless. There's no easy way to input your favorite radio station within the FM radio UI so you have to set everything up beforehand from memory or use the excruciatingly slow tuner control. None of the individual modules within PowerCinema 4 are as robust as standalone products (including bundled software) supplied with TV/FM tuner cards from Hauppage and ATI. The music search function does not eliminate duplicates. Custom playlist creation is not available—you're stuck with the preset genre list in the software. Scrolling through song, image and file lists can be accomplished with up/down arrow in the UI or with the scroll wheel on your mouse, but no matter what it is you're scrolling through the list will jerk and bounce disconcertingly, causing you to lose your position. It's awful. DVD movie controls provide access only to basic viewing and sometimes don't respond to the initial click. Slide Show functionality is so basic that it's surprising the module is even included. Although novice users may balk at the idea of grappling with a series of standalone programs, you're better off with Windows Media Player (free with Windows, for music movies and videos), Picasa (for slide shows and image editing; a free download from Google), and an ATI or Hauppage TV/FM tuner card (for $49) both of which are supplied with superior tuners, channel selectors, preset and time shifting functions. For a hundred dollars we expected much more from Cyberlink.

Pros: If you're looking for a quick way to turn your budget PC into a basic multimedia center, you can do it after a fashion with PowerCinema 4. Audio listening quality (music and commercial DVDs) and DVD movie viewing quality both appear to benefit from Cyberlink's successful experience with PowerDVD (although you certainly don't get a PowerDVD module). What that means is that despite the limited control functions and the lack of context menus and other features, the actual quality of sound and video is quite good in PowerCinema. We can't find much else to like in PowerCinema 4. Not recommended.

KSN Product Rating:

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