Earlier this week, we looked at the performance impact of playing back H.264 encoded Blu-ray titles on a modern day PC.  We explored the necessity of graphics decode acceleration for systems with CPUs less powerful than a Core 2 Duo E6700. The capability of different graphics cards was determined by looking at CPU overhead while decoding movies.

The final verdict on HD content on the PC indicated that high performance CPUs and GPUs would both be needed, especially considering that our test movie, X-Men III, is not likely to be the most stressful movie to be released over the next few years. With the titles available right now, we would recommend at least an E6600 with an NVIDIA GeForce 7 Series graphics card that runs at 450MHz or higher.

Today, we would like to look at the state of HD-DVD playback on the PC. The importance of looking at both formats rest mainly in the types of codecs and bitrates used. Currently, most Blu-ray movies are MPEG-2 and most HD-DVD movies are VC-1. Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD support H.264 as well, and this is the codec in which we are really interested (as it is the most difficult to decode). In addition to the recent release of Blu-ray titles that use H.264, there are also a couple HD-DVD titles that employ AVC: The Interpreter and U2: Rattle and Hum.

Our first article on HDCP compatible graphics cards looked at the performance of an MPEG-2 Blu-ray movie (Click), and our article earlier this week focused on one of the first H.264 movies released in the U.S. for Blu-ray (X-Men III). This time we will be looking at Serenity (VC-1) and The Interpreter (H.264) to try to get an idea of performance characteristics of HD-DVDs.

Our only dilemma thus far has been the lack of availability of PC HD-DVD drives. But not to worry: we have a solution. Microsoft's add-on HD-DVD drive released for the Xbox 360 will work with any PC that supports USB 2.0. Not only can 360 owners use it to extend the capabilities of their console, but PC users now have an affordable external HD-DVD drive available. Let's take a look at the drive itself before we get into HD-DVD performance.

Xbox 360 HD-DVD Drive
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  • losthours - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    all i hear is how the ps3 is overpriced. but by the time you add the relative hardware to the xbox 360 you get the same price. so it looks like sony didn't dump you with a dvd drive you really didn't need and make you pay later. just a side note i'm note gonna buy either xbox or ps3 i'm gonna go with the wii if i buy one. Reply
  • nah - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    How about recording a video to HD-DVD/Blu-Ray and seeing CPU utilization ? Reply
  • artifex - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the article!

    I haven't even read it, yet, but this is what I've been waiting for, since your earlier one. So thanks for getting it out so quickly!
    Reply
  • Badkarma - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    All I see these days are articles about video playback of HD-DVD/Bluray. How about the HD Audio formats like DD+, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD? All these HDCP video cards with HDMI don't have connectivity to pass the PCM output of the HD audio soundtracks like the CE devices do. When is this coming? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    Actually, IIRC, all the HDMI cards we tested do have an audio input for pass through. Reply
  • Badkarma - Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Actually, IIRC, all the HDMI cards we tested do have an audio input for pass through.


    Derek. The audio passthrough seen on all current HDMI cards are SPDIF which can only carry regular Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. HD Audio formats go hand in hand with the two new HD formats, but NO ONE has addressed how the HD audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD will be handled on the computer. I've scoured the internet for more information, but there doesn't really seem to be anything to be found. Can you please look into this? You can output TrueHD/DTS-HD via analog outputs on your soundcard if you have them, however, for those of us that would like to apply room equilization to the audio are SOL. There is nothing at the moment available that will allow TrueHD/DTS-HD to be passed as PCM audio via HDMI like the Toshiba HD-A1/2 CE devices.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - link

    Does anything use TrueHD DTS-HD audio right now? I don't know, but if the audio on BRD and HD-DVD is only DD5.1 or DTS, then passing them as something HD won't improve quality. While I can see video truly benefiting from higher bitrates, I don't think audio really needs more than about a DVD's worth of storage tops before any improvements can't be heard. But anyway, I don't have an answer to your question and am merely curious as to what the benefits are. (I don't really think BRD/HDDVD are better than other alternatives, but it's what we're getting from MPAA/RIAA so consumers are stuck.) Reply
  • Badkarma - Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - link

    Almost every single HD-DVD has at minimum Dolby Digital + which has a lot more bandwidth than DD5.1. There are quite a few HD-DVD's with TrueHD soundtracks. Unfortunately, a lot of consumers think like you, audio doesn't matter, 5.1 is enough. HD audio goes hand in hand with HD video. It's a complete package. Reply
  • artifex - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    In the case of the XBOX360 HD-DVD player, most of these HD audio formats aren't available, anyway. They should probably mention this in the article. Reply
  • Renoir - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Very good question! I would also like to see more discussion/analysis on this situation Reply

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