Orion Studio DirectDVD ($39.95) makes a bad first impression and generally goes downhill from there. The program offers one breakout feature, DVD-to-MP3-audio conversion, which worked on only one of our two test machines. Unless you really need to cull audio tracks from DVD movies, you'll be happier with another product.Orion Studio DirectDVD ($39.95) makes a bad first impression and generally goes downhill from there. The program offers one breakout feature, DVD-to-MP3-audio conversion, which worked on only one of our two test machines. Unless you really need to cull audio tracks from DVD movies, you'll be happier with another product.
Ugly installation and more
DirectDVD's flaws show up as early as installation, which requires two separate registration numbers from two separate e-mail messages, then forces you to type agree in the end user licensing agreement, rather than click the more familiar check box. Hey, we're all for copyright enforcement--we really are--but we don't think you should have to work to accept Orion's terms.
One glance at the program itself confirmed our fears. Where other vendors are moving toward bright, easy-to-use interfaces, all of DirectDVD's 26 available skins, or interfaces, are dark, with tiny icons that are virtually unusable on 15- and 17-inch monitors. All menu options spawn a large, video-obscuring menu with some extraordinarily detailed configuration options that most users won't understand--BackEnd SWBlend (true/false), for example.
Poor design choices hide power
Many of DirectDVD's features need serious rethinking, too. The program offers a zoom feature, which is nice, but it won't let you pan around within the zoomed image as you can with WinDVD and PowerDVD--not much help if you're trying to see a specific detail. As for help files and licensing information, you'll find them online only--a problem if you lack an always-on Internet connection or, say, you're in an airplane and run into trouble. The program doesn't offer closed-caption support, either (all of the other programs we've seen do), and its menus refer to subtitles as subpictures, which will confuse most.
Unfortunately, these issues obscure some impressive functionality, especially in the audio arena. Out of the box, the basic version offers SRS TruSurround XT and Circle Surround II, technologies that allow two-speaker systems to simulate surround sound. For an extra $9.99, DirectDVD adds Dolby Headphone support, a great audio enhancement feature for headphone users. DirectDVD also includes very rich screen capture features and even lets you apply special effects, adjust color and hue, and store images in a number of useful formats, usually with preview capabilities that let you fine-tune compression or image quality options. Nice.
We also like DirectDVD's bookmark feature, which stores video frames along with chapter and time-code data so that you jump can back to random playback locations in the movie. For eye-candy aficionados, DirectDVD offers unique onscreen volume meters, though most users will simply prefer to watch their movies instead.
However, DirectDVD's best features also require significant chunks of both memory and CPU. DirectDVD grabbed 133MB of RAM on our 256MB Windows 2000 test system, far more than any other software DVD players we tested; this should be fair warning that systems with 128MB of memory or less won't handle DirectDVD well. The app also grabbed about 62 percent of our CPU resources during our standard playback test sequence--a potentially serious problem for multitaskers on slower computers. We found the video quality to be slightly grainier than PowerDVD's but on a par with that of WinDVD and CinePlayer.
Finally, DirectDVD's marquee feature--DVD-to-MP3 conversion, which converts your DVD soundtrack to MP3 format--works only on certain sound cards. We learned about the limitation after waiting more than 24 hours for a response to our e-mail tech-support request. And worse, DirectDVD offers no list of supported cards to help you determine whether the program is worth your while at all. DirectDVD claims to offer live help via chat, but we waited more than two hours for assistance with no response. In addition to chat and e-mail support, Orion also offers "scheduled" telephone support, where you e-mail a request to the company to have a technical-support representative call.
If audio capabilities are the only thing driving your purchase decision, DirectDVD offers a few solid tools, but don't buy it without downloading the free trial to see whether it's compatible with your sound card. If you're just looking to watch high-quality DVDs at home or on the road, stick with the slightly more expensive but much higher quality PowerDVD or WinDVD.