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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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    Testing was done with an HDTV, because that's almost guaranteed to get HDCP support these days. Some of the newer LCDs have HDCP support (Dell's 2407 and 2007 do I believe), but most do not. That should change, but for now you are less likely to get HDCP with a standard PC display than with an HDTV. So, for HTPCs, you're better off getting just about any LCDTV or plasma in my opinion - watch out for projection HDTVs, as the text for PC use can get pretty garbled. Also beware of plasma burn-in possibilities. My rear-projection HDTV has a bit of burn-in already, and no matter what companies may say, plasma as I understand it is far more prone to such problems. (ESPN HD's logo is burned in on my TV, in case you want to know.)

    For the cards, features and performance are the two big factors - do you want gaming + HDCP support, just HDCP, or somewhere in between? What about HDMI? If you plan on connecting directly to a TV and using the TV speakers, you'll want HDMI that can include audio (several of the cards reviewed do this). My HDTV for example has an HDMI port, and I can use a DVI-to-HDMI cable to connect to it via just about any modern GPU. The problem is, I can't get audio from the TV without a true HDMI connection.

    Finally, OS support is either via Vista, or else you can get an appropriate media player that will handle HDCP content. Testing here was done on XP, so it works already. Will Vista make it better? I personally doubt it, but it won't require extra software apparently (beyond whatever Vista already includes, of course, which is already a lot of "extra").

    This article is more intended as an introduction to HDCP cards rather than being the final word. It will become more important over the next year or two, certainly. We'll have discussions on displays and HDCP support in the future.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    Might I also add that 1080p HDTVs seem to make excellent computer monitors. If you want something to do dual duty as a TV and a PC monitor, I can highly recommend a 1080p LCD like the westinghouse we used in this review.

    If I had the money for either a new monitor or a new TV I'd go with one of these and kill two birds with one stone. And I'd be very very happy about it.
  • Tujan - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    Come on man.Desktop HD "? Smack some of that power onto those 32 to 40 in LCD sets. I know,I know,the angle is just around the corner. The LCD vendors are going have to,sooner,or later realize what their sets mean to the market.The market different from what is being portrayed. And what performance of them mean in it.

    Has there been any consideration of this.? And in doing so is there any caveats to using the HDTVs when involved with the drivers/hardware..there probably are. Since HDTV sets have somewhat sutured chipsets involved with them.

    So in so doing,the idea here for HDCP,being that most of these cards have DVI(HDMI transformer connector)- problems/caveats for proper sound output was not considered. What to look for to consideration of other components,and compatability to HDCP.

    Perahps for example I want to look at HD.And HDCP,are we going to limit our computers to a non-player in this area.For example,get on the wire-less keyboard in the living room already.

    If I was to realize that electronics stores for example had 'none'of these HDCP enable cards I would be fixing some faces.

    But BD,or HD-DVD on the computer screem ?

    Come on man. Its chow on those 32",40" LCD HDTV monitors already.

    As if Tiawan,Japan,South Korea aren't already in the weeds.I mean helloo.

    And AMD-ATI,...-dont be such a lard bottom.!(AMD-ATI).

    I mean(Anandtech) easily,get Fries,or Bestbuy to give you the keys to those isles for a night or two.Im sure they'd appreciate your tender convention.

    thanks for ability to post here.And good article.

  • DigitalFreak - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    Damn dude. I didn't understand a thing you said. Was that Far Eastern Jive or something? Reply
  • Tujan - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    Here is the test setup page..">

    Guess depends on where your standing (and punn ya yes):

    -In front of the HDTVs or Video Cards
    (retail electronics shop)

    - At your work desk putting a computer together (or bench)

    - At your desktop reading the Anandtech article....,or In your living room sitting at your couch.

    - Maybe looking at your checkbook wondering that you dont 'want to afford a 500$ mistake.

    "Far East Jive" ? LOL. Its all Taiwan,Japan,or South Korea making the LCDs. They look really good.

    It isn't like you cant see the jungle for the warefare.

    Just below here on a forum post the author you'll see that the Display was said to be an HDTV . Though the system stats didn't say "what<- ...uhumn .. Display.
    Think that the point of the article was question of fact wether or not the video cards would have performance,and HDCP without sacrificing one or the other.Performance to gaming,and HDCP.
    For me as I had first posted would be the testing of these stats/cards to the HDTV LCDs.The author,..again said later within this forum posted that other testing would take place.
    Since the caveats against several different HDTV monitors would be exactly different than simply putting together the video card(s).Telling that everything was 'ok'by doing this.With HDTVs you would have to figure compatability via the video cards(to the HDTV) as well as HDTVs (to the video cards.)
    This article did not go as far as testing against several HDTVs. With the different video cards(including interaction of software instalation).
    The title of my post as 'toes in slippers..hmm". Bears the reasoning that against the backdrop of the 'shelf sets..HD DVD .. Blue-ray..and non-computer .. for the sake of broadcast,and 'media'- the living room LCDTVs are much more than this this.

    Its not my business to tell anybody what their business is.Then when electronics vendors are going to ignore the accesories the LCD HDTVs afford to something as 'limited'as broadcast,and media. 'Broadcast,and HD,or Blueray to high definition is 'damn limiting.Thus the 'market'isn't what your being told it is. Just in case you hadn't noticed.

    A 500$ mistake makes a difference.The context of that market is all about whats around the corner in so many ways. But where are you standing and whats there to look at ? If that market is ignored in the inventories and on the so on.In that 'limiting'focus.

    Now,I've got to figure if my post is 'worth it'. The 32"and 40 LCDTVs are 'worth it. So lets see what they can do. Read some more angles about them before purchasing.

    Thanks for reply.
  • Tarx - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    As mentioned above, but worth mentioning again, the X1950Pro is often considered to be the best midrange card currently on the market (relatively fast, not power hungry, fairly low cost, quiet, etc.) - if possible, can this article be amended to include it? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    As Josh mentioned above, ATI didn't support playback of HDCP protected content on the X1950 Pro until the release of the 6.11 Catalyst driver which was posted on 11/15/06 (one day before this article was published).

    We'll absolutely include the X1950 Pro in future articles that cover high definition video playback now that ATI has finally released a public driver for the same.
  • Spoelie - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    article index is broken (fixed)
    graphic card data is incorrect (x1900xt at 500/600 instead of 625/750? price?)
    video table is f*cked up
    oblivion settings are not linked (fixed now too)
    etc. etc.

    still a few cards i would like to see that are still missing, like a x1950pro with 512mb or the x1950xt - and what's the use of testing performance of identical cards, mentioning all hdcp compliant 7950gt and posting performance of one should be sufficient.
  • Spoelie - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    just to be clear, i know what the point is of this article, but since the x1950xt and a comparison between x1950pro 256/512 are both unlikely to get separate articles at this point, using roundups like this would be useful to include them, especially if you're gonna test and post 3d performance in the process :p so that we at least have some point of reference to make buying decisions. maybe something to note for future articles :) Reply
  • Josh Venning - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    Thanks for your comment.

    We did try to test the X1950 Pro for the HDCP review. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a public driver that supports the X1950 Pro since it's launch (that is until Catalyst 6.11 which was posted yesterday). ATI really dropped the ball with X1950 Pro, because the beta drivers they released did not support HDCP either.

    We're sorry that we couldn't include this card in the review, but it just wasn't possible to test HDCP with the X1950 Pro until yesterday afternoon.

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