Introduction

While we have had our hands on HDCP capable video cards for over a month, we haven't been able to really test our hardware with AACS protected content employing HDCP to secure the digital link between the system and the display. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drives are both scarce and expensive, and a good variety of content is tough to find. Fortunately, NVIDIA and CyberLink are touring the world showing off what they can do when a PC with a PureVideo graphics card and an HD-DVD player get together with some Japanese imports for a little fun.

At this point, it is fair to say that no PC capable of playing back an HD-DVD or a BD at full resolution will be without a graphics card capable of accelerating some portion of the decode process. All of the graphics cards we have seen with real HDCP support (including the ROM and keys required) will feature NVIDIA's PureVideo HD or ATI's AVIVO. While this is, of course, a selling point from both NVIDIA and ATI's side, offloading processing from the CPU happens to be a necessity on lower end hardware. Our perspective on video decode acceleration for graphics cards that support HDCP has shifted to the point where we now feel CPU offloading is a requirement.

With DVDs, the debate over GPU acceleration had to do with lowering power consumption. At this point, with higher resolutions, processing requirements, and content protection, power isn't a priority yet. Our tests will show that PureVideo is more of a resource shift that draws the same amount of power rather than a feature that will enable mobility. It will still be some time before we see a notebook capable of playing an entire HD-DVD or BD movie at resolution on one charge.

All of the parts that made this demo work are still in beta, from the CyberLink player to the NVIDIA drivers used. While PureVideo HD is capable of accelerating high def video files, this new driver is the first that allows PureVideo HD to be used on HDCP protected content. These capabilities should be enabled in a ForceWare driver release sometime near the end of July or the beginning of August.

CyberLink should also start selling their HD-DVD player on store shelves in Q3. Curiously, player vendors seem to be releasing different versions of their software for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. As both media formats are capable of holding data compressed with multiple (and overlapping) encoding schemes, there shouldn't be much difference in the players. Hopefully CyberLink, InterVideo, et al, will merge their player versions at some point in the future, but we aren't sure of the technical reasons that might have required this initial move.

We are taking a first look at HD-DVD playback on the PC with NVIDIA's PureVideo HD and CyberLink's player. The questions we want to answer are: what can early adopters of HD content expect in general, and what kind of performance does PureVideo HD offer? First, lets take a look at what exactly PureVideo HD does.

PureVideo HD and Video Playback
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  • Delerue - Friday, September 08, 2006 - link

    I agree with Pirks. It's more about the codec than the system power. I have a Sempron 3000+ that can handle any 1080p vídeo (WMV9 or H.264) without any GPU optimization (indeed I have a X800 XL). I think that CoreAVC is really the best codec avaliable to decode H.264; the difference between the others is really huge. Try to run this video without CoreAVC and then with (unfortunately you have to pay to get CoreAVC codec, but I think it's worth every cent): http://www.apple.com/trailers/imax/imaxdeepsea3d/h...">http://www.apple.com/trailers/imax/imaxdeepsea3d/h... (1080p version, indeed). After that, try this WMV9 with the Windows default codecs (not FFDshow): http://outerspace.terra.com.br/videos/callofduty3_...">http://outerspace.terra.com.br/videos/callofduty3_... (with the H.264 above is one of the heaviest videos I've ever seen). You'll see that you don't need a high end machine to run 1080p videos.

    BTW, in this article here the author said that ATI can do a better job than nVidia when we're talking about 2D. And it's not only about the image quality, but performance too. He said that Purevideo seems to be more a name than a system performance helper:

    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1916969...">http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1916969...

    BTW, I liked your article. Well writen, clear and right to the point. But I think you forgot to say that Windows Media Player 10 have a optimization patch to run WMV9 videos faster. Look here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/888656">http://support.microsoft.com/kb/888656

    So, we're waiting for the ATI time. ;)

    P.S.: sorry for my bad english.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    Even more interesting is that CoreAVC is going to have GPU acceleration soon too. Here we have a decoder that when not in multi-threaded mode beats out both multi-threaded (on multiple cores) and GPU-assisted decoders.

    And because h.264 is bit-identical for all decoders, this means CoreAVC is doing something really right.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Sunday, July 23, 2006 - link

    Exactly. Since CoreAVC craps on dead corpses of all the other codecs EVEN including ffdshow (jeez, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this!) and all of this WITHOUT GPU ACCELERATION, I don't even wanna think what's gonna happen when CoreAVC gets some boost from say 7800GS on my AGP mobo. I'll be watching 1080p videos on my 3 year old Socket A rig!! Woot! And all the dualcore fanatics can eat their fancy useless dualcores, hehe :-)) Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, July 23, 2006 - link

    We will absolutely be reviewing multiple playback techniques when we have a drive for more than a day.

    The problem isn't 1080p content, as PowerDVD has no problem with 1080p American content (non-H.264), but we will be very interested in seeing the capability of other players to decode higher bit rate video encoded with H.264.

    This is a very first glimpse of the current HD media playback capabilities of the PC, so please expect more as soon as we are able to get our hands on it.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Sunday, July 23, 2006 - link

    To be clear. CoreAVC is a commercially available H.264 decoder. It's claim to fame is being able to decode H.264 using less CPU power than any other publically available decoder multi-threaded or not, GPU-assisted or not. Reply
  • bob661 - Monday, July 24, 2006 - link

    So since US movies won't have H.264 encoding, this codec is irrelevant for US consumers, correct? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Monday, July 24, 2006 - link

    actually, i end up importing a bunch of japanese titles, so it does end up affecting me. also, we will have to look and see if there is any quality difference between the same movie encoded in h.264 and vc-1 / mpeg2 or whatever ... especially because the h.264 encodings are done in a higher bitrate as well. Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Monday, July 24, 2006 - link

    Typically, using a higher efficiency codec like VC-1 and H.264 implies a lower bitrate but equal perceived quality. That's why a single layer bluray disc would hold 2 hours with MPEG2 but about 4 hours with H.264 and VC-1. It's strange that your discs would be encoded with a higher bitrate compared to the MPEG2 versions (unless those were the DVD versions?)


    In any case, it's not like 1080p MPEG2 is really that relevant when it's WMV9/VC-1 and H.264 decoding that's interesting. We've had MPEG2-assist for a long time and any modern CPU should be able to decode it.
    Reply
  • bobsmith1492 - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    What exactly do the videos show? The one with Purevideo looks just like the one without... was the first one a bit choppy or something? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, July 23, 2006 - link

    yes, the one without purevideo is choppy. if you look closely at the logo and the scene where the faces are rotating, you can see the stuttering.

    as we said in the article, this looked much worse in person and rendered the movie unwatchable.
    Reply

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