The next-generation movie format wars have begun and although we're far away from crowning a winner, both formats do share one thing in common: codecs. Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD support video content encoded in high-bitrate MPEG-2, H.264 or Microsoft's VC1 format, and decoding any of those formats can be extremely taxing on even the fastest modern day CPUs. GPU makers have been hard at work on offloading as much off the decoding pipeline as possible, and although we're still a couple generations away from full GPU offloaded H.264 decoding there is progress being made today.

Performance however is not the only vector we must concern ourselves when looking at what modern day GPUs will do for playback of next-generation high definition content. Content protection and Digital Rights Management (DRM) have been hot button issues of the format wars that are simply not going away and thus proper HDCP support from your OS, graphics card and display is necessary. We know OS support is coming with Windows Vista, display support is here in limited models from various manufacturers, but what about graphics cards?

To find out we've put together a roundup of graphics cards that are all fully HDCP compatible; that is to say, they include an HDCP key ROM for full HDCP support. HDCP is an acronym that is becoming more important for those interested in home entertainment. HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection and is currently used to protect audio and video content that is being sent over DVI or HDMI cables to a display device from a graphics card or set top player. In order to have a HDCP compliant system, both the transmitting and receiving devices must support HDCP and the interconnect between the two must be HDCP protected. This means that in a home theater PC system, both the graphics card and the display device need to be HDCP compliant in order to run HDCP protected content. For Blu-Ray and HD-DVD content, AACS (Advanced Access Content System) is used to protect the copyrighted material from the disc all the way to the screen, and HDCP is the last hardware stage of this protection. In order to test HDCP compliance in this roundup we'll be using Pioneer's Blu-ray drive and one of the first 50GB Blu-ray movies: Click.

For this review, we want to accomplish a number of goals. Firstly, we want to find out what options you have for buying a high performance graphics card for gaming with HDCP support. We all know what GPUs are available, but how many of them can be found with full HDCP support and how do they perform in games? After all, sacrificing gaming performance for HDCP support isn't a trade off you should have to make if you don't want to. Since these video cards are all HDCP compatible, we also want to test how they handle video playback. CPU utilization while playing content from Blu-Ray discs (BD) is something we will be looking at in this review, and we'll be looking at the type of power consumption we see with these cards during BD playback as well.

We will also be looking at power consumption with 3D acceleration, as well as the standard heat and noise testing. Noise levels will be especially important for this review, as these HDCP cards all have the potential to be used in home theater PCs. Thus quiet operation is an attractive quality for this type of card. Aside from these things, we'll firstly give a run-down of each of the cards we have and their respective clock speeds. With a total of 20 cards we hope this review will help shed some light on what kind of HDCP cards are out there, along with how well they perform both in games and watching movies.

Testing HDCP Compliance


View All Comments

  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, November 21, 2006 - link

    Behind Enemy Lines? Explains why Blu-Ray adoption is so slow. Reply
  • NullSubroutine - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    I think ATi er AMD had been working on the drivers for GPU accelration for HD movies longer than Nvidia is all. You only have so much resources in a given department, it would make seense that Nvidia put more focus in other things (like Linux drives) where as Ati was working on this and Folding @ home stuff. Reply
  • dickie1900 - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    Do you think the results will change for the 8800s when DX10 rolls out with Vista or are we going to have to wait for games to be developed that use some of the newer instructions? Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    I would doubt it. I don't believe Blu-Ray/HD-DVD decoding has anything to do with DirectX. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link


    The Calibre 7950 GT has an interesting design, with a somewhat artistic curve to the edges of the HSF, and a matte black coloring with a nice-looking silver horse and the word "Calibre" on it.

    Dude, it's a unicorn. :-)

  • phusg - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    First off, thanks for the great review.


    Because the noise level of these cards was 0Db, they were not included in the graphs

    Why not? Many people just look at the graphs and this way they would miss out on the 2 quietest cards.

    Also (unrelated), it's a shame there was no mention of AGP cards. I'm sure I'm not the only one looking to stretch the life of their AGP HTPC.

    And one more thing (unrelated), aren't there initiatives that are looking to handle the HD decoding in software? I'd love a review of these. What is the slowest CPU you can decode HD content with?
  • mino - Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - link

    I second that.
    EVERY noise measurement should include reference of the bacground (system without the thingie which noise one measures).

    As those 0dB would would not be 0dB. There would be the noise of the system without the noise of the card - hence the bacground noise.

    Try to consider that in the future. No much work required for MUCH information added.
  • Spoelie - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    coreavc is the fastest h264 software decoder, no competition
    Their cpu-only implementation is most of the time faster than the competition WITH gpu support, but they're working on gpu support as well.

    It is payware tho.">
  • NullSubroutine - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    I originally had written this up in response to an artical that MS Office has mandatory authentication checks when doing updates. However, I think the idea of what the "intellectual property" industry is putting consumers through is rediculous.

    ....this just in, cars now 'phone home' to validate the vehicial is authentic prior to fixing factory installed parts.....refridgerator units must now be activated via phone call before the cooling units will work....lotion now comes with EULA, which is automatically agreed to at time of purchase (information is inside the bottle)....desk drawers will now automatically lock after free trial period has ended....fees must now be paid to bacteria colonies each time a user flushes the toilet....due to people stealing food, the price has increased 1000x, if the food is not authentic it will tell you, via voice, that your food is not real food, and where authentic food can be purchased if you give the food companies the information on where your not real food was purchased; when asked about the policy, supporters claimed that food was an optional luxery, paint companies now produce super ultra high quality paint products - but can only be applied with a special paint brush on special surface (microchips installed) or else the paint looks like normal paint - when cosumers were asked about the new paint they said it looked great but unless they wanted to buy all new everything, it was all meaningless...
  • shecknoscopy - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link


    ... the one we have for our testing is the movie "Click" which was one of the first 50GB Blu-ray discs available.

    Wow... the Blu-ray era's off to a stunning start, eh? No more complaining about the poor game options for the Wii launch, when the stunning new world of BLU-RAY is kicking off with "Click."

    Lawdy, help us.

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