Video Playback: Blu-ray Quality in a Tablet

One of the biggest issues with Tegra 2 based tablets and smartphones is a limitation that prevented hardware accelerated decode of any high profile H.264 video content. You could still decode the video but the additional stages of the decode process were left to run on the CPU, which in turn resulted in substantially lower battery life. NVIDIA has completely addressed the problem with the Tegra 3's video decoder, which is now capable of decoding 1080p H.264 high profile streams at up to 40Mbps.

The Honeycomb video player (Gallery app) will play .mkv files by default but if you want to throw on a .m2ts file you'll need to grab a third party player. DICE Player for Android supports Tegra 3's hardware acceleration, making it a good option if you want broader file compatibility.

Android File Transfer won't push over a file greater than 4GB so the first thing I tried was ripping a portion of A Quantum of Solace (BD) and sending over a 40Mbps High Profile 1080p MKV of it. The resulting 10 minute segment was 2.8GB in size and played beautifully on the Prime. There were no dropped frames and no hiccups, it just worked.

External NTFS volumes are supported and the sdcard file system supports files greater than 4GB in size, so I copied a 15GB 1080p Blu-ray rip of A Quantum of Solace from a USB stick to the Prime. I had to use DICE Player to get audio but otherwise the clip just worked. The biggest pain was copying the huge file across, but it'd be quicker and less painful than a re-encode on most systems.

To really test my luck I threw a few of our media streaming test files at the Prime. Our 720p60 test file worked perfectly, while our 1080p60 test case was mostly smooth with the exception of occasional slowdowns. I tried playing back a 1080p30 VC1 file however I couldn't get it to play back with hardware acceleration. Some of the more exotic combinations of features and file types wouldn't work, although I suppose that could be the fault of the playback software.

As far as I can tell, Tegra 3 and the Eee Pad Transformer Prime in particular are capable of playing back 1080p24 Blu-ray class video. Total NAND capacity is the only thing limiting us from just dumping a raw Blu-ray rip onto a tablet and playing that directly. Pretty much any HD rip you make yourself or find online will likely work. You may still need to invest in a good third party player to ensure things like subtitles are properly supported however.

I'm pleased with the state of video on the Prime. It's not HTPC level, but we can finally play really good quality video on an Android tablet. I suspect it'll be one more generation before we get tablets (and associated software) that will just play anything you throw at them.

The Display: Perfect The Three Power Profiles
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  • abcgum091 - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    After seeing the performance benchmarks, Its safe to say that the ipad 2 is an efficiency marvel. I don't believe I will be buying a tablet until windows 8 is out. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    I'm guessing the browser and most other apps are not well optimized for quad cores. The question is will developers actually bother focusing on quad cores? Samsung is going with fast dual core A15 in it's next Exynos. The upcoming TI OMAP 4470 is a high clock speed dual core A9 and OMAP5 seem to be high clock speed dual core A15. If everyone else standardizes on fast dual cores, Tegra 3 and it's quad cores may well be a check box feature that doesn't see much use putting it at a disadvantage. Reply
  • Wiggy McShades - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    If the developer is writing something in java (most likely native code applications too) it would be more work for them to ensure they are at most using 2 threads instead of just creating as many threads as needed. The amount of threads a java application can create and use is not limited to the number of cores on the cpu. If you created 4 threads and there are 2 cores then the 4 threads will be split between the two cores. The 2 threads per core will take turns executing with the thread who has the highest priority getting more executing time than the other. All non real time operating systems are constantly pausing threads to let another run, that's how multitasking existed before we had dual core cpu's. The easiest way to write an application that takes advantage of multiple threads is to split up the application into pieces that can run independently of each other, the amount of pieces being dependent on the type of application it is. Essentially if a developer is going to write a threaded application the amount of threads he will use will be determined by what the application is meant to do rather than the cores he believes will be available. The question to ask is what kind of application could realistically use more than 2 threads and can that application be used on a tablet. Reply
  • Operaa - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    Making responsive today UI most certainly requires you to use threads, so shouldn't be big problem. I'd say 2 threads per application is absolutely a minimum. For example, talking about browsing web, I would imagine useful to handle ui in one thread, loading page in one, loading pictures in third and running flash in fourth (or more), etc. Reply
  • UpSpin - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    ARM introduced big.LITTLE which only makes sense in Quad or more core systems.
    NVIDIA is the only company with a Quad core right now because they integrated this big.LITTLE idea already. Without such a companion core does a quad core consume too much power.
    So I think Samsung released a A15 dual core because it's easier and they are able to release a A15 SoC earlier. They'll work on a Quad core or six or eight core, but then they have to use the big.LITTLE idea, which probably takes a few more months of testing.
    And as we all know, time is money.
    Reply
  • metafor - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    /boggle

    big.Little can work with any configuration and works just as well. Even in quad-core, individual cores can be turned off. The companion core is there because even at the lowest throttled level, a full core will still produce a lot of leakage current. A core made with lower-leakage (but slower) transistors can solve this.

    Also, big.Little involves using different CPU architectures. For example, an A15 along with an A7.

    nVidia's solution is the first step, but it only uses A9's for all of the cores.
    Reply
  • UpSpin - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    I haven't said anything different. I just added that Samsung wants to be one of the first who release a A15 SoC. To speed things up they released a dual core only, because there the advantage of a companion core isn't that big and the leakage current is 'ok'. It just makes the dual core more expensive (additional transistors needed, without such a huge advantage)
    But if you want to build a quad core, you must, just as Nvidia did, add such a companion core, else the leakage current is too high. But integrating the big.LITTLE idea probably takes additional time, thus they wouldn't be the first who produced a A15 based SoC.
    So to be one of the first, they chose to take the easiest design, a dual core A15. After a few months and additional time of RD they will release a quad core with big.LITTLE and probably a dual core and six core and eigth core with big.LITTLE, too.
    Reply
  • hob196 - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    You said:
    "ARM introduced big.LITTLE which only makes sense in Quad or more core systems"

    big.LITTLE would apply to single core systems if the A7 and A15 pairing was considered one core.
    Reply
  • UpSpin - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    Power consumption wise it makes sense to pair an A7 with a single and dual core already.
    Cost wise it doesn't really make sense.
    I really doubt that we will see some single core A15 SoC with a companion core. And dual core, maybe, but not at the beginning.
    Reply
  • GnillGnoll - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    It doesn't matter how many "big" cores there are, big.LITTLE is for those situations where turning on even a single "big" core is a relatively large power draw.

    A quad core with three cores power gated has no more leakage than a single core chip.
    Reply

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