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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  • TA152H - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Just my opinion, but I would save money on the Power DVD if you are buying ATI and just use theirs. Power DVD is not cheap, and I personally do not like it is much, but I am sure others do. He has to use it, of course, because how else would he be able to test Nvidia and ATI on the same software. But it's not a trivial expense, and the ATI stuff works well enough that it seems, to me, an unnecessary expense. You might be happier with spending that money on hardware instead of Power DVD. Again, all this assumes an ATI card purchase. Reply
  • phusg - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Good questions. From what I've seen the 2600 Pro is the least power hungry card at under 50W. Any chance you could shed some light Derek? Reply
  • TA152H - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Choosing a Pentium 4 560 is a really strange choice, do you think there are a lot of them out there with PCI-E waiting to upgrade to one of these cards. It's a minor point, but I think a Pentium D 805 would have been an excellent choice, since a lot of people bought these and it would be a much more interesting data point, and many of them on PCI-E based motherboards.

    My next point is the expectation of the 2900 XT. I totally disagree this is something they needed to add, because what they are saying is absolutely true. Someone who will buy this item will almost certainly do it with a very capable CPU. Since high end processors are dual cores, it is not as if you can not do something else if the CPU is assisting with it. It's not free, you pay for it with cost, and you pay for it with power use, and you pay for it to heat, and it's going to be a waste the vast majority of time. Considering the power use of the 2900 is appalling already, adding to this is highly undesirable considering the very questionable usefulness of it.

    I think they should be congratulated for using intelligent feature targeting for their products, rather than bloating a product with useless features and making people pay for it.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, July 24, 2007 - link

    Clearly, the point was to get a single-core point of reference. While admittedly that exact CPU would be a slightly rare case, it's a simple matter to benchmark it since it fits the same 775 mainboard as the two Core2 chips. A PD805 wouldn't be much use to compare, as it would simply be a bit slower than the E4300... so what? The P4 560 makes a reasonable proxy for the variety of good performing single-core P4's and Athlon64's out there, while the E4300 stands in for all the X2's.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, July 24, 2007 - link

    Are you crazy?

    The Pentium D 805 is a very popular chip and widely used, and represents an entirely different architecture. It would be an extremely valid data point because it's a popular item. It's not "a little slower", it has completely different performance characteristics.

    A Pentium 560 owner will probably never buy this card, and many of these owners are not even on a PCI-E platform. I wouldn't even have had a problem if they sold a single core Sempron, but a Pentium 560 makes no sense at all. People are still buying the 805, in fact, and you don't think the idea of popping one of these cards with an 805, while waiting for the Penryn to come out, is not something people think about? Or a similar Pentium D? Except, they'll not know how it performs. Luckily, though, they'll know how the Pentium 560 performs, because, I'm sure, that is their next choice.

    Reply
  • 100proof - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Derek,

    Seeing as this is an article concerning media decoding with an emphasis towards HD media playback, shouldn't Anandtech be applying some pressure on Nvidia to support open drivers for linux? mythTV and XBMC are promising HTPC options, perfectly suited towards this test scenario.

    Why should h.264 offloading be exclusive to users of Microsoft operating systems?
    Reply
  • 100proof - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    This complaint applies to ATi\AMD as well. Reply
  • erwos - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Linux doesn't have a framework to support H.264 or VC-1 acceleration yet. When that happens, I would expect the binary drivers to catch up fairly quickly. Reply
  • smitty3268 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Actually, it does. The problem is that it is open source, while the MS equivalent is closed. ATI/NVIDIA don't want to share their specs in an open manner and never came up with a suitable API to make public. Reply
  • wien - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Well, gstreamer allows for closed source plug-ins since it's licensed under LGPL. Fluendo has already implemented a lot of proprietary (patented) codecs in gstreamer. With the required features exposed through the driver, it shouldn't be too hard for the IHVs to do the same with hardware accelerated H.264/VC-1.

    It's probably not worth their time yet though...
    Reply

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