PowerDVD 5 is Cyberlink’s latest version of a program that drew rave reviews from the users of the previous version. Basically what’s going on here is an enhancement of any video DVD you can play on your computer. Though that sounds trivial, everyone who has experienced it agrees the player provided

with Windows is so-so and that using PowerDVD makes a big difference.

We were skeptical, but when we ran PowerDVD the first time, viewing a video from National Public Television, the improvement was apparent immediately. It was also much easier to use than typical DVD controls: You can fast forward or go backward using the mouse to control the speed in either direction. A click of the mouse can also freeze the video or capture a screen. The software provides surround-sound and automatically brightens dull picture areas and adjusts colors.

A captured screen can be saved to the Windows clipboard or moved directly for use as screen “”wallpaper.”” Parental controls can be activated to restrict objectionable scenes, which can then be viewed only by entering a password.

PowerDVD 5 comes in a deluxe version for $70 as a download from gocyberlink.com. It requires Windows 98 and up. A free trial version is available from the Web site. We went to Froogle (www.froogle.com) on this one and found some amazing price deals. Lowest price was a mere $5, and $15 pricing was common.

SOUND AND VIDEO, TOTAL CONTROL

There are really two programs we’re going to talk about here. They’re both relatively inexpensive and though they can each stand on their own, they’re designed to work best in tandem.

Sony’s Screenblast Acid is professional-level mixing and music publishing for a bargain price. For $70 you can import any music or sound tracks you want, mix them to taste and burn to a CD. You can score your own music videos and the software will automatically match the tempo and beat to the video background.

Acid 4.0 provides an unlimited number of recording tracks, and sounds can be brought in simply by clicking and dragging them in place with the mouse. Four hundred sound loops are included with the software and hundreds more are available at the company Web site.

You might think this is fun software for amateur musicians, but the buzz is that it’s already being used by studios for TV commercials. There’s a 30-day free trial.

Screenblast Movie Studio can be considered a video mixer, just as Acid is a sound mixer. Like the sound program, video clips can be dragged and dropped into place. Hundreds of transitions and special effects are available on disk and the Web site; these can also be dragged and dropped into place.

The finished video with sound track can be burned to CD or DVD. For a $40 annual fee you can post a finished video to the Screenblast Web site (www.screenblast.com) for viewing by others. The Web site address followed by your name becomes the direct entry to your video.

PLAYING IT COOL

Would the Terminator use the Lapinator if things got too hot to handle?

The Lapinator is a smooth-surfaced tray for holding your laptop, and the claim is that it makes the computer run cooler. We tried it and our laptop did seem to run cooler.

This is a small thing, but it matters because heat is a laptop killer. There’s too much stuff crammed into too small a space and almost all of it generates heat. Ventilation is always inadequate. The Lapinator is $25 at www.lapinator.com.

INTERNUTS

It’s a long Internet address, but if you’re careful with your typing you will get to a place with some statistical information, ZIP codes and aerial photos of 177,129 cities, towns and villages in the United States and its outlying territories. At http://gazetteer.hometownlocator.com. the neatest feature is you can type in any address and see an aerial photo of that location; you can zoom in for details too.

The Universal Currency Converter at www.xe.com/ucc instantly convert any currency into any other currency, conversion rates updated daily.

Life’s a beach at www.surf-sun.com/worldbeaches. Has links to great beach destinations in the United States and around the world. Check out St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has the National Park Service’s only underwater park (watch out for the moray eel).

One ounce of prevention at www.prevention.com. One hundred diet tips plus meal planning and a calorie calculator from Prevention Magazine.

BOOKS

“”High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, 2nd edition”” by Rusel DeMaria and Johnny Wilson; $25 from Osborne/McGraw-Hill (www.osborne.com).

A trip down gamers’ lane for gamers, lavishly illustrated in color on every page. Remember Dig Dug and Donkey Kong, and F-15 Strike Eagle, designed by an actual fighter pilot? Then there’s Myst, named game of the year when your writer cast the tie-breaking vote. And, of course, there are the adventure games, epitomized by Ultima and its many successors. The first adventure game was text only, however, written for the DEC 10 by engineers at Digital Equipment, a company long gone but not forgotten.

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