HTPC Aspects : What is New?

We covered discrete HTPC GPUs in detail last year, and noted that the GT 520 was the sign of interesting things to come from NVIDIA.

The GT 520 was the first GPU from NVIDIA to come with support for VDPAU Feature Set D (also called as VP5 by some). VP5 is faster than VP4 and also brings support for decode of 4K x 2K videos. Unfortunately, the GT 520 didn't have the necessary hardware to output 4K resolution over any of its video outputs. The number of shaders in the GT 520 was also too low to support advanced deinterlacing algorithms. On the whole, despite the updated video processing engine (VPU), we couldn't recommend the GT 520 as the ideal discrete HTPC GPU.

All our concerns were supposed to be laid to rest with the launch of the Kepler series. NVIDIA started off at the high end with the GTX 680, a card which couldn't be called HTPC-friendly by any stretch of imagination. The more HTPC-friendly GK107 did see a simultaneous launch, but in mobile-only form as the 640M.

Given the configuration of GK107, it appeared likely that a desktop version would tick off all the boxes necessary for a HTPC. Does the Zotac GT 640 fulfill our expectations? The short answer is: Yes, it does! It improves upon the performance of the GT 430 with respect to madVR, thanks to the extra computational power and memory bandwidth. Meanwhile the updates to the video outputs (HDMI PHYs) and the retention of the VPU from the GT 520 enable decode and display of 4K videos in their native resolution.

However, these updates don't mean that NVIDIA's GPUs are perfect for HTPCs. Just like every other HTPC GPU vendor out there, NVIDIA has a list of things which need to be fixed from a HTPC perspective, which we'll dive into in a moment.

Another important update present in the Kepler series is the on-board H.264 encoder. The practice of integrating a H.264 encoder in the GPU was started by Intel in Sandy Bridge. While Intel has the second generation version of QuickSync in the Ivy Bridge processors, AMD and NVIDIA are just now starting to ship their first generation encoders (VCE and NVENC respectively).

Both VCE and NVENC are yet to gain widespread support amongst the software vendors, and NVIDIA themselves indicated that full support for NVENC in CyberLink's and ArcSoft's offerings would be coming sometime next month. Keeping this in mind, we have decided to postpone NVENC coverage to a later date.

In the next few sections, we will look at the HTPC aspects of the Zotac GT 640. Before delving further into that, the details of our testbed are provided below:

Zotac GT 640 HTPC Testbed Setup
Processor / GPU Intel Core i7-3770K - 3.50 GHz (Turbo to 3.9 GHz)
Zotac GT 640
Motherboard Asus P8H77-M Pro uATX
OS Drive Seagate Barracuda XT 2 TB
Secondary Drive Kingston SSDNow V+ 128 GB SATA II SSD SNV325-S2/128GB
Memory G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) F3-10666CL7D-4GBECO CAS 9-9-9-24
Case Antec VERIS Fusion Remote Max
Power Supply Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
Display / AVR Sony VPL-VW 1000ES
Sony KDL46EX720 + Pioneer Elite VSX-32
Acer H243H
Graphics Drivers GeForce R300 Series v301.42 WHQL
Softwares CyberLink PowerDVD 12
MPC-HC 1.6.2.4902
LAV Filters 0.50.5
madVR 0.82.5
.

Note that we used three different HDMI sinks for our testing. While the fancy Sony VPL-VW 1000ES was used to test out 4K resolution output, the Sony KDL46EX720 + Pioneer VSX-32 was used to verify HD audio bitstreaming. The rest of the tests (including HQV benchmarking) were performed with the Acer H243H monitor.

Meet The Zotac GeForce GT 640 DDR3 HTPC Aspects : 4K Decode and Display
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  • cjs150 - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    "God forbid there be a technical reason for it.... "

    Intel and Nvidia have had several generations of chip to fix any technical issue and didnt (HD4000 is good enough though). AMD have been pretty close to the correct frame rate for a while.

    But it is not enough to have the capability to run at the correct frame rate is you make it too difficult to change the frame rate to the correct setting. That is not a hardware issue just bad design of software.
    Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Anyone else really disappointed in 4 still being standardized around 24 fps? I thought 60 would be the min standard by now with 120 in higher end displays. 24 is crap. Anyone that has seen a movie recorded at 48+FPS know whats I'm talking about.

    This is like putting shitty unleaded gas into a super high-tech racecar.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    You do know that Blu-ray is displayed at 23.976 FPS? That looks very good to me.

    Please do not confuse screen refresh rates with frame rates. Screen refresh runs on most large TVs at between 60 and 120 Hz, anything below 60 tends to look crap. (if you want real crap trying running American TV on an European PAL system - I mean crap in a technical sense not creatively!)

    I must admit that having a fps of 23.976 rather than some round number such as 24 (or higher) FPS is rather daft and some new films are coming out with much higher FPS. I have a horrible recollection that the reason for such an odd FPS is very historic - something to do with the length of 35mm film that would be needed per second, the problem is I cannot remember whether that was simply because 35mm film was expensive and it was the minimum to provide smooth movement or whether it goes right back to days when film had a tendency to catch light and then it was the maximum speed you could put a film through a projector without friction causing the film to catch light. No doubt there is an expert on this site who could explain precisely why we ended up with such a silly number as the standard
    Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    You are confusing things here. I clearly said 120(fps) would need higher end displays (120Hz) I was rounding up 23.976 FPS to 24, give me a break.

    It looks good /to you/ is wholly irrelevant. Do you realize how many people said "it looks very good to me." Referring to SD when resisting the HD movement? Or how many will say it again referring to 1080p thinking 4k is too much? It's a ridiculous mindset.

    My point was that we are upping the resolution, but leaving another very important aspect in the dust that we need to improve. Even audio is moving faster than framerates in movies, and now that most places are switching to digital, the cost to goto the next step has dropped dramatically.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    It was NVIDIA's choice to only implement 4K @ 24Hz (23.xxx) due to limitations of HDMI. If NVIDIA had optimized around DisplayPort, you could then have 4K @ 60Hz.

    For computer use, anything under 60Hz is unacceptable. For movies, 24Hz has been the standard for a century - all film is 24fps and most movies are still shot on film. In the next decade, there will be more and more films that will use 48, 60, even 120fps. Cameron was cock-blocked by the studio when he wanted to film Avatar at 60fps, but he may get his wish for the sequels. Jackson is currently filming The Hobbit at 48fps. Eventually all will be right with the world.
    Reply
  • karasaj - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    If we wanted to use this to compare a 640M or 640M LE to the GT640, is this doable? If it's built on the same card, (both have 384 CUDA cores) can we just reduce the numbers by a rough % of the core clock speed to get rough numbers that the respective cards would put out? I.E. the 640M LE has a clock of 500mhz, the 640M is ~625Mhz. Could we expect ~55% of this for the 640M LE and 67% for the 640M? Assuming DDR3 on both so as not to have that kind of difference. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    It would be fairly easy to test a desktop card at a mobile card's clocks (assuming memory type and functional unit count was equal) but you can't extrapolate performance like that because there's more to performance than clockspeeds. In practice performance shouldn't drop by that much since we're already memory bandwidth bottlenecked with DDR3. Reply
  • jstabb - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    Can you verify if creating a custom resolution breaks 3D (frame packed) blu-ray playback?

    With my GT430, once a custom resolution has been created for 23/24hz, that custom resolution overrides the 3D frame-packed resolution created when 3D vision is enabled. The driver appeared to have a simple fall through logic. If a custom resolution is defined for the selected resolution/refresh rate it is always used, failing that it will use a 3D resolution if one is defined, failing that it will use the default 2D resolution.

    This issue made the custom resolution feature useless to me with the GT430 and pushed me to an AMD solution for their better OOTB refresh rate matching. I'd like to consider this card if the issue has been resolved.

    Thanks for the great review!
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    It consumes about just as much as the HD7750-800, yet performs miserably in comparison. This is an amazing win for AMD, especially comparing GTX680 and HD7970! Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    This preform about as well as an 8800GTS for twice the price. Or half the preformance of a 460GTX for the same price.

    These should have been priced at 59.99.
    Reply

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