Intel provided us with a Core i7-3770K processor and Asus was kind enough to supply the HTPC friendly P8H77-M Pro motherboard for our test drive. Purists might balk at the idea of an overclockable 77W TDP processor being used in tests intended to analyze the HTPC capabilities. However, the Core i7-3770K comes with Intel HD Graphics 4000, the highest end GPU in the Ivy Bridge lineup. Using this as the review platform gives readers an understanding of the maximum HTPC capabilities of the Ivy Bridge lineup.

The table below presents the hardware components of our Ivy Bridge HTPC testbed:

Ivy Bridge HTPC Testbed Setup
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K - 3.50 GHz (Turbo to 3.9 GHz)
Intel HD Graphics 4000 - 650 MHz (Max. Dynamic Frequency of 1150 MHz)
Motherboard Asus P8H77-M Pro uATX
OS Drive Seagate Barracuda XT 2 TB
Memory G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) F3-10666CL7D-4GBECO CAS 9-9-9-24
G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL CAS 10-10-10-30
Optical Drives ASUS 8X Blu-ray Drive Model BC-08B1ST
Case Antec VERIS Fusion Remote Max
Power Supply Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
Display / AVR Acer H243H / Pioneer Elite VSX-32 + Sony Bravia KDL46EX720
.

The Asus P8H77-M PRO makes for a nice HTPC / general purpose board for consumers not interested in overclocking their CPU. It also has two PCI-E x16 slots (one operating in x16 with PCI-E 3.0, and the other in x4 with PCI-E 2.0) and two PCI-E x1 slots for those interested in adding gaming cards or TV tuners / video capture cards.

Readers might wonder about the two different flavours of DRAM being used in the testbed. It must be noted that at any given point of time, only one of the flavours was being used.

As readers will see in a later section, it is possible that the memory bandwidth and latency can play a very important role in the video post processing performance. Towards this, we actually ran our decode / post processing tests with three distinct configurations. The ECO modules were run at DDR3 1333 (9-9-9-24) and also at DDR3 1600 (9-9-9-24). The Ripjaws Z modules were overclocked to DDR3 1800 (12-12-12-32). The ability to overclock the G.Skill DRAM modules was quite useful in trying to find some insights into the effect of memory bandwidth and latency on video post processing using the integrated GPU.

The software setup for the Ivy Bridge HTPC testbed involved the following:

Ivy Bridge HTPC Testbed Software Setup
Blu-ray Playback Software CyberLink PowerDVD 12
Media Player MPC-HC v1.6.1.4235
Splitter / Decoder LAV Filters 0.50.1
Renderers EVR-CP (integrated in MPC-HC v1.6.1.4235)
madVR v0.82.5

The madVR renderer settings were fixed as below for testing purposes:

  1. Decoding features disabled
  2. Deinterlacing set to:
    • automatically activated when needed (activate when in doubt)
    • automatic source type detection (i.e, disable automatic source type detection is left unchecked)
    • only look at pixels in the frame center
    • be performed in a separate thread
  3. Scaling algorithms were set as below:
    • Chroma upscaling set to default (SoftCubic with softness of 100)
    • Luma upscaling set to default (Lanczos with 4 taps)
    • Luma downscaling set to default (Lanczos with 4 taps)
  4. Rendering parameters were set as below:
    • Start of playback was delayed till the render queue filled up
    • A separate device was used presentation, and D3D11 was used
    • CPU and GPU queue sizes were set to 32 and 24 respectively
    • Under windowed mode, the number of backbuffers was set to 8, and the GPU was set to be flushed after intermediate render steps as well as the last render step. In addition, the GPU was set to wait (sleep) after the last render step.

Exclusive mode settings were not applicable to our testbed, because we found the full screen exclusive mode to be generally bad in performance compared to the full screen windowed mode. Also, none of the options to trade quality for performance were checked.

Introduction HQV 2.0 Benchmarking
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  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Well found! So nothing new in Ivy Bridge then... Reply
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Also, when we are complaining about 23.976Hz versus something like 23.972 how can you be sure that your measurement is accurate? I would think that for most HTPC users the important thing is that the video clock and audio clock are derived from a common clock. Is there some way you can check for this? I'm also interested to know if automatic lip-sync over HDMI is working properly - it doesn't seem to work on my AMD E-450. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Whether the clock is accurate or not, what matters it the number of frames dropped or repeated by the renderer because of this. madVR clearly indicates this in the Statistics.

    Yes, you are right about video and audio clock derived from a common clock, but I am not sure on how to check for this.

    Does lip sync not work for you on E-450, but does work on some other machine? I have played with the e-450 only briefly in the Zotac Zbox Nano XS, and I did watch one movie completely. I didn't have lip sync issues to warrant digging in further.. I do agree my sample set is extremely small.
    Reply
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I agree that what matters is dropped frames. I'm not absolutely sure how madVR decides when to drop frames. As I see it there are four options

    1) lock playback to the video clock and drop or repeat audio frames
    2) lock playback to the audio clock and drop or repeat video frames
    3) lock playback to the video clock and resample the audio
    4) lock playback to some other clock (maybe the processor clock) and drop or repeat both video and audio frames.

    My guess its probably doing 2 which would make the reported dropped frames a good measurement. If it was doing 1 or 3 then it wouldn't drop frames. If its doing 4 then I'd argue that its a faulty renderer.

    Regarding the lip sync its difficult to be very scientific about it because I don't have any suitable test material. My TV definitely introduces a significant delay and for some reason I haven't had much luck correcting it with manual adjustment on my AV receiver. Maybe it varies with frame rate or maybe the delay is outside the range I can set manually. When I enable automatic lip sync it does seem to correct things for the set top box and standalone DVD player but for my E-450 (an ASUS mini-ITX motherboard) it seems to be way off. Its quite possible its a bug in PowerDVD or that it depends on the format of the audio track or I don't know what else.

    I do have machines that I could try but it would really help to have some test material in a range of frame rates and audio formats.
    Reply
  • ghost6007 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    This article is great commentary on the video aspects of an Intel HTPC setup however nowhere on either the processor discussions or the Z77 motherboard articles was any attempt made to actually review the audio portions of HTPC setups which is still a major part of any Home Theater.

    IMO if you want a complete comprehensive look at HTPC capabilities of any platform addressing such things as audio decoding, audio pass through over HDMI and audio quality are a must until then it is not a complete review.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    HDMI Audio Passthrough has now become a 'commodity' feature. It is an issue in only media players now.

    Yes, I agree there are some other audio tests that could be done, but we had to operate within time constraints. I apologize for the same.
    Reply
  • ghost6007 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I hope you guys do a more comprehensive review once these chips are available via retail or even a Ivy Bridge HTPC build.

    This new platform seems like an excellent candidate for a powerful low power/noise HTPC setup.
    Reply
  • Southernsharky - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Has there been some kind of study on HTPC users to find out what the average is?

    To me the big problem with this article is that it makes too many assumptions, the biggest of which is that we are all just watching videos on our tv.

    I do recognize that there is a market for that, but I'm sure that I speak for most of us when I say that I hope that is just the beginning of the HTPC and not the goal.

    When an integrated GPU can game at 1080p (or hopefully better... let me know. Until then my own "HTPC" will have a graphics card.
    Reply
  • aliasfox - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I kind of have to agree. video/audio playback maybe the *primary* function, but as my HTPC is hooked up to the biggest screen in the apartment, I wouldn't mind throwing the odd game on there.

    My current HTPC does (very) light gaming, overnight video transcoding, light photoshop, and the (very rare) video edit. Oh, and it plays video and audio. Please don't ask what it is.
    Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Why are you testing with a HD4000? The 4000 only comes in the higher and more costly chips? Most lowwer/Mid Ivy chips will use HD2500 video.
    The price differance is enough to buy a cheaper chip and get a full sep. video card that has its own memory, or wait for Trinity.
    Reply

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