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
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  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    We chose Click because of it's bitrate, not because or its artistic value :-) Reply
  • msva124 - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The fact that both the graphics card and display device must be HDCP capable, and most displays and graphics cards that people are currently using aren't HDCP compatible is a problem for consumers in general.
    Not really. The industry conforms to the the buyer, not the other way around.
    Reply
  • Josh Venning - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the comment, but the fact is that in the war against piracy, there is a lot of collateral damage.. Movie industries don't care if the consumer dislikes the fact that they have to upgrade their system in order to play the movie with the newest copy-protection standards. They only want to get rid of the pirates at whatever cost. This is why ultimately, everyone will have to conform.. or else not enjoy the benefits Bluray and HD DVD have to offer. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    quote:

    This is why ultimately, everyone will have to conform.. or else not enjoy the benefits Bluray and HD DVD have to offer.
    However, if people fail to adopt (or are extremely slow to adopt) HDCP and balk in enough quantity, the resulting drop in sales would likely force the content industry to rethink its position.

    Don't think that I believe this is going to happen; I believe most consumers are sheep, and they'll go out and buy what is needed. Some of them may even pitch a fit that they have to, but they'll still likely do it because they want the content more. If Jane and Joe consumers across the globe said "We won't buy it" though, I think things would change. They would have to, or the loss in sales would eventually drive the content industry out of business.

    Gives me a chance to remind myself that sometimes Sunshine/Outdoors 1.0 beats a home theater though, when the choice is available. :)
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    But the industry is feeding the consumer the line that this is the only way it can be. The average consumer doesn't know or understand that things /could/ be done a different way.

    The average consumer doesn't realize what he or she is giving up by buying into the industry's FUD. Pirates don't rape artists of their money. The very studios the artists work get their first.

    It'd be great if everyone would boycott BD and HDDVD. But it's not going to happen.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, November 20, 2006 - link

    I agree, Derek.

    One thought...considering that this was an HDCP review, I'd enjoy seeing a followup that did some work with evaluating video playback quality. I game, but I want an all-round card solution. This explains why I got rid of my Geforce 6800 --good gaming card, video playback was average quality on supported accelerated formats, and nVidia's PureVideo (rev. 1, or should I say 0.99) fiasco drove me away from them.

    I'd be very interested to see how the current PureVideoHD and Avivo technologies square off, both in CPU usage under H.264, but also playback quality.

    And, while I know things could be done a different way, my pessimism towards the future is high. It explains why HDCP support was a requirement in purchasing an LCD panel this week. This really stinks, I'd have chosen standard-aspect over widescreen except for that (almost no 20" standard displays with HDCP; I say almost rather than none, but I didn't find any). I had to get a much bigger widescreen to make up for lack or vertical height relative to a standard-aspect display.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    Not always - see the record industry for the ideal example of those that do not conform to anything other than their own outdated models.

    I'm an enthusiastic capitalist, but some industries or industry groups have been unable or unwilling to adapt to the rapid pace of technology driven change in the internet era. Such groups have oftentimes fallen back upon legal attempts to force the marketplace into accepting their idea of how buisness should be done. The RIAA and the companies it represents refused to understand the oppurtunities the internet created for them, AND they refused to offer the product the consumers desired, because it didn't fit their model. The iTunes success story has forced them to sit up and take notice, and now rather than try to finally offer what customers want, they continue to wish to put the genie back in the bottle, and try to offer digital content to consumers only when it can be made 'safe' through DRM. DRM is NOT a market driven movement, it's a movement that attempts to remove one of the central features of the internet era - increased ability to steal content. Well fine, but the studios must think they exist in a vacuum because all they want to talk about is that negitive, not the positive factor of FAR lower distribution cost, and zero physical production cost. So we have all this focus on piracy protection, at huge cost to the end-user, that has essentially reduced the product purchased from a copy of the original work, down to a semi-permanant pay-per-view license, but the cost of the 'product' has remained the same.

    Tell me where the market forces are here?
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    The market forces are neatly tied up and tossed out with the garbage thanks to the VERY anti-consumer DMCA (digital millennium copyright act).

    We can hardly even ask for what we want without being shot down by the DMCA.

    Sure, we still have "fair use" rights. But the problem is that we can't touch the content to which we supposedly have fair use due to the legal protection afforded encrypted content by the DMCA.

    If we were given unprotected movies, it would still be illegal to copy and distribute this content. It's almost like car manufacturers making cars that could only be driven by one person: it's still illegal to steal a car, but now the owner is restricted in his legal uses for the car. The comparison is even more accurate if there were laws in place to keep the owner of a car from circumventing the restriction to allow another person to drive it.

    The only thing that DRM does is keep us from the myriad legal uses we could have for our movies (and music for that matter) that don't fall under just watching and listenting. Or didn't you know you had any right to use that content in other ways?

    We couldn't even show you screen shots of the movie to compare image quality -- screen capture must be disabled during video playback.

    Sorry for the rant -- this stuff just really bugs me.
    Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - link

    Well, me not.

    Before , at college I didn't buy a single DVD cause I have no money to spend on unnecessary stuff.

    Now I buys some DVD here and there.
    But hell!
    To ask equivalent of $30 for a DVD in a country where average daily wage is $25!!!

    Also, to send some ***hole from RIAA analogue to saturday local middle school kids performance to have them pay $200 for singing some 30yrs old forgotten song on public area!!!
    Are they crazy? [Yes, they are.]

    I rememmber the co-called "totalitarian" communism jet.
    And I can say, in that era people had far more liberties than they have in US now.

    Sure, one can have a gun now. But he can't even sing or use some frickin publicly known math algorithm someone pattented. WTF?
    Lets' patent the wheel!

    20yrs ago we could not critisize the government here. But pretty much anything other than that was allowed(legal). From owning (registered)guns to singing whatever your mouth was capable off.

    Now we are gonna have all of the wondelfull liberties ... or, better said, the corporations are gonna have all the wondelfull liberties.


    To topic: what happens if you use analog output? You mentioned that the playback software asked for analog output when non-HDCP card was found...
    Reply
  • AGAC - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    I thought I was going to read an article to help me choose what hardware should I have if I wanted to playback some HDCP media.

    Gaming benchmarks? Great! So now I know that a Geforce 8800 GTX is faster then a Radeon X1600! Thanks a lot.

    What about OS settings, WinXp and Linux compatibility (is BluRay for Vista only?), monitor options, which card supports video in, why monitor manufacturers don´t advertise their HDCP compliant displays? Should I buy a desktop monitor? Should I buy an HDTV? what about all of it? So many questions...

    I read it all and still don´t have a clue.

    Sorry for the rant, guys. It´s this HDCP joke they´re playing on us all. Blockbuster video nearby has HD-DVD and BR titles and I laugh at the shelf because I want to play those in my pc and don´t know how to do it. I don´t remember having so much trouble with computer media since the days with my MSX computer and it´s cassete tapes back in early 80´s.

    Regards from Brazil.
    Reply

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