Introduction

The current generation of graphics hardware is capable of delivering high definition video with lower CPU utilization and better quality than ever. Armed with the most recent drivers from AMD and NVIDIA we have spent quite a bit of time testing and analyzing the current state of HD playback on the GPU. And we have to say that while there are certainly some very high points here, we have our concerns as well.

Since the last time we tested HD playback performance on the 8600 line, we have seen software support improve dramatically. PowerDVD, especially, has come quite a long way and now fully supports both AMD and NVIDIA hardware with full hardware acceleration and is quite stable. Drivers from both camps have also now added HD video quality improvements in the form of post processing to their drivers. HD deinterlacing and noise reduction now (mostly) work as we would expect. This is in contrast to the across the board scores of 0 under HD HQV we saw earlier this year.

This will be the first time we test AMD's new R600 and RV6xx based graphics cards using our video decode tests. Our RV6xx based Radeon HD 2600 and 2400 hardware features AMD's UVD video decode pipeline that accelerates 100% of the HD video decode process on all codecs supported by HD-DVD and Blu-ray. NVIDIA's hardware falls short of AMD's offering in the VC-1 bitstream decoding department, as it leaves this task up to the CPU. We will try to evaluate just how much of an impact this difference will really offer end users.

Here's a breakdown of the decode features for the hardware we will be testing:



While the R600 based Radeon HD 2900 XT only supports the features listed as "Avivo", G84 and G86 based hardware comprise the Avivo HD feature set (100% GPU offload) for all but VC-1 decoding (where decode support is the same as the HD 2900 XT, lacking only bitstream processing).

With software and driver support finally coming up to speed, we will begin to be able to answer the questions that fill in the gaps with the quality and efficacy of AMD and NVIDIA's mainstream hardware. These new parts are sorely lacking in 3D performance, and we've been very disappointed with what they've had to offer. Neither camp has yet provided a midrange solution that bridges the gap between cost effective and acceptable gaming performance (especially under current DX10 applications).

Many have claimed that HTPC and video enthusiasts will be able to find value in low end current generation hardware. We will certainly address this issue as well.

The Test
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  • bpt8056 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Does it have HDMI 1.3?? Reply
  • phusg - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    quote:

    As Derek mentioned, higher than 75% produced banding.


    Indeed, which makes it strange that he gave the nvidia cards 100% scores! Sure manual control on the noise filter is nice, but 100% is 100% Derek. It working badly when set above 75% makes for a less than perfect HQV score IMHO. Personally I would have gone with knocking off 5 points from the nvidia card's noise scores for this.
    Reply
  • Scrogneugneu - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    I would have cut points back too, but not because at 100% the image quality goes down. There's no sense in providing a slider if every position on the slider gives the same perfect image, doesn't it?

    Giving a slider, however, isn't very user-friendly, from an average Joe's perspective. I want to dump my movie in the player and listen to it, and I want it to look great. I do not want to move a slider around for every movie to get a good picture quality. Makes me think about the Tracking on old VHS. Quite annoying.


    From a technological POV, yes, NVidia's implementation enables players to be great. From a consumer's POV, it doesn't. I wanna listen to a movie not fine tune my player.
    Reply
  • Chunga29 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    It's all about the drivers, people! TechReport did their review with older drivers (at least on the NVIDIA side). So in the past two weeks, NVIDIA apparently addressed some problems and AT took a look at the current results. Probably delayed the article a couple times to rerun tests as well, I bet!

    As for the above comment about the slider, what you're failing to realize is that noise reduction impacts the final output. I believe Sin City used a lot of noise intentionally, so if you watch that on ATI hardware the result will NOT be what the director wanted. A slider is a bit of a pain, but then being a videophile is also a pain at times. With an imperfect format and imperfect content, we will always have to deal with imperfect solutions. I'd take NVIDIA here as well, unless/until ATI offers the ability to shut off NR.
    Reply
  • phusg - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Hi Derek,
    Nice article, although I've just noticed a major omission: you didn't bench any AGP cards! There are AGP versions of the 2600 and 2400 cards and I think these are very attractive upgrades for AGP HTPC owners who are probably lacking the CPU power for full HD. The big question is whether the unidirectional AGP bus is up to the HD decode task. The previous generation ATi X1900 AGP cards reportedly had problems with HD playback.

    Hopefully you'll be able to look into this, as AFAIK no-one else has yet.

    Regards, Pete
    Reply
  • ericeash - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    i would really like to see these tests done on an AMD x2 proc. the core 2 duo's don't need as much offloading as we do. Reply
  • Orville - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Derek,

    Thanks so much for the insightful article. I’ve been waiting on it for about a month now, I guess. You or some reader could help me out with a couple of embellishments, if you would.

    1.How much power do the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, Radeon HD 2600 Pro, Nvidia GeForce 6800 GTS and GeForce 6800 GT graphics cards burn?

    2.Do all four of the above mentioned graphics cards provide HDCP for their DVI output? Do they provide simultaneous HDCP for dual DVI outputs?

    3.Do you recommend CyberLink’s Power DVD video playing software, only?

    Regards,

    Orville

    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    we'll add power numbers tonight ... sorry for the omission

    all had hdcp support, not all had hdcp over dual-link dvi support

    powerdvd and windvd are good solutions, but powerdvd is currently further along. we don't recommend it exclusively, but it is a good solution.
    Reply
  • phusg - Wednesday, July 25, 2007 - link

    I still can't see them, have they been added? Thanks. Reply
  • GlassHouse69 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    I agree here, good points.

    15% cpu utilization looks great until.... you find that a e4300 takes so little power that to use 50% of it to decode is only 25 watts of power. It is nice seeing things offloaded from the cpu.... IF the video card isnt cranking up alot of heat and power.

    Reply

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