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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. We have been using the HQV 2.0 benchmark in our HTPC reviews to identify the GPUs' video post processing capabilities. The HQV benchmarking procedure has been heavily promoted by AMD, and Intel also seems to be putting its weight behind that. The control panel for the Sandy Bridge GPU has an additional skin tone enhancement option which the Clarkdale drivers used to lack.

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. 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.

Blu-rays are usually mastered very carefully. Any video post processing (other than deinterlacing) which needs to be done is handled before burning it in. In this context, we don't think it is a great idea to run the HQV benchmark videos off the disc. Instead, we play the streams after copying them over to the hard disk. As we noted in the previous section, the capabilities of the APU vary between Blu-ray and local file playback. How much difference does that cause in the HQV scores? How do the scores look when compared to the HD3000?

In the table below, we indicate the maximum score possible for each test, and how much each GPU was able to get. The HD3000 is from the Core i5-2520M with the Intel 15.22.2.64.2372 drivers. The Lynx was tested with Catalyst 11.6, driver version 8.862 RC1

 
HQV 2.0 Benchmark
Test Class Chapter Tests Max. Score Intel HD3000 AMD 6550D (Blu-ray) AMD 6550D (Local file) Sapphire 6570
Video Conversion Video Resolution Dial 5 5 4 4 5
Dial with Static Pattern 5 5 5 5 5
Gray Bars 5 5 5 5 5
Violin 5 5 5 5 5
Film Resolution Stadium 2:2 5 5 5 5 5
Stadium 3:2 5 5 5 5 5
Overlay On Film Horizontal Text Scroll 5 3 5 5 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5 5 5 5 5
Cadence Response Time Transition to 3:2 Lock 5 5 5 5 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 5 5 5 5 5
Multi-Cadence 2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 5 5 5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 5 5 5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FPS Vari-Speed 5 5 5 5 5
5:5 12 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5 5
6:4 12 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5 5
8:7 8 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5 5
Color Upsampling Errors Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP) 5 2 5 2 5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE) 5 2 5 2 5
Noise and Artifact Reduction Random Noise SailBoat 5 5 5 5 5
Flower 5 5 5 5 5
Sunrise 5 5 5 5 5
Harbour Night 5 5 5 5 5
Compression Artifacts Scrolling Text 5 3 3 3 5
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 5
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 5
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3
Upscaled Compression Artifacts Text Pattern 5 3 3 3 3
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3 3
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3 3
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3 3
Image Scaling and Enhancements Scaling and Filtering Luminance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5
Chrominance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5 5
Vanishing Text 5 5 5 5 5
Resolution Enhancement Brook, Mountain, Flower, Hair, Wood 15 15 15 15 15
Video Conversion Contrast Enhancement Theme Park 5 5 5 5 5
Driftwood 5 5 5 5 5
Beach at Dusk 5 2 5 5 5
White and Black Cats 5 5 5 5 5
Skin Tone Correction Skin Tones 10 0 7 7 7
               
    Total Score 210 173 190 184 197

A look at the above table reveals that Intel has caught up with the competition in terms of HQV scores. There is not much to choose betwee 173 and 184. But, does it pass the video quality stress streams? How does the Llano fare in that? We will see in the next few sections. But, first, we will look at the discrepancy between the Blu-ray and local file playback with respect to chroma upsampling.

Lynx HTPC Testbed Setup Lynx: Chroma Upsampling Errors
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  • Regenweald - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    Have to disagree with you here, technology isn't about 'points for effort' but raw performance. the Stars IPC is abysmal in comparison to SB, call it as such. In the same way In HTPC as well as 3D performance, Intel IGPs are still scraping the bottom of the barrel in comparison to the A-Series, call it as such. Which consumer buys second best because 'they're really trying' ?
    Lower power consumption, better performance A-Series comes out on top this time. It's ok to say it :)
    Reply
  • garagisti - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    Also, if you didn't find any links saying Intel supports 7.1 channel 24-bit hd audio bit-streaming over hdmi, you could have mentioned it in the review. I don't see Intel claiming it. AMD DOES feature that in their graphic parts with HD68xx series and above. I don't know if Llano features it or not, but i'd like to find out given this is a HTPC benchmark. Reply
  • Targon - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    And just think about prices when HP starts releasing low-end systems with Llano. Most of us look at system prices that START at $500 and go up from there, while most end users look at the $500 mark as being near the top of what they want to spend and then go down from there.

    If this becomes the $400 machine, doesn't that make for a MUCH better purchase than a $500 i3 system that has similar performance numbers?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    Just a small observation that many users will be happy to invest the extra ~$100 to make sure that they can play back their $1000 1080p60 camcorder's clips.

    I wrote this in another comment, but I will repeat: The choice depends on what the end user wants to do with the system.
    Reply
  • Regenweald - Sunday, July 03, 2011 - link

    I'd argue that the person buying the $1000 camcorder is not looking for a sub $500 PC. For the person buying the Flip or Sanyo Xacti sub $300, Llano is their territory. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    HQV testing : When the picture quality doesn't materialise for local files / local file playback has more issues with respect to higher GPU load, do you want us to recommend the system ?

    I respect the intelligence of the readers to the extent that they identify what is right and wrong with the hardware from what is presented.

    Again, we reiterate : If you do even a bit of gaming on your PC, the Llano is a much much better bet than Intel. When it comes to HTPCs, though, take a hard look at what it does and what it doesn't. If you don't care about 1080p60 camcorder clips, then the Llano is a better choice for its 'proper' support of 23.976 Hz, and better deinterlacing capability. On the other hand, if all you play is downloaded MKVs which are progressive in nature, you will be happy with the higher CPU power provided by Intel since its iGPU is good enough in THAT scenario. All these facts are presented in the review, and it is up to the reader to see whether the pros outweigh the cons in HIS particular scenario.

    As for HD audio bitstreaming, LAV Splitter + LAV Audio Decoder bitstreamed all the HD audio codecs to the AVR correctly. Proper bitstreaming support is a given in systems nowadays. In today's systems, It only deserves mention if something doesn't work. Also, I looked into AVSForum threads talking about 24-bit TrueHD streams, and many of the posters had SNB systems. Not one of them complained about any issues with HD audio bitstreaming of that content.
    Reply
  • swaaye - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the thorough review. It gives a good overview of Lllano's virtues for video playback. Hopefully they clean up the software quickly. It's particularly annoying to see the Enforce Smooth Playback option causing problems when it has been in their drivers for year(s) now. Reply
  • Targon - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    That 32nm process node has been a long time coming from AMD, hasn't it? Reply
  • redisnidma - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    I'm sorry if I'm about to hurt some feelings here, but I also agree with the rest of the guys in regards to the bias in Anandtech reviews. This one about Llano is no exception.

    Ganesh is quick to point out that Llano doesn't offer transcoding features like Intel's Quicksync, even though he doesn't mentions that the quality output of quicksync is CRAP; but when it comes to promote a handy feature like SteadyVideo (which llano supports), he's quick to shout out to the public about the negative aspects of it.

    These guys, (Anand and the bunch) are quick to criticize Llano's CPU and make a whole fuzz about it, but on the other hand they dare to call Sandybridge's iGPU as "average" and "OK" which in reality is total crap.

    This site is unbelievable, but anyhow, it's good to know that people are noticing it.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    I am not a big fan of QuickSync myself (take a look at my observations in the article).

    IIRC, Anand's review indicated that QuickSync's output quality was much better than the GPU based encoding techniques promoted by NVIDIA. And the ATI Stream technology seemed to generate something close to the QuickSync quality, albeit with a much lower performance.

    Basically, I consider QuickSync useless unless we can get the sort of quality that proper options to x264 can provide.
    Reply

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