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HTPC enthusiasts are often concerned about the quality of pictures output by the system. While this is a very subjective metric, we have decided to take as much of an objective approach as possible. Starting with our HTPC reviews, we have been using the HQV 2.0 benchmark for this purpose. The HQV benchmarking procedure has been heavily promoted by AMD, but it is something NVIDIA says it doesn't optimize for. Considering the fact that there aren't any other standardized options available to evaluate the video post processing capabilities of the GPUs, we feel that HQV benchmarking should be an integral part of the reviews.

However, HQV scores need to be taken with a grain of salt. In particular, one must check the tests where the GPU lost out points. In case those tests don't reflect the reader's usage scenario, the handicap can probably be ignored. An example is cadence detection. Only interlaced streams with non-native frame rates (i.e, 24p content at 60i, 25p content at 50i etc.) need this post processing. Even within this, it is streams requiring 3:2 cadence detection that are most common. Streams with 2:3:3:2 and other fancy patterns are almost non-existent in most usage scenarios. So, it is essential that the scores for each test be compared, rather than just the total value.

The HQV 2.0 test suite consists of 39 different streams divided into 4 different classes. In our HTPC(s), we use Cyberlink PowerDVD 11 with TrueTheater disabled and hardware acceleration enabled for playing back the HQV streams. The playback device is assigned scores for each, depending on how well it plays the stream. Each test was repeated multiple times to ensure that the correct score was assigned. The scoring details are available in the testing guide from HQV.

In the table below, we indicate the maximum score possible for each test, and how much each GPU was able to get. The NVIDIA GPUs were tested with driver version 270.61 and the AMD GPUs were tested with Catalyst 11.5.

 
HQV 2.0 Benchmark Shootout
Test Class Chapter Tests Max. Score NVIDIA GT 430 MSI GT 520 AMD 6450 Sapphire 6570 MSI 6450
Video Conversion Video Resolution Dial 5 5 4 5 5 4
Dial with Static Pattern 5 5 5 5 5 5
Gray Bars 5 5 3 5 5 5
Violin 5 5 3 3 5 3
Film Resolution Stadium 2:2 5 5 0 5 5 5
Stadium 3:2 5 5 5 5 5 5
Overlay On Film Horizontal Text Scroll 5 5 5 5 5 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5 5 5 5 5 5
Cadence Response Time Transition to 3:2 Lock 5 5 5 5 5 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 5 5 0 5 5 5
Multi-Cadence 2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 0 5 5 5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 0 5 5 5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FPS Vari-Speed 5 5 0 5 5 5
5:5 12 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
6:4 12 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
8:7 8 FPS Animation 5 5 0 5 5 5
Color Upsampling Errors Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP) 5 5 5 5 5 5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE) 5 5 5 5 5 5
Noise and Artifact Reduction Random Noise SailBoat 5 5 5 5 5 0
Flower 5 5 5 5 5 0
Sunrise 5 5 5 5 5 0
Harbour Night 5 5 5 5 5 0
Compression Artifacts Scrolling Text 5 5 3 3 5 0
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 5 0
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 5 0
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3 0
Upscaled Compression Artifacts Text Pattern 5 3 3 3 3 0
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 3 0
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 3 0
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3 0
Image Scaling and Enhancements Scaling and Filtering Luminance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5 5
Chrominance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5 5
Vanishing Text 5 5 5 5 5 5
Resolution Enhancement Brook, Mountain, Flower, Hair, Wood 15 15 15 15 15 15
Video Conversion Contrast Enhancement Theme Park 5 5 5 5 5 5
Driftwood 5 5 5 5 5 5
Beach at Dusk 5 5 5 5 5 5
White and Black Cats 5 5 5 5 5 5
Skin Tone Correction Skin Tones 10 7 7 7 7 7
                 
    Total Score 210 193 146 189 197 144

A look at the above table reveals that there is not much to differentiate between the AMD 6450, GT 430 and 6570. The GT 430 scores in between the 6450 and 6570. However, the GT 520 and the DDR3 based MSI 6450 stand out because of their low scores.

In our GT 430 review last October, we were willing to give it some leeway because it lost out in the bulk of the cadence detection tests. The GT 520 is in a similar situation here. The all-important 3:2 pulldown is performed correctly. However, none of the other cadence detection tests passed. GT 520 also has other issues in general which cause it to get a lower score than what the GT 430 obtained in its initial review. We will take a look at how the GT 520 fares in the other tests before delivering the final verdict.

The DDR3 based 6450 misses out on the bulk of the scores because it is unable to perform denoising in a proper manner. When AMD was contacted about this, they admitted the issue and indicated that they were working on a fix. However, they pointed out that the problem was only for standalone files and not Blu-ray discs. To our surprise, we found that denoising worked properly in PowerDVD irrespective of ESVP when the HQV Benchmark Blu-ray was used! We decided not to let that alter the scores above. Blu-rays are already mastered carefully, and don't need as much post processing as local files from recorded TV shows or camcorder files. The low score of the DDR3 based 6450 will probably improve a great deal after driver updates, but we will consider only playback of files on the hard drive in the rest of this review.

HTPC Testbed Custom Refresh Rates
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  • qwertymac93 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What the heck are you talking about? Reply
  • velis - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    A great review. Provides all the answers one could wish for and even gives some further hints.
    I sure hope you have something like this lined up for llano.

    If I may suggest a couple or three things:
    Perhaps you should also mention reclock - it will solve most 23.976 and similar problems... It's not like many will detect that the video is running 1/24000th faster. Plus it's insanely easy to use.
    I understand you couldn't just post full blown images for space problems, but those thumbnails require too much work too. Is it possible to display a popup of sorts when one mouse-overs those thumbnails?
    Also a vertical line showing 60FPS in those DXVA tests would be great :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I will pass on your request(s) to the person in charge of the graphing engine :) Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What might have been a nice option is to see what sound levels the cards produced. Even it was only for the GT430 and the HD6570. I know that the decibels can differ between manufacturers but it would have been nice!
    For the rest a very nice detailed review between HTPC cards. I was deciding which card to buy so this helped a great deal! I was only looking between the HD6450 and the HD6570 but the GT430 is a better option than the HD6450.
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    HDMI Audio is purely digital, there is no diference based on what card you use.

    It depends on the audio decoder, and your receiver at the other end of the HDMI link, the HDMI sound card on those cards does not change the audio.
    Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    I think I did not use the right word, as I meant the levels of decibel the fan of the cards produce and not the audio too and through speakers.
    All reviewed cards have a fan on them and since most of the HTPC setups are in the living room it would have been nice to know which of the cards are most silent.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Though we considered cards with fans in this review, we made it a point to note that the same configuration (GPU model + DRAM bus width + operating frequencies) can be obtained with passive cooling from other vendors.

    For example, the 6570 has a passively cooled model from HIS with the same config and Zotac has a passively cooled 430 too. Other vendors have also demonstrated passively cooled models in Computex.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Firstly, a truly informative article. Very high quality.

    The fact that none of AMD, Intel and Nvidia can lock onto to the correct frame rates is unforgiveable. It is not as though these frame rates have changed over the last 6 months. It should not be necessary to be an advanced HTPC user and delve into custom creation of frame rates.

    I really hope that the representatives of AMD, Intel and NVidia are hanging their heads in shame at such basic errors - sadly I doubt they care.
    Reply
  • Grasso789 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The mistake is rather with Microsoft. Video playback speed should be adapted to the refresh rate of the grafx card. There is a software called Reclock doing that. Then, for example 23,996 Hz can be run with a monitor refresh rate of n times 24 Hz. (The same with audio, because bit-perfect transmission only works with synchronization.) In the end and for most sources, the RAMDAC needed only (multiples of) 24, 25 and 30 Hz. In any system, one of its parts should be the clock master, while the other parts serve. Reply
  • casteve - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Excellent review, Ganesh! Your HTPC insight/reviews have been missed. Reply

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