Boasting a bright menu with large, logical controls, Sonic CinePlayer 1.5 is the best software DVD player for tired eyes or for watching movies on red-eye flights or in dark environs. Although CinePlayer offers efficient use of system resources and an easy-to-learn, uncluttered interface, WinDVD's superior audio tools make it a better choice for bargain-conscious audiophiles.Boasting a bright menu with large, logical controls, Sonic CinePlayer 1.5 is the best software DVD player for tired eyes or for watching movies on red-eye flights or in dark environs. Although CinePlayer offers efficient use of system resources and an easy-to-learn, uncluttered interface, WinDVD's superior audio tools make it a better choice for bargain-conscious audiophiles.
Smooth interface; some limitations
We reviewed Sonic CinePlayer 1.5, which succeeds version 4.0 of the Ravisent-branded CinePlayer (Sonic acquired distribution rights in May 2002). Sonic celebrated this numerical discontinuity with a redesign, converting the old, dark-and-moody interface into a model of straightforward usability.
We especially like CinePlayer's minimal use of icons, which makes for an uncluttered interface that's instantly familiar. Of course, it's simple to make a program easy to use when features are limited, and in truth, CinePlayer lacks any standout features, such as WinDVD's time-shifting tool or DirectDVD's DVD-to-MP3 conversion capability.
Though Sonic touts OpenDVD support as a major feature, the tool is beneficial only if you author DVDs on a computer with a Sonic or other OpenDVD-compliant authoring program. (OpenDVD lets you add new material directly to a DVD that you've already burned, without having to reauthor the entire disc.) Another feature highlighted by Sonic, called anamorphic wide-screen support, is useful only when displaying your video on a projector. We're also disappointed that CinePlayer lacks a bookmarking capability, so you can't mark and return to random locations in the video.
Still, we like CinePlayer's well-considered mainstream features, including its screen-capture tool, which can grab shots from the movie you're watching at either the native or corrected aspect ratios and save them in BMP or JPEG format. You can even select among a number of preconfigured JPEG compression-rate choices. Best of all, CinePlayer lets you configure your wheel mouse, if you have one, in order to choose chapters, adjust volume, or step through your video frame by frame.
CinePlayer's best feature, however, is its system efficiency. The program averaged less than 50 percent CPU utilization on our Pentium 4, 1GHz test bed and consumed only 79MB of memory, compared to a high of 133MB by DirectDVD. Hence, if you're using an older computer or you want to run other applications at the same time, CinePlayer will keep your boat afloat. CinePlayer's image clarity and color quality comes out on top, as well--only PowerDVD shows crisper pictures.
Strictly basic audio
Unfortunately, CinePlayer skimps on audio features. It lacks the ability to decode DTS, a popular surround-sound format included on many DVD titles, and offers no enhancements--not even SRS TruSurround XT, which simulates multiple-speaker performance over two speakers, or the lovely Dolby Headphone technology, which makes even inexpensive headphones sound like you're sitting in a theater. Sonic says that it plans to ship an Advanced Audio Pack that will add these features (for a price), but for now, stick with WinDVD, which includes such features in the base version.
To make matters worse, CinePlayer's few advanced controls need some rethinking, too--particularly its color-adjustment tools, which are awkwardly displayed on the screen; it's almost impossible to view the video frame that you're trying to adjust.
The program comes with a 30-day warranty, and Sonic offers telephone support from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, via a toll call. Still, Sonic offers free phone and e-mail support for life--a big plus.
With a relatively low price, an easy interface, and some solid tools, CinePlayer 1.5 is a program on the rise, but it's not our first choice. Choose it if you value simplicity over features, but everyone else should turn to WinDVD or PowerDVD.
CinePlayer is a big, bright player with few icons--it takes only moments to learn.