Introduction

In November, we published our first article featuring Blu-ray content. While we focused more on the capability of the cards we tested to play digital content protected with HDCP, we did take a preliminary look at hardware accelerated high definition video playback with the movie Click.

Our first glimpse of the processing power required to play HD content on the PC gave us a very good indication that Blu-ray movies using MPEG-2 should have no problem on a modern system, even without GPU acceleration. The Core 2 Duo E6300 is easily capable of playing back 50-60 Mbps MPEG-2 video at 1080p. Adding a GPU to the mix did make an impact, but the small boost in performance just wasn't necessary.

Today we will turn the tables around and look at what happens when H.264/MPEG-4 AVC meets Blu-ray on the PC. This combination is much more demanding than MPEG-2 encoded Blu-ray movies, as H.264 is capable of much higher compression at better quality which requires more processing power.

Before we get to our results, it is important to talk a bit about playback of HD media on the PC. BD and HDDVD movies are copy protected with AACS which uses HDCP to encrypt and decrypt the video signal when it's sent over a digital connection. In order to view one of these movies on an HDTV over either a DVI or HDMI connection, an HDCP enabled video card is required.

All video cards that have an HDMI connection on them should support HDCP, but the story is different with DVI. Only recently have manufacturers started including the encryption keys required for HDCP. Licensing these keys costs hardware makers money, and the inclusion of HDCP functionality hasn't been seen as a good investment until recently (as Blu-ray and HDDVD players are finally available for the PC). While NVIDIA and ATI are both saying that most (if not all) of the cards available based on products released within the last few months will include the required hardware support, the final decision is still in the hands of the graphics card maker.

It is important to make it clear that HDCP graphics cards are only required to watch protected HD content over a digital connection. Until movie studios decide to enable the ICT (Image Constraint Token), HD movies will be watchable at full resolution over an analog connection. While analog video will work for many current users, it won't be a long term solution.

Now that we've recapped what we know about watching HD content on the PC, lets take a look at why things will be a little different now that H.264/MPEG-4 AVC encoded movies are here.

H.264 Encoded HD Content: A Good Thing
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  • Renoir - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Which is exactly the reason why I've been waiting so long for an article like this! Reply
  • redpriest_ - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Have you guys tried this configuration out? I have 2 Geforce 8800 GTXs in SLI, and using either the 97.02 or 97.44 driver and a 30" Dell monitor with a resolution capability of 2560x1600, I found I cannot play Bluray content at anything higher than a desktop resolution of 1280x800 (exactly half that resolution because of the way the dual-DVI bandwidth is setup). This means I cannot even experience full 1080p!

    Try anything higher than that and Cyberlink BD complains and says, set your resolution to less than 1980x1080. This sucks. I hope there is a fix on the way.
    Reply
  • redpriest_ - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    I should add I found this on nvidia's website.

    "The Dell 3007WFP and Hewlett Packard LP3065 30" LCD monitors require a graphics card with a dual-link DVI port to drive the ultra high native resolution of 2560x1600 which these monitors support. With the current family of NVIDIA Geforce 8 & 7 series HDCP capable GPU's, playback of HDCP content is limited to single-link DVI connection only. HDCP is disabled over a dual-link DVI connection. The highest resolution the Dell 30" 3007WFP supports in single-link DVI mode is 1280x800 and therefore this is the highest resolution which HDCP playback is supported in single-link DVI mode on current Geforce 8 &7 series HDCP capable GPU's. On other 3rd party displays with a native resolutions of 1920x1200 and below, the graphics card interfaces with the monitor over a single-link DVI connection. In this case, playback of content protected Blu-Ray and HD-DVD movies is possible on HDCP capable Geforce 8& 7 series GPU's."

    Someone needs to tip nvidia and other graphics card manufacturers that this is unacceptable. If I shell out $4000 ($2000 monitor, $1400 for 2 8800GTXsli, and $600 blueray drive) IT SHOULD WORK.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    agreed, but don't blame NVIDIA -- blame the MPAA ... HDCP was designed around single link dvi and hdmi connections and wasn't made to work with dual link in the first place. I wouldn't be suprised if the problem NVIDIA is having has absolutely nothing to do with their hardware's capability.

    in addition, dell's design is flawed -- they only support resolutions above 12x8 with dual link dvi. it may have taken a little extra hardware, but there is no reason that they should not support up to at least 1920x1080 over a single link.
    Reply
  • ssiu - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    I would blame the 30" monitors -- they should at least support 1080p in single-link DVI mode, just like the way 24" monitors do. Reply
  • Renoir - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Wasn't blaming anyone in particular (although I'm always happy to bash the MPAA) just noting how stupid the situation is. Supporting a max of 12x8 over single link is inexcusable as far as I'm concerned. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    then the problem you have is specifically with Dell. Reply
  • Renoir - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    That is ridiculous! That's the problem with tech you can't take anything for granted these days. Things that seem obvious and sensible often turn out to be not as they seem. What a joke! Reply
  • poisondeathray - Monday, December 11, 2006 - link

    sorry if this has been answered already...

    is powerDVD multithreaded? is your CPU utilization balanced across both cores? what effect does a quadcore chip have on CPU utilization

    thx in advance
    Reply
  • Renoir - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    poisondeathray you read my mind! I have exactly the same question. Reply

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