Life After DVD: As the death knell sounds for the disk, what are our alternatives?

Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, admitted in January that the company expects DVD subscribers to decline every quarter, “forever”. When the head of America’s biggest DVD rental company  – the US equivalent of LoveFilm – makes this kind of statement, that says a lot about the state of the DVD market.

Experts have forecast the fall of the DVD for the past few years and, as digital options increase, we take a look at a few of the alternatives.

Apple-TV

Apple TV

Billed as “A lot of entertainment. In a very little box”, Apple TV offers movies, news, music and the ability to share photos and documents on your computer through your TV. Netflix subscribers can access the company’s online movie streaming service and you can use an iPhone or iPod as a remote control. The box costs £99 upfront and movie rentals start at £2.49. The newly updated version now streams in 1080p.

iTunes Rentals

iTunes rentals provide a digital alternative to traditional video rental shops – without the late fees. Rented movies stay in your iTunes library for 30 days and, once you start watching, you have 48 hours to finish the film before it expires. Download rented movies onto an Apple device to watch away from home and, if 30 days isn’t enough, you can also purchase most movies to keep within your iTunes account indefinitely.

Lovefilm and Netflix

Lovefilm has been established for a few years as the UK’s leading online entertainment rental company. As well as sending DVDs by post, Lovefilm users can stream movies online. Netflix also recently launched their streaming service in the UK, providing some healthy competition in the paid streaming market. For a monthly fee, both services allow you to stream films for free, or pay a small amount to watch new releases.

New Kids on the Block

This year’s CES revealed a few new players that are enhancing the digital movie market. Syncbak, currently on limited release, is a system that enables you to stream content from the internet to smart TVs, mobiles, tablets and more. Meanwhile, the Roku streaming stick plugs in to your television, transforming your set into a smart TV and enabling you to stream content from your computer to the big screen.

With the offerings at this year’s CES, it looks like the DVD’s demise might not be long coming. Trends suggest our TV and movie watching is going mobile. With newer technology and formats undercutting DVDs in price and surpassing them in convenience, we can only hope it will be a quick and painless end, rather than a protracted and drawn-out struggle.

PowerDVD 12 Ultra: CyberLink goes mobile

It’s all about mobile nowadays, and even PowerDVD is in on the act. The multi-purpose media playback software is now in its 12 iteration, boasting two killer mobile features: PowerDVD Mobile and PowerDVD Remote.

The PowerDVD Mobile app lets users play, share and wirelessly stream their videos, music and photos from their PCs to portable devices – be it Android (mobile or tablet) or iOS (iPad or iPhone).

CyberLink

The PowerDVD Remote app turns your mobile into a high-end remote control, be it Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and high-definition videos as well as the music and photo playback features on your computer.

Both apps come free with PowerDVD 12 Ultra, which has a whole bunch of other new playback features. Blu-ray comes as standard, but it also upscales DVDs, and displays videos or photos. The Cyberlink guys have also optimised CPU/GPU hardware acceleration for smoother playback, and added an ultra-fast Instant Seek to jump to where you want to go as soon as possible.

There’s also the 3D features that every player is cramming in nowadays, converting 2D movies and photos into 3D. This also includes Blu-ray, which is a first, although we assume this is as average as most 2D-to-3D conversion.

Smart Sync allows users to set rules for syncing the PowerDVD media library to Android devices automatically; including optimisations to fit your device’s resolution and playback quality. If you’re unsure, PowerDVD 12 can automatically choose the best fit video format for your mobile devices.

PowerDVD also allows you to watch social content, including YouTube videos and Facebook and Flickr photos. The software’s TrueTheater setting makes viewing pictures a better, more theatrical experience, which is much better than checking a Facebook gallery.

For audiophiles, the software delivers 7.1 channel surround sound audio from DTS and Dolby, as well as new lossless audio format support for OGG and FLAC files.

PowerDVD 12 Ultra will set you back £79.99 which includes the Mobile and Remote apps. For people who get the Pro and Standard versions, you’ll need to pay £3.99 for Remote and a huge £14.59 for Mobile.

Nero saves the day: Nero 10 Platinum HD

Nero is an ambitious word. It’s tried to grab as many varied uses as possible: Crazed Roman Emperor, corporate coffee-joint, the New England Role-playing Organisation. For over 300 million users, however, the word is more familiar for burning CDs. Recently, the company behind the Nero Burning ROM software has become every bit as ambitious as the name it uses. Enter Nero 10 Multimedia Suite PLATINUM HD – your ultimate solution to CD burning, video editing, media-organising and system back-up’ing.

There’s so much included in the new Nero 10 PLATINUM HD package that it’s difficult to find somewhere to start. Perhaps the best bet is to begin with the software which left our jaws a’gaping:

Nero

Nero Vision Xtra: HD Editing for the Family
Although Vision Xtra originally joined the Nero 10 family back in April, this HD update has really brought the program into its own. The major upgrades are the ability to playback Blu-ray discs and the addition of “Nero Creative Packs”.
Blu-ray playback adds to the software’s existing Blu-ray options – authoring and HD editing, to make the package the complete HD circle: play, edit and create. It’s nice that the features are all enclosed in one place – even in the infinitely simple iLife you’d have to switch between programs to author a disc (and in iLife Blu-ray is unsupported).

In terms of video editing, the program’s closest competitor is another Apple product: iMovie HD. Vision Xtra has definitely taken inspiration from the simplicity of Apple’s editing software. You won’t find the plethora of options you’d get on Final Cut or Premier Pro, but you also won’t have to spend three hours YouTube’ing tutorials.

As well as adding 50 new transitions and 30 effects, part of the “Nero Creative Packs”, the new edition adds a template for picture-in-picture. Sixty-six templates, to be exact. Simply drop a template onto the editing timeline, drag in some clips and you’ll have a nifty PiP effect in no time.

With the myriad of new effects and transitions, Nero decided that it’d be a good idea to create a “favourites” menu. If you like a particular effect, or want a coherent video style, this not only speeds up editing, but removes the annoyance of scrolling through menus time and time again.

Behind the scenes, they’ve also beefed up the software. You can now export movies in Flash format, as well as PowerPoint video. There’s also added support for multi-core CPUs, NVIDA GPUs and background rendering, improving the preview quality immensely. Although there is no native 64-bit support, Nero engineers were quick to inform us that for video editing, the performance gains from 64-bit architecture would be minimal.

The mixture of powerful editing tools and a simple interface means that for families, or people without much spare time, putting together a movie is painless. Sure, you won’t see James Cameron authoring Avatar 2: A Bit of a Cash In on it. But for home users, the simplicity encourages you to give it a try – to turn those holiday clips into a video, rather than mere hard drive filler.

MediaHub: Possibly the Simplest Way to Transfer Media, Ever
MediaHub lets you store all your videos, pictures and music in one place. It does this by importing information from iTunes and Windows Media Player, as well as Windows 7 libraries. And it plays Blu-ray discs.

It’s also mighty fast. If you set it as your default image viewer, the loading time is as instant as Windows Preview. You then click the “MediaHub” button at the bottom, and it’ll boot up a bunch of editing options – “enhance, adjust, effects”. It also has tools to auto-enhance, remove red eye, crop, put together a little slideshow, e-mail a photo to a friend (and it scales it down for you, which is pretty neat). Really, it’s all a bit Picasa, except with less options and plug-ins, and better video file support.

The real selling point is the “Move It Plug-in”. If this has been done before, it has never been done as well as this. Every time you plug in an external device, be it an iPhone or a camcorder, MediaHub takes note. It then lets you re-encode media on-the-fly, specifically to that device’s resolution and playback options.

In essence, it automatically optimises any media for playback on your devices. You’ll get the best possible picture, the least possible disk usage, the most possible battery life from your gadget and the easiest conversion ever.

The Other Stuff:
There are a bunch of other updates around the included software, including a command-line interface for Burning ROM and faster performance in Back It Up, but these are really specialist areas and optimisations, rather than the features that have kept us impressed.

For £79.99, it’s quite the bargain – especially when you factor in the estimated cost of £11 per unit for a Blu-ray license. What’s really tempting, however, is if you already own the old Nero 10, because updating will only cost you a cool £19.99.