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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  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    CPU utilization would be 50% if a single core was maxed on perfmon --

    PowerDVD is multithreaded and 100% utilization represents both cores being pegged.
    Reply
  • Renoir - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Any chance of doing a quick test on quad-core to see how many threads powerdvd can generate unless you know already? At the very least it can from what you've said evenly distribute the load across 2 threads which is good. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    We are looking into this as well, thanks for the feedback. Reply
  • mi1stormilst - Monday, December 11, 2006 - link

    Who the crap cares, stupid movies are freaking dumb gosh! I mean who the crap watches movies on their computers anyway...freaking dorks. LOL! Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Monday, December 11, 2006 - link

    This isn't a GPU review that tests a new game that we know will be GPU limited. This is a review of a technology that relies on the CPU. Furthermore, this is a tech that obviously pushes CPUs to their limit, so the legions of people without Core2Duo based CPUs would probably love to know whether or not their hardware is up to the task of decoding these files. I know any AMD product is slower than the top Conroes, but since the hardware GPU acceleration obviously doesn't directly coorespond to GPU performance, is it possible that AMD chips may decode Blue Ray at acceptable speeds? I don't know, but it would have been nice to learn that from this review. Reply
  • abhaxus - Monday, December 11, 2006 - link

    I agree completely... I have an X2 3800+ clocked at 2500mhz that is not about to get retired for a Core 2 Duo.

    Why are there no AMD numbers? Considering the chip was far and away the fastest available for several years, you would think that they would include the CPU numbers for AMD considering most of us with fast AMD chips only require a new GPU for current games/video. I've been waiting AGES for this type of review to decide what video card to upgrade to, and anandtech finally runs it, and I still can't be sure. I'm left to assume that my X2 @ 2.5ghz is approximately equivalent to an E6400.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Our purpose with this article was to focus on graphics hardware performance specifically Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    Frankly Derrick, that's absurd.

    If you only wanted to focus on the GPUs, then why test different CPUs? If you wanted to find out info about GPUs, why not look into the incredibly inconsistant performance, centerned around the low corelation between GPU performance in games versus movie acceleration? Finally, why not CHANGE the focus of the review when it became apparent that which GPU one owned was far less important then what CPU you were using?

    Was it that hard to throw in a single X2 product rather than leave the article incomplete?
    Reply
  • smitty3268 - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    With all due respect, if that is the case then why did you even use different cpus? You should have kept that variable the same throughout the article by sticking with the 6800. Instead, what I read seemed to be 50% about GPU's and 50% about Core 2 Duo's.

    I'd really appreciate an update with AMD numbers, even if you only give 1 that would at least give me a reference point. Thanks.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    We will be looking at CPU performance in other articles.

    The information on CPU used was to justify our choice of CPU in order to best demonstrate the impact of GPU acceleration.
    Reply

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