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 - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    To be honest, this article was a very long time in production ... we got a hold of the drive almost two months ago iirc. It just took a whole lot of time and energy to get the tests done and the article written. We did go back and add the 8800 and 256mb 1900xt, but the x1950pro seemed to slip through the cracks.

    Sorry about that. We didn't exclude it on purpose, and we will try to include it in any future articles we write on HDCP protected content and high definition movies.
    Reply
  • photoguy99 - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    If the article was done a while ago, does that mean it's now possible to playback h.264/vc1 Blu-Ray on a PC?

    It would be good to know what the missing link is to make sure we get it if we want to get playback on our own systems.

    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link

    All BD movies are currently MPEG-2 -- and probably will be for a while.

    HD-DVD movies use VC1.
    Reply
  • peternelson - Friday, November 17, 2006 - link


    Wrong, the initial BR moves were mpeg-2 encoded content.

    There now exist BR discs with content in the other two main formats.

    Also discs with dual layers while original releases were single layer.

    The wikipedia page for bluray contains titles, launch dates of the non-mpeg-2 discs.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, November 18, 2006 - link

    I stand corrected. Thanks for the info. Reply
  • balazs203 - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the great review.

    At this link in the review of the new Panasonic BR player they mention a few non-MPEG2 BD titles they like quality wise:
    http://www.ultimateavmag.com/hddiscplayers/1106pan...">http://www.ultimateavmag.com/hddiscplayers/1106pan...

    I would be very much interested in an extension of your review with non-MPEG2 titles as obviously I would like to buy a computer which can play back all these titles and MPEG2 is the easisest type. Info about the other types is much more important for me when I consider what parts I want to buy.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    The article wasn't *done* a while ago - it was *started* two months ago. It took that long to get to this point, which says something about the state of the technology. Reply
  • lujack26 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I was looking around the web for HDMI video cards after I read this article and came across this website E-bargainz.com. They seem to have great prices, a large selection, and reasonable shipping. Here is the direct link to their selection of HDMI video cards http://www.e-bargainz.com/index.php/cPath/143. I also found a coupon code "Thank You" for $5 off your first purchase. I'm going to try them out. Anything to keep from putting another dollar in Jeff Bezos pockets. Reply

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