The Applications

The last time we looked at Blu-ray/HD-DVD playback on PCs we were sorely disappointed in software support, mostly because we needed to use a separate application for Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback despite similarities in the standards. Thankfully both Cyberlink and Intervideo have since introduced universal versions of their applications that support both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra and Intervideo's WinDVD 8 support both standards through a single UI; unfortunately neither application appears to be quite ready for prime time.

Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra 7.3 gave us the most problems, especially with ATI hardware. The application was simply far more prone to random crashes than WinDVD 8, which was unfortunate given that it was the only of the two that properly enabled hardware acceleration on ATI GPUs.

WinDVD 8 didn't crash nearly as much as PowerDVD Ultra 7.3, but it did give us its fair share of problems. Complete application crashes were fairly rare, but on NVIDIA hardware we'd sometimes be greeted with a green version of whatever movie we were trying to watch. There was no rhyme or reason to why it would happen, but it just did. When things worked, they worked just fine though.

If you're running 64-bit Vista, you'll probably want to avoid installing either application as the problems we encountered were only amplified under the OS. Enabling hardware acceleration for ATI hardware under 64-bit Vista caused PowerDVD to crash anytime it attempted to playback an H.264 stream, while VC1 content was totally fine. WinDVD 8 gave us the wonderful problem of throwing an error whenever we hovered over a program menu item for too long. As much as we appreciated the improvement to our reflexes, we fondly preferred using WinDVD under 32-bit Vista where we could spend as much time as wanted in the menu without running into an error.

A quick perusal through Cyberlink and Intervideo's forums reveal that we aren't the only ones that have had issues with their software. Do keep these issues in mind if you are planning on turning your PC into a Blu-ray/HD-DVD playing powerhouse, as we're not yet at the point where you can get a truly CE experience on your PC with these applications.

It's a shame that we could only get ATI's hardware acceleration to work under PowerDVD and it's equally unfortunate that PowerDVD was so unstable because it was actually the faster of the two applications when it came to menu rendering/interaction time. Clearly both applications need work, but for our benchmarking purposes they sufficed to give us an initial look at what will be available once the bugs are fully vanquished.

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  • PrinceGaz - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    Copying a movie from an optical disc (DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-Ray) to your HDD is perfectly legal as it does not involve interfering with the protection on those files, all you are doing is creating an image-file on your hard-disk which contains all the necessary data on the optical-disc. The image-file can then be mounted with suitable software and played as normal in your preferred media player, with the media-player software handling the decrypting just as it would with an original disc.

    It's ripping the movie that contravenes the DMCA as that is the step which involves removing the encryption from the data. Ripping can be done either direct from the original optical disc or from an image-file on your hard-drive, the only difference is that creating an image-file first is an extra step to be performed but on the other hand it simplifies what is involved with each stage and means the only task being performed while reading the original disc is a straight copy to the hard-drive. Having an image on the hard-drive also saves a lot of time if more than one attempt might be needed to perform a successful rip.

    On topic, once quad-core CPUs are mainstream in a year or two (with octal-core arriving at the high-end), H.264 decoding on the GPU will be irrelevant really-- nice to have but of no real importance, rather like how the Pentium III and original Athlon rendered hardware MPEG2 decoder cards obsolete.
    Reply
  • Ard - Saturday, April 28, 2007 - link

    Well (and don't get me wrong, I hate the DMCA, believe me), your argument would arguably fail under the strict language of the statute. The DMCA defines circumvention as "descrambl[ing] a scrambled work, decrypt[ing] an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner". A direct copy would probably be viewed as avoiding CSS/AACS/etc. since they exist for the sole purpose of preventing you from making a copy. I personally think your argument is more than valid because you still need a media player to decrypt the image file, but you know content providers would argue the exact opposite. Reply
  • smilingcrow - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    "On topic, once quad-core CPUs are mainstream in a year or two (with octal-core arriving at the high-end), H.264 decoding on the GPU will be irrelevant really-- nice to have but of no real importance, rather like how the Pentium III and original Athlon rendered hardware MPEG2 decoder cards obsolete."

    I thought it was the implementation of hardware assist of MPEG2 decoding on GPUs that was the boon for DVD playback on PCs back in the day with ATI being the pioneers!
    It’s still useful to have this feature regardless of quad cores from the perspective of lower power consumption, lower CPU heat output which is easier to cool quietly and better multi-tasking abilities. It’s a niche feature but for people who use it it’s something for nothing especially with the 8500 GT supporting it. Gigabyte have a passive 8500 GT that supports HDCP for $100; my next card I think.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    SO, what you're saying is that: You can watch a HD-DVD from HDD, you just can't put it there ? lol, reminds me of one of the laws Canada supposedly had for a while, something similar to: you can download all the pirated software/media you want, you just couldnt store it on any form of media . . .

    Anyhow, I wonder how long AMD/ATI is going to stay silent, it seems a good bit of time since we've heard anything from them, at least, in the form of a review. Not that I miss all the fanboyistic comments . . .
    Reply
  • BoberFett - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    The power consumptions graphs show Peak lower than Average... Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    Fixed :) Reply
  • Cascavel - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    I ask out of ignorance, but why did you not try the NERO software for HD playback - I think it is an add-on to NERO 7 / Showtime 3 ? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    Great question, but I believe that only PowerDVD/WinDVD support the 8600's hardware acceleration at this point. I will double check :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Hulk - Saturday, April 28, 2007 - link

    The Showtime 3 release notes says "nVidia decode" a few generations ago. Perhaps they have updated it or maybe it will work. If you could test with Showtime 3 that would be great. Reply
  • Cobra Commander - Friday, April 27, 2007 - link

    I wasn't expecting it to be this dramatic. Nice. Bummer the GTX doesn't have this tech though. :( Reply

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