The Applications

The last time we looked at Blu-ray/HD-DVD playback on PCs we were sorely disappointed in software support, mostly because we needed to use a separate application for Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback despite similarities in the standards. Thankfully both Cyberlink and Intervideo have since introduced universal versions of their applications that support both Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra and Intervideo's WinDVD 8 support both standards through a single UI; unfortunately neither application appears to be quite ready for prime time.

Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra 7.3 gave us the most problems, especially with ATI hardware. The application was simply far more prone to random crashes than WinDVD 8, which was unfortunate given that it was the only of the two that properly enabled hardware acceleration on ATI GPUs.

WinDVD 8 didn't crash nearly as much as PowerDVD Ultra 7.3, but it did give us its fair share of problems. Complete application crashes were fairly rare, but on NVIDIA hardware we'd sometimes be greeted with a green version of whatever movie we were trying to watch. There was no rhyme or reason to why it would happen, but it just did. When things worked, they worked just fine though.

If you're running 64-bit Vista, you'll probably want to avoid installing either application as the problems we encountered were only amplified under the OS. Enabling hardware acceleration for ATI hardware under 64-bit Vista caused PowerDVD to crash anytime it attempted to playback an H.264 stream, while VC1 content was totally fine. WinDVD 8 gave us the wonderful problem of throwing an error whenever we hovered over a program menu item for too long. As much as we appreciated the improvement to our reflexes, we fondly preferred using WinDVD under 32-bit Vista where we could spend as much time as wanted in the menu without running into an error.

A quick perusal through Cyberlink and Intervideo's forums reveal that we aren't the only ones that have had issues with their software. Do keep these issues in mind if you are planning on turning your PC into a Blu-ray/HD-DVD playing powerhouse, as we're not yet at the point where you can get a truly CE experience on your PC with these applications.

It's a shame that we could only get ATI's hardware acceleration to work under PowerDVD and it's equally unfortunate that PowerDVD was so unstable because it was actually the faster of the two applications when it came to menu rendering/interaction time. Clearly both applications need work, but for our benchmarking purposes they sufficed to give us an initial look at what will be available once the bugs are fully vanquished.

Index The Test
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  • bearxor - Monday, May 21, 2007 - link

    How come we still don't have a article or benchies on a 8500? Reply
  • billd - Friday, May 04, 2007 - link

    It's a mystery to me why nvidia thinks we are interested in H.264 when there is so little material encoded in it. Of the shipping HD disks reviewed on the hidefdigest.com site, most Blu-Ray titles are encoded in MPEG-2 and most HD DVD titles are encoded in VC-1. Furthermore there are more Blu-Ray titles encoded in VC-1 than H.264. It would have been more helpful if nvidia had natively supported VC-1 first and introduced H.264 later. i.e.

    Blu-Ray:
    MPEG-2 : 121
    AVC MPEG-4 : 30
    VC-1 : 46

    HD DVD:
    MPEG-2 : 2
    AVC MPEG-4 : 10
    VC-1 : 161

    Perhaps there are some TV broadcasts in H.264 however given the low bit-rate compared to HD disks there should be little benefit offloading from the CPU to the video card.
    Reply
  • SilverTrine - Wednesday, May 02, 2007 - link

    Its not really appropriate to call ATi defunct when they have folded into another company, and hardware is still being sold under the ATi name. Reply
  • Parhelion69 - Monday, April 30, 2007 - link

    Anand, I've seen in some previous benchmarkings that software solutions using CoreAVC gave better results than hardware decoding on previous generations of ATI and NVIDIA video cards, could you make some tests to see if this behavior still applies?

    Also I'd love to see tests on older CPUs, like a single core athlon 64 3000+, to see the real help of the decoding on hardware.

    Thanks a lot, I always find your reviews extremelly helpful and professional, keep the good work up!
    Reply
  • Delerue - Friday, May 04, 2007 - link

    Yeah. I agree. Indeed, some people already sugest this to the Xbit Labs review, since they missed the same things. Look here: http://www.xbitlabs.com/discussion/3743.html">http://www.xbitlabs.com/discussion/3743.html

    BTW, nice review, Anand. You're the guy that I really trust when we talk about hardware. In time, have you confirmed this 'I believe that only PowerDVD/WinDVD support the 8600's hardware acceleration at this point'? Ah! You talked about Intervideo forum, but I can't find it. Can you give to me the adress, please?

    Thanks and keep going!
    Reply
  • Tewt - Monday, April 30, 2007 - link

    What am I missing here? Wasn't this tech introduced in the 7xxx series? Was I getting 'part' as opposed to 'full'? Or is this 'acceleration' versus 'decoding' and what is the difference?

    And I would like to throw in my two cents along with Parhelion. Just from general reading, my opinion is I keep seeing more and more raw power being thrown around with HD decoding/viewing/etc. Where is the lowest bar for watching HD with no 'hiccups'?

    I would love to see someone write a code for Linux for watching HD and we find out a 1Ghz PIII and an ATI 8500 or Nvidia 5500 would run it just fine.

    Sorry, thought I was watching HD content(games and downloaded trailers) just fine not too long ago with my A64 3200+ and Geforce 6600GT.

    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, May 01, 2007 - link

    games and downloaded trailers are much much lower bitrate than especially blu-ray is capable of. lower powered cpus and older gpus can handle these fine, its the heavy hitting stuff that is the problem.

    the 7 series did not offer full decode. nothing has offered full decode until now. so yes, you were getting part. much of the decode process was being performed on the cpu, while the partially decoded video was sent to the gpu for final processing.

    with the 8600/8500, the cpu handles aacs and i/o overhead, decrypting the data on the disk, and re-encrypting the data stream to send to the gpu. this is for aacs protected content of course. games and downloaded content won't have all this stuff going on. your hd videos will still play with less cpu intervention especially in the case of h.264 videos.
    Reply
  • bigpow - Monday, April 30, 2007 - link

    don't these people ever learn?
    they f#$ked up the 6800GT/Ultra vs 6600GT with purevideo and now did it again?
    Reply
  • erikejw - Sunday, April 29, 2007 - link

    I cannot find a single word on picture quality in the article hence I assume it is top notch and there is no difference at all.

    I have no hardware decoder on my system and the quality of the different software decoders
    are from ok to abysmal.

    In a cheap HTPC system a slow Athlon x2 seems to be a good fit.
    I'll build my system around one and a 8500 card.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, May 01, 2007 - link

    decode quality is equal to powerdvd software decode quality at least.

    nvidia will be including hd filtering/post processing for the 8600 series on par with 8800, while the 8500 may not have the processing power to fully implement all the quality features.

    we will be evaluating performance using the hd version of silicon optix hqv when finalized. and we may take a look at our beta version before that as well.
    Reply

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