NVIDIA GeForce 8600: Full H.264 Decode Accelerationby Anand Lal Shimpi on April 27, 2007 4:34 PM EST
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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.