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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  • erwos - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Does it? Because I thought that was only for MPEG-2. Link? Reply
  • smitty3268 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Most drivers only support it with MPEG-2, but that doesn't mean it isn't capable of more. Looking again, I'm a little unclear about how much work would be required to get it working. I'm not sure if it is completely done and just requires support from the hardware vendors or if it also needs some additional work before that happens.

    http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/index.php/XvMC">http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/index.php/XvMC
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Video_Motion_Compen...">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Video_Motion_Compen...
    Reply
  • Per Hansson - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Hi, it would be really interesting to see similar tests done in Linux also

    For example how cheap of a HTPC rig can you build, with free software too, and still provide betters features than any of the commercial solutions.

    I think we are many that have some old hardware laying around. And when seeing this article it brings up ideas. Pairing the old computer with a (AGP?) ATI 2600 card would provide an ideal solution in a nice HTPC chassi under the TV perhaps?
    Reply
  • jojo4u - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Linux is not practical. You would have to crack AACS and dump the disc first. Reply
  • Per Hansson - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Hmm, I did not realize that

    However a HTPC can still be built to be a player for satellite data for example, granted configuring all that up with a subscription card will not be for the faint of heart. But then again the Dreambox 8000 is not available yet, only a new decoder from Kathrein UFS910 with no decent software (yet)
    Reply
  • jojo4u - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Hi Derek,

    good review. However, based on a review of the german written magazine C't I have some suggestions and additions:
    PowerDVD patch 2911, Catalyst 7.6, Nvidia 158.24
    - the Geforce G84/85 miss not only VC-1 but also MPEG-2 bitstream processing.
    - the HD 2400 does not have MPEG-2 bitstream processing, frequency transform and pixel prediction or it is not activated.
    - A single core Athlon is significantly worse than a single core Pentium IV. The reson is AACS. Decryption puts a hudge load on the CPU and is optimized for Intel CPUs (9%->39% H.264, Pentium IV, Casino Royale). Perhaps later patches made the situation better (like your Yozakura shows?)
    - VC-1 on the Radeons and Geforces showed picture distortions, but based on your review this seems to be fixed now

    Combinations of Athlon 3500+, X2 6000+, Pentium IV 3,2 GHz, Pentium E2160 and HD 2400/2600, Geforce 8600 GTS which resulted in lagging in MPEG-2 or VC-1 or H.264
    3500+ + 690G/2400/2600/8600
    6000+ + 690G
    Pentium IV + 8600
    Reply
  • Chunga29 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    Why run with older drivers? If these features are important to you, you will need to stay on top of the driver game. Would have been interesting to see AMD chips in there, but then that would require a different motherboard as well. I think the use of a P4 560 was perfectly acceptable - it's a low-end CPU and if it can handle playback with the 2600/8600 then Athlons will be fine as well. Reply
  • 8steve8 - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    nice article..

    but, while i usually think anandtech conclusions are insightful and spot on,

    it seems odd not to give props to the 2600xt which dominated the benchmarks.


    for the occasional gamer who often likes watching videos, it seems the 2600xt is a great choice, better than the 8600gts.

    for example for VC1, on a low end c2duo the difference between 7% and 19.2% matters, esp if the person likes watching a video while working or browsing or whatever...




    can amd add noise reduction options later w/ a driver update?
    Reply
  • defter - Tuesday, July 24, 2007 - link

    quote:

    for example for VC1, on a low end c2duo the difference between 7% and 19.2% matters, esp if the person likes watching a video while working or browsing or whatever...


    How can that matter? Even in worst case you have 80% of idle CPU time.

    Besides, how can you "work" while watching video at the same time? And don't try to tell me that a web browser takes over 80% of CPU time with Core2 Duo system...
    Reply
  • drebo - Monday, July 23, 2007 - link

    quote:

    it seems odd not to give props to the 2600xt which dominated the benchmarks.


    We all know why this is.

    I'll give you a hint: look at the overwhelming presence of Intel advertising on this site.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. That's why I don't take the video and CPU reviews on this site seriously anymore.
    Reply

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