The Race is Over: 8-channel LPCM, TrueHD & DTS-HD MA Bitstreaming

It's now been over a year since I first explained the horrible state of Blu-ray audio on the PC. I'm not talking about music discs, but rather the audio component of any Blu-ray movie. It boils down to this: without an expensive sound card it's impossible to send compressed Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio streams from your HTPC to an AV receiver or pre-processor. Thankfully AMD, Intel and later NVIDIA gave us a stopgap solution that allowed HTPCs, when equipped with the right IGP/GPU, to decode those high-definition audio streams and send them uncompressed over HDMI. The feature is commonly known as 8-channel LPCM support and without it all high end HTPC users would be forced into spending another $150 - $250 on a sound card like the Auzentech HomeTheater HD I just recently reviewed.

For a while I'd heard that ATI was dropping 8-channel LPCM support from RV870 because of cost issues. Thankfully, those rumors turned out to be completely untrue. Not only does the Radeon HD 5870 support 8-channel LPCM output over HDMI like its predecessor, but it can now also bitstream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA. It is the first and only video card to be able to do this, but I expect others to follow over the next year.

The Radeon HD 5870 is first and foremost a card for gamers, so unless you're building a dual-purpose HTPC, this isn't the one you're going to want to use. If you can wait, the smaller derivatives of the RV870 core will also have bitstreaming support for TrueHD/DTS-HD MA. If you can't and have a deep enough HTPC case, the 5870 will work.

In addition to full bitstreaming support, the 5870 also features ATI's UVD2 (Universal Video Decoder). The engine allows for complete hardware offload of all H.264, MPEG-2 and VC1 decoding. There haven't been many changes to the UVD2 engine; you can still run all of the color adjusting post-processing effects and accelerate a maximum of two 1080p streams at the same time.

ATI claims that the GPU now supports Blu-ray playback/acceleration in Aero mode, but I found that in my testing the UI still defaulted to basic mode.

To take advantage of the 5870's bitstreaming support I had to use a pre-release version of Cyberlink's PowerDVD 9. The public version of the software should be out in another week or so. To enable TrueHD/DTS-HD MA bitstreaming you have to select the "Non-decoded high-definition audio to external device" option in the audio settings panel:

With that selected the player won't attempt to decode any audio but rather pass the encoded stream over HDMI to your receiver. In this case I had an Integra DTC-9.8 on the other end of the cable and my first test was Bolt, a DTS-HD MA title. Much to my amazement, it worked on the first try:

No HDPC errors, no strange player issues, nothing - it just worked.

Next up was Dolby TrueHD. I tried American History X first but the best I could get out of it was Dolby Digital. I swapped in Transformers and found the same. This ended up being an issue with the early PowerDVD 9 build, similar to issues with the version of the player needed for the Auzentech HomeTheater HD. Switching audio output modes a couple of times seemed to fix the problem, I now had both DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD bitstreaming from the Radeon HD 5870 to my receiver.

One strange artifact during my testing was the 5870 apparently delivered 1080i output to my JVC RS2 projector. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong here as 1080p wasn't an issue on any other display I used. I ran out of time before I could figure out the cause of the problem but I expect it's an early compatibility issue.

I can't begin to express how relieving it is to finally have GPUs that implement a protected audio path capable of handling these overly encrypted audio streams. Within a year everything from high end GPUs to chipsets with integrated graphics will have this functionality.

Eyefinity Lower Idle Power & Better Overcurrent Protection
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  • maomao0000 - Sunday, October 11, 2009 - link

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  • shaolin95 - Wednesday, October 07, 2009 - link

    So Eyefinity may use 100 monitors but if we are still gaming on the flat plant then it makes no difference to me.
    Come on ATI, go with the real 3D games already..been waiting since the Radeon 64 SE days for you to get on with it.... :-(
    GTX 295 for this boy as it is the only way to real 3D on a 60" DLP.

    Nice that they have a fast product at good prices to keep the competition going. If either company goes down we all lose so support them both! :-)

    Regards
    Reply
  • raptorrage - Tuesday, October 06, 2009 - link

    wow what a joke this review is but that i mean the reviewer stance on the 5870 sounds like he is a nvidia fan just because it like what 2-3fps off of the gtx 295 doesn't actually mean it can't catch that gpu as the driver updates come out and get the gpu to actually compete against that gpu and if i remember wasn't the GTX 295 the same when it came out .. its was good but it wasn't where we all thought it should have been then BAM a few months go by and it finds the performance it was missing

    i don't know if this was a fail on anandtech or the testing practices but i question them as i've read many other review sites and they had a clear view where the 5870 / GTX 295 where neck N neck as i've seen them first hand so i go ahead and state them here head 2 head @ 1920x1200 but at 2560x1600 the dual gpu cards do take the top slot but that is expected but it isn't as big as a margin as i see it.

    and clearly he missed the whole point YES the 5870 dose compete with the GTX 295 i just believe your testing practices do come into question here because i've seen many sites where they didn't form the opinion that you have here it seems completely dismissive like AMD has failed i just don't see that in my opinion - I'll just take this review with a gain of salt as its completely meaningless
    Reply
  • dieselcat18 - Saturday, October 03, 2009 - link

    @Silicon Doc
    Nvidia fan-boy, troll, loser....take your gforce cards and go home...we can now all see how terrible ATi is thanks you ...so I really don't understand why people are beating down their doors for the 5800 series, just like people did for the 4800 and 3800 cards. I guess Nvidia fan-boy trolls like you have only one thing left to do and that's complain and cry like the itty-bitty babies that some of you are about the competition that's beating you like a drum.....so you just wait for your 300 series cards to be released (can't wait to see how many of those are available) so you can pay the overpriced premiums that Nvidia will be charging AGAIN !...hahaha...just like all that re-badging BS they pulled with the 9800 and 200 cards...what a joke !.. Oh my, I must say you have me in a mood and the ironic thing is I do like Nvidia as much as ATi, I currently own and use both. I just can't stand fools like you who spout nothing but mindless crap while waving your team flag (my card is better than your's..WhaaWhaaWhaa)...just take yourself along with your worthless opinions and slide back under that slimly rock you came from.

    Reply
  • dieselcat18 - Saturday, October 03, 2009 - link

    @Silicon Doc
    Nvidia fan-boy, troll, loser....take your gforce cards and go home...we can now all see how terrible ATi is thanks you ...so I really don't understand why people are beating down their doors for the 5800 series, just like people did for the 4800 and 3800 cards. I guess Nvidia fan-boy trolls like you have only one thing left to do and that's complain and cry like the itty-bitty babies that some of you are about the competition that's beating you like a drum.....so you just wait for your 300 series cards to be released (can't wait to see how many of those are available) so you can pay the overpriced premiums that Nvidia will be charging AGAIN !...hahaha...just like all that re-badging BS they pulled with the 9800 and 200 cards...what a joke !.. Oh my, I must say you have me in a mood and the ironic thing is I do like Nvidia as much as ATi, I currently own and use both. I just can't stand fools like you who spout nothing but mindless crap while waving your team flag (my card is better than your's..WhaaWhaaWhaa)...just take yourself along with your worthless opinions and slide back under that slimly rock you came from.

    Reply
  • Scali - Thursday, October 01, 2009 - link

    I have the GPU Computing SDK aswell, and I ran the Ocean test on my 8800GTS320. I got 40 fps, with the card at stock, with 4xAA and 16xAF on. Fullscreen or windowed didn't matter.
    How can your score be only 47 fps on the GTX285? And why does the screenshot say 157 fps on a GTX280?
    157 fps is more along the lines of what I'd expect than 47 fps, given the performance of my 8800GTS.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, October 01, 2009 - link

    Full screen, 2560x1600 with everything cranked up. At that resolution, it can be a very rough benchmark.

    The screenshot you're seeing is just something we took in windowed mode with the resolution turned way down so that we could fit a full-sized screenshot of the program in to our document engine.
    Reply
  • Scali - Friday, October 02, 2009 - link

    I've just checked the sourcecode and experimented a bit with changing some constants.
    The CS part always uses a dimension of 512, hardcoded, so not related to the screen size.
    So the CS load is constant, the larger you make the window, the less you measure the GPGPU-performance, since it will become graphics-limited.
    Technically you should make the window as small as possible to get a decent GPGPU-benchmark, not as large as possible.
    Reply
  • Scali - Friday, October 02, 2009 - link

    Hum, I wonder what you're measuring though.
    I'd have to study the code, see if higher resolutions increase only the onscreen polycount, or also the GPGPU-part of generating it.
    Reply
  • Scali - Thursday, October 01, 2009 - link

    That's 152 fps, not 257, sorry. Reply

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