There are a ton of choices for DVD software for you HTPC, but there are two which are the most popular, TheaterTek and Zoomplayer. I personally use TheaterTek. TheaterTek is the more user friendly of the two whereas Zoomplayer is more configurable. I didn’t want to be constantly fiddling with my HTPC and wanted something that I knew would work out of the box without issue, so I went with TheaterTek. There are tons of people using Zoomplayer who love it, I just happen to be a TheaterTek kind of guy.
TheaterTek was built with HTPC home theater users in mind. It was designed from the ground up to be able to control it with either a remote control or a mouse, thus avoiding a keyboard. It also has built in aspect ratio control which can be set on a movie by movie basis. On screen displays are also available. These on screen displays include things such as Play, Pause, and a movie progress bar. One of my favorite features is the “set movie start” feature. With this feature with the press of a single button the next time you insert a specific DVD in it will start exactly where you want it to. For example, if I am watching The Fifth Element, I can make it so that when I put the DVD in the disc drive it will automatically start playing the movie at the studio logo, bypassing all the menus and starting with my preferred audio track (DTS for The Fifth Element).
Lets talk about some of these feature a little more in depth. With TheaterTeks aspect ratio controls you can setup the four main DVD aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 2.35:1 and letterbox) so that when ever you put a DVD in that uses one of these aspect ratios TheaterTek will automatically display it correctly. You can also setup your own custom aspect ratios for any odd aspect ratio DVDs you may have (1.66:1 for instance). The real nice thing about all this is that TheaterTek handles all the switching automatically. On many DVDs the menus will be 4:3 but the movies will be 16:9, TheaterTek makes sure that you are always watching things in their appropriate aspect ratio.
Along with the “Set movie start” feature I mentioned earlier you also have the ability to set bookmarks on your DVDs so you can quickly and easily get to your favorite scenese. For instance, if you have some friends over and you want to show off your system and in the past you have bookmarked some great scenes such as the lobby shootout in the Matrix or the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park you can instantly go to those scenes.
TheaterTek also has a built in screensaver which is nice for me with my CRT projector. You can customize how long it takes for the screensaver to come on and you can also customize the logo that slowly bounces around the screen (the stock screensaver is the TheaterTek logo)
TheaterTek aslo include on-screen video controls which allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and gamma directly on-screen to optimize the video playback. TheaterTek ships with built in scoped settings for certain video cards. You can also save these settings on a per-DVD basis to compensate for overly dark/light DVD’s
TheaterTek is designed to be controlled via a remote control and it ships with the necessary files or plug-ins for popular remote controls. This makes using TheaterTek incredibly intuitive and easy yet you get all the benefits of playing your DVD’s through a computer.
TheaterTek also includes an auto resume feature. Lets say you are falling asleep during the middle of a movie or for whatever reason you can’t finish a movie that you started. When you come back and restart the movie you have the option of restarting it at the position where you last left. This can come in very handy at times.
I have been extremely pleased with TheaterTek, it gives me great video quality, it’s incredibly easy to use and it has been rock solid for me. I cannot recall it ever giving me any problems. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good DVD player for their HTPC.
TheaterTek has recently released TheaterTek 2 which I have yet to try. It has added a few new features and now features the Nvidia decoders instead of the Sonic decoders. From what I have heard it is great. I have just been too lazy to switch, I will some day soon I am sure.
- Complete Aspect Ratio control, including automatic aspect ratio switching
- High quality graphical on screen display including an on-screen movie progress bar
- Bookmarks with Movie Start feature
- Built-in Screen Saver
- DVD specific video preferences
- Supports VGA cards from major manufacturers including ATI and NVIDIA
- Supports Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital (AC-3) pass-through, Digital multi-channel pass-through (S/PDIF), LPCM, MPEG-1 Layer 2, and MPEG-2 2-channel audio formats. Optional multi-channel version.
Supplied files for popular remote controls
- A-B Repeat, Chapter, Title repeat
- User-definable Skip Forwards/Backwards
- Parental Controls
- International DVD Language defaults and Subtitles