[I want to apologize for the delay in posting this review. TT sent me the software back in March, and I started my review then. However, I wanted to wait until they got a finished and detailed website posted with ordering ability before publishing my review. Last month, http://www.theatertek.com went online- just in time for my PC crash that prevented me getting to my half completed review. So, finally, everything has come together-- the planets have aligned, and I give you my review of this software:] Introduction When I first decided I wanted to explore the HTPC route, I was daunted. I have never considered myself much of a PC guru – I had never been much into computer gaming, so the concepts of cutting edge video cards and overclocking never really came into my realm of knowledge. Even in my chosen profession (audio recording and engineering)- I have only begun in the last year to really employ computer technology into my work despite the fact that the industry has been doing so for over a decade. Because I had never really been much beyond a “power user” of computers, the prospect of basing my entire HT around a PC (which usually requires quite a bit of tinkering and tweaking) was something that legitimately scared me. However, the appeal of HTPC advantages drew me ever closer. There were the obvious picture quality issues. Given that I have a DLP projector with 1024x768 native resolution, I knew offering scaled DVD to 1024x786 progressive would be the ideal. From what I had read on the Internet, the scaling abilities of Radeon based HTPC were easily approaching or equal to the picture quality of top of the line (and top dollar) scaling device like Faroudja. Then there were the interface issues. With the confusing menagerie of various DVD picture formats (Anamorphic, 4:3, Letterbox, 1.66:1 letterbox, etc) and the various configuration options for playback- this tended to make use of the HT system by anyone other than myself to be very difficult. While a scaler could handle all the options, most required a manual configuration by the user- that was less than ideal. Then there was the appeal of all the extras. Integration of DVD playback into a box with MP3s, JPEG slideshows, CD and wav playback, streaming audio and video, movie trailers. HTPC even offered control integration of other systems (trigger lighting, serial control of my projector, etc). Therefore, since there were a million reasons to go with a HTPC- I broke down a built a machine to mount in my equipment rack and serve as the new heart of my playback system. With some pointers from the fine members both on this forum and AVSforum, I built a very nice system for around $1100. One of the first difficult choices you have to make, after the piecing together of the infinite hardware options, is the selection of software. In the realm of DVD playback, this is made easy (or at least easier) by the fact that there are really only a handful of viable options. I started with PowerDVD (as it was packaged with my DVD drive)- but found out quickly that it simply did not offer the streamlining I had really hoped for with HTPC. While PowerDVD did offer a decent picture quality, it operated as a DVD interface designed for desktop computer use with an annoying visual control surface, not like an integrated HTPC solution. In addition, all the best players in terms of picture quality seemed to require extensive tinkering with various registry settings under windows. While I am comfortable with monkeying about in the registry, I really had hoped to find something that would perform reasonably well without a serious amount of work under the hood. Then I read about THEATERTEK software on the avsforum. [c][/c] From the initial information, it sounded exactly like what I had been looking for. The software incorporated the most popular set of filters for both audio and picture quality with an interface designed specifically with HTPC in mind. So not only would it offer equal the picture quality to the best-looking players (like Ati’s player), but would behave in an ideal manner for HTPC users. Best of all, the configuration was prefabricated, so little or no registry tweaking would be needed. I have now been a TheaterTek user for about 3 months, and feel comfortable posting a full review of the software. In short, the software does offer excellent picture quality and a very good HTPC specific interface- but the product is not without a few shortcomings: Pro’s Fellow HT nuts produce Theatertek. This program is authored and maintained by members of the internet home theater community, and the authors are frequent posters on sites like this one and the Avsforum. Bottom line is, this is a group of Home Theater nuts like you and I producing software specifically to meet the need and desires of this group. Theatertek uses the highest quality cinemaster audio decoders as well as video decoders from Ravisent Technologies. Those “in the know” have regarded Ravisent filter as offering the best picture for PC based DVD playback. These filters have been utilized in the popular ATI DVD player as well as being the prime option in the Zoom player. With the use of the Ravisent filters, Theatertek offers truly stunning image quality. Theatertek provides both Dolby Digital and DTS SP/DIF passthru perfectly (I’m using the M-audio 2496 Audiophile). After having 3 or 4 months to really live with this player, I can say the picture quality exceeds everything I had used previously by leaps and bounds. I have run Power DVD, PowerDVD XP and an older version of Windvd- and none of them even approached the picture quality of the TT player. Not even close. The TT filters are much smoother, and the overall picture quality could be described as film-like. I simply cannot say enough about the picture quality of theatertek via the Radeon video card. Theatertek offers amazingly complete aspect ratio control and settings. [c][/c] This is a huge feature for me, and I would assume it would be huge for anyone thinking about HTPC. Each common aspect ratio is offered by default. You go through and setup the output for each aspect, using very simple arrow tools (like the kind you find to adjust a computer monitor). As you re-size the image, it allows you to lock the aspect ratio (and gives you exact figures on your current ratio). After you save the setting, any disc flagged for that aspect would automatically use your preset size and shape settings. Non-Anamorphic letterboxed discs automatically zoom. 4:3 discs automatically format with blanking on the sides. The player swaps through aspects as the disc plays, automatically. Even 2.35:1 material can be setup with special settings, for those using Anamorphic lenses or using fixed height projection systems! If that is not enough, you can define custom aspects- and associate them with a single disc automatically. Setup a 1.66:1 zoom for non-anamorphic discs- and associate this with the discs in your collection. Every time you put them in, it will use your custom aspect! If a disc is improperly flagged (like Titanic for example)- you can assign it to the proper aspect and it will remember and use that each time it is inserted! All blanking can be adjusted in all possible directions (like a built in version of the popular application YXY)- and can be color adjusted to prevent burn-in CRT based sets! A player with 100% automatic aspect control. Your family members can insert a disc and press play! Theatertek offers auto start functions for all your DVDs! I hear quite a bit of complaining on this forum and others about the animated menus and FBI warnings. Some long for the days of Laserdisc, where you could insert the disc, press play, and away you go. Theatertek allows you to set a default title for the disc, and the DVD will jump directly to this title and start playing, using your audio and video settings assigned for the disc. You put in the disc and the movie starts with the setting you want, just that simple. Theatertek is designed to behave like a stand alone DVD player. The computer point and click interface is just not ideal for HTPC. We want seamless integration! Theatertek addresses this issue completely. The navigation and playback controls are all available via direct hotkey commands. The use of onscreen displays is designed to emulate a stand alone DVD player, and offers very sleek looking simple graphics. I bought an IR wireless keyboard and taught the keystrokes to my universal remote- and the average person wouldn’t know the difference between the Theatertek interface and my old Panasonic RV-80 player: Theatertek is an Internet product, with a bulletin board manned by programmers and staff. The theatertek website offers a discussion forum for technical assistance which has proven to be an amazing resource. Theatertek is also a popular application on forums like the AVS forum, so everything from basic setup help to uber-tweaking is accessible by just a few keystrokes. The staff at TT responds very quickly to questions and bugs- the software release patches to correct known errors very quickly- so the product gets better by the month! Con’s OK, well here’s the stuff that I don’t like about the player. I would say that I should make it clear that the majority of the faults listed here have more to do with the whole idea of HTPC and computers than directly with theatertek, so some of these are issues you will have with any player. Despite being sold as a fool proof HTPC solution, some tweaking may be required. Theatertek has tried to present their product as an “install and go” HTPC solution. While I would say this player is head and shoulders above other serious HTPC playback software, it still is not without some occasional need for tweaking by some users. Right now, if you go to the Theatertek site you will find that some of the ATI Driver/Card/OS configurations are causing some users fits. You might be wise to have a basic working knowledge of registry editing and plan to research the drivers available for your OS and Card before you move forward. I don’t think you will need to any serious overhauling to get TT to work (you won’t need to whip out your soldering iron!), but you shouldn’t expect it to be something that will work perfectly for 100% of configurations. But, this is kind of the nature of computer software- for anyone who has dealt extensively with computers- this is old hat. Hardware accel on video, bob/weave and whatnot- combing and restarts. This is my major fault with this player- although I’m not literate enough to know for sure- I believe this is a shortcoming with computer technology, not necessarily with the player: Hardware acceleration provides the smoothest picture using the TT player. However, HW accel does not work properly on some discs- specifically it has a hard time with “video source” material (30 frame like TV shows). The video sourced stuff often combs badly and twitches, there is obviously something wrong. Usually in order to watch some video based discs (or extras for that matter), you have to disable HW accel. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in order to do so you must restart the computer. But that doesn’t always fix the problem. Under video settings when in software decoding mode, you have 3 options: auto, bob, and weave. Often, the auto feature does not work very well (I have read it relies on flags in the material, which aren’t always reliable). So, sometimes combing continues. You have to switch to force it to bob or weave. And guess what, you have to restart the computer. Recently, in order to watch the documentary on the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace disc, I had to restart the machine 3 times before finally getting to a video setting that would play the material without major combing and video twitching. On a side note, this video twitching problem also affects some DVD menus. So, while you will be blown away when you get the feature playing- sometimes menus will look downright horrible. Certainly not the end of the world- but not ideal when you’ve invited guests to show off the system! I don’t know if there is anything TT can specifically do about this, but right now it is the only thing preventing me from being 200% ecstatic about this product. Small bugs and problems There are a handful of small bugs that the TT people are working to fix, or have determined are not the fault of the software: 1)Popping audio when going from pause to play. I have a loud burst of noise sometimes on switching. Some work is going into figuring out exactly why this happens (there is a twelve-page discussion on the TT forum)- but from what I’ve read the latest Audiophile drivers running under XP have solved the problem- so I’m considering making the change to XP (again). 2)Slow menu navigations. This is a problem many have reported: from time to time, seemingly at random, TT will experience a staggered response in menu navigation. This just means there is a 1 second delay after you press a navigation button in a menu before the onscreen cursor moves. I know the TT people are aware of the problem and are trying to figure it out. 3)FF/REW bug. Some people experience hyper fast shuttling using TT. This appears to be a compatibility flaw with the decoder filters and some configurations. I don’t have the problem myself- but if you’re concerned, read the TT forum for more info. Conclusion. Let me simply say that this software, despite some small bugs that seem to go hand and hand with the concept of HTPC, is absolutely fabulous. I can honestly say that if you’re reasonably comfortable with computer hardware and configuration, and you have a display which supports higher than NTSC sync rates: there is absolutely no excuse to not have a HTPC running TheaterTek. The advantages are almost limitless, and the display improvement is simply night and day over a standalone DVD player. [c][/c] If I had seen the performance of TheaterTek on someone else’s system, I would have built a HTPC specifically to run it. It is simply that good. In terms of features, it answers nearly every need specific to configuring a HTPC. In terms of picture quality- it’s a 700 pound gorilla which slaughters every other DVD playback system I've seen! The software costs $69.95, and in my opinion is a deal at twice the price. Unfortunately they do not offer a demo version of the software- but you have a 7 day trial period after you purchase in order to test it. You can return it within the trial period for a full refund. -V PS: There are three issues which I feel need to mentioned as a footnote to this review for those not too familiar with TT: 1) There has been some grumbling about the registration situation for this software. Because TT is a small operation and don't have multimillion dollar licensing deals like PowerDVD- they have taken steps to protect TT from hackers. The program uses a hardware specific registration system- which means if you change the configuration of your system, you will need a new unlock code from TheaterTek. I found this to be a non-issue as they sent me an unlock code within hours of my request. However some have found this type of arrangement to be a deal-breaker. Regardless, I felt you should be aware of this situation before you buy. 2) TT will play VOB files from your hard drive. TT will not play VCD at this time, although I'm told it's planned for future versions. 3) The 2 configuration menu screens above are from an older build of TT- the newest build has added several options and moved things around a bit.