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Feel the Pain: Buying a Third-Party MPEG-2 Decoder

I won't lie: This next part is going to hurt. A lot. But only for a little while.

I'll say it quickly and get it over with, rather than letting you suffer for a few days of slow agony: MCE won't work without a third-party MPEG-2 decoder. That's right—after $1,000 of expense on hardware, you now have to shell out additional money for software that lets you play DVDs.

I had read this before starting the project, but I was in denial, so for an hour or two I couldn't get video capture to play back on MCE. How could Microsoft ship a product whose most important feature was missing? However, I finally gave in and decided to test several leading products, all of which came with a time-limited trial.

After experimenting with the leading brands, I found the best to be PowerDVD 6, which had the smoothest, clearest video playback for DVDs and videos. Images were vivid, with almost no visible flaws under most circumstances. Optional feature packs give you as much control as you would like. The basic version starts at $40 and is available from CyberLink. As a less-expensive runner-up, the NVIDIA PureVideo Decoder worked fine at only $20. I have also started experimenting with freeware decoders, a dozen of which can be easily Googled; the results have been variable.

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