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How to Improve DVD Playback on Your PC

Posted Wednesday, April 6, 2005

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How to Improve DVD Playback on Your PC
by Kevin J. Vella
Public Relations Manager
Uniblue Systems

Up to a few years ago, when computers were much less powerful than they are today, watching movies required specialised hardware that was rather expensive. With the advent of better processors, better movie encoding and decoding technology, and Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) technology, you can comfortably watch your favourite movie on your PC without much trouble. Or can you?

Modern computer hardware technology allows you to watch a DVD inexpensively - all you need is a DVD drive, a decent CPU and good DVD software that allows you to run your movie. However, even when playing DVD with the most powerful computer systems you can experience glitches (e.g., the screen freezes for a split second or video and audio playback are not synchronised for a few seconds). These glitches are called stuttering. So how can you minimise and avoid stuttering? Or how can you improve overall DVD playback on your PC?

What Causes the Problem?
Dedicated hardware (e.g. a DVD player) does only one thing - decoding movies to play them for your entertainment. Hence, you do not experience any stuttering. Many times, though, it is either not convenient to buy or use a DVD player. In these cases, you would play your DVDs on your PC. Computer processors have to keep up with a number of processes while running DVDs. Moreover, they can only do one thing at a time. So they will prioritise among processes indiscriminately and they will switch rapidly from one task to another giving you the impression that they are handling several tasks at the same time.

Each running task gets a small slice of CPU time before the CPU is handed over the next task. If your DVD decoding software doesn't get enough of those slices, it won't have time to decode all the frames in your DVD movie at high quality. The result, as you probably know, is dropped frames, stutter, and other annoying effects.

What Can You Do?
What can you do about prevent the DVD decoding software from running out of CPU time? There are a few things you should always do before watching DVD movies on your computer:

1. Reboot the computer before you begin to make sure the operating system is completely stable.

2. Terminate all programs that aren't absolutely necessary, ideally everything except the DVD software and some system processes. Use WinTasks to terminate as many processes as possible. By using WinTasks, you can terminate many background processes that don't show up in the CTRL + ALT + DEL dialog box. As long as these are not system processes or anti-virus programs, they can usually be stopped for better results. When you have terminated all unnecessary processes, save the current process configuration to a preset. This way you can simply click the Preset button to stop and start the right processes before playing DVDs.
3. Make sure you have the latest version of DirectX and DX Media.

4. Try increasing the priority of the DVD software. You may have to try a few different settings before you find the optimal priority for your system. Priority settings can also be saved to a WinTasks preset.

5. Make sure you have the latest drivers for your DVD drive.

6. Lower you screen resolution and colour depth to 800 x 600 and 16-bit colour when playing DVDs (32-bit colour may be preferable on some graphics cards).

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