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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  • Eug - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link


    Of course at a price of around $200 you can find standalone HD-DVD players for less money; you just can't use those with a PC.

    No you can't. The cheapest HD DVD player in existence is $499 retail. The 1st generation Toshiba HD-A1 is now less than $400, and the better 2nd generation Toshiba HD-A2 is $399 street in a few places.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Sorry - my comment there and I'll correct it, as the price I looked at was apparently bogus (was a single seller that might be a scam, not a real price). Reply
  • XMan - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Some people on AVS Forums were having problems with Power DVD down-rezzing their movies to 540P with this drive and the software . . . did you have any issues with such during testing, or was it detected properly as a 1080P source? Reply
  • Tujan - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    That Microsoft HD-DVD player is certainly a solid-state idea for playback of HD-DVDs.

    The USB 2 bus though,it has a bandwidth of 480 mbytes per second.

    Wich is faster than,a Sata II,that rarely gets its rated 300 mbytes second.

    Thanks to tabbed browsing:
    The H.264 playback from the USB attached device of the HD-DVD(480mybtespersecond)was about even with the H.264 playback of the X-men on the Sata II device.(300mybetspersecond)

    ...This does approach the type of impact we saw on Blu-ray, but bitrates were more consistent on this HD-DVD title. We didn't see any real spikes above the average bitrate, and CPU utilizat....

    Im betwixt of just what the ideal of emphasis is here.True just show the analysis of the cpu usage among several different video cards. Question being ''can the pc put out the necesary performance for the HD-DVD,or BR disks".

    H.264 is used in one instance,and VC-1 in the other on the media(HD,BR).And MPEG2,will be on BR,as much as the better of the two will be more modern H.264.
    I dont see that the size of the disk has anything to do with the bandwith.They are each what is it 4.5 inch disks across.
    But I do see that in reference to frames they may be obsolete in the future.If it is true that such 'programming'in 'compression'conducts i/o to better terminology.

    I guess it is to have 'something'to show for what is the 'new disk readers.Nobody has these Nvidia GPUs,so this is just technical bliss to me.

    Any 'bus can do any of the formats.Some better than others.So HD-DVD,and BR-DVD H264 disks are not created alike.
    I gues codecs however are also not created alike.


    All in good spirit.

    Happy Holidays.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    our Blu-ray player is PATA Reply
  • Tujan - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    Yes I've seen the applicability of 'device'where MPEG4 was almost completely Apple.

    H.264 doesn't necesarily mean *HDCP. Above and beyond the topic of your review - the necesity of playback for a content authored disk.

    When authoring for HD-DVD,or BR ,hopefully there will be some players in that space for the computer. By players I mean more than a single playback 'device in the software creation area. Of course everybody knows .wmv in WMP. and .mov is Apples player. And before sourjorning on creating content on the computer,one must consider 'format=playback device.

    But the codecs are a different animal altogether. The one area in wich 'device isn't necesarily something of noticable distinction from what we see at the computer in 'file association.

    HDCP,and such isn't necesarily a codec.But I do not see that for example MPEG4 being something as a readily available choice for 'device as far as the computer goes.

    Wouldn't be ahead of myself to consider that for the platform on the computer along with the cpu,gpu,op-system the programs available on a market wide relationship to the HD,BR drives must be available.In the area of consumer authoring.

    So MPEG4,MPEG2,and H.264 are 'formats.Each requiring a 'codec ? Well I'll just retire my topic for now.

    Thanks for replies.
  • Frumious1 - Monday, December 18, 2006 - link

    Okay man, I have to just say this. Lay off the fucking apostrophe key! Whew! Glad I could get that off my chest.

    I realize you are not a native English speaker, but you keep putting in random symbols for no apparent reason. If you want to put something in quotes, like it might not actually be what the word indicates, that's one thing, but you don't do that. Take this:

    "Yes I've seen the applicability of 'device' where MPEG4 was almost completely Apple."

    What the hell is that even supposed to mean? That you've seen MPEG4 used by Apple as a coded? Great. So have we, and that doesn't change anything about the standard. Just like you get AVI files that are really MPEG4 video, you can have a MOV file from Apple that uses H.264.

    Even worse is the last sentence:

    "So MPEG4,MPEG2,and H.264 are 'formats.Each requiring a 'codec ? Well I'll just retire my topic for now." The apostrophes add nothing to the meaning and in fact detract from it. The simple answer is that yes, MPEG2 and MPEG4 (of which H.264 is a part) are formats that require specific support via a codec. Xvid and DivX are also MPEG4-based codecs.

    I'm not at all sure what the specific differences are between the various MPEG4 flavors, but I can say that I've seen very high quality DivX HD encodes (720p) that don't have any HDPC bullshit. That's why I love the Internet: I can just forget about all the junk that Hollywood is trying to force on us and download what I want... for free! Oh yes, I'd love to download episodes of Lost at $2 each and get a POS low resolution version - that's so much better than a 400MB widescreen HDTV rip, don't you think? Even better would be 700MB 720p rips (DivX HD), but it seems the TV video ripping scen isn't that clever yet. Hooray for computers, though, because eventually the people will catch on.
  • Tujan - Monday, December 18, 2006 - link

    I use apostrophes for emphasis. Or for a breather . I woulduse italics. But if italics is the only tool for emphasis,and I am not quoting something already stated use of the ' is to emphasize. Something you would have to take a breather to.

    Yeah I retired the topic. Since I have been looking into the playback of given file types wich require certain 'players' - most of wich from a certain, and limited propriety to do so.

    Most of the recent digital cameras utilize a given 'format. Even though a person buying a camera may be aware of this . They may not be aware that there is only perhaps a single propriety wich can 'playback' the format. So here in puchasing a camera,some forethought is this computer related software dilema.

    I have not seen the chart . But there is certainly only several specific software programs available for the computer at the present time. When there is such a highly publisized (think specific) screen dimension in wich devices can in fact create. Yet will not be able to actually participate to because of the limited availability of the software conductive to the specification. For now I might say 'format,but then-and when , it is usually a codec.

    Since we here are discussing HD-DVD,and BR. For me it will be the involvement of the designation space available for storage . AND playback. For MPEG2 there is very little consumer available software to create and utilize it. MPEG4 is completely,if not impossible to re-edit. And the playback is still limited. Yet for both a storage medium is present.

    So then you not only have format = playback device desired . But you have 'filetype of x certain codec. Wich the proprieties of them are not making available. If only in a limited copacity of 'enterprise. Somebody above mentioned the studios doing their thing.

    If you've got the chart,I'd like to see it. Program Name,Proprietor Name,Format type,Codec Required for playback,and storage medium supported. You'll be able to voice no more than 6 or seven available software programs for editing. Naming the codecs you will have perhaps 2 or 3,or none - in the case of BR.

    With .mov if its MPEG4,or a derivative there is still the ideal of what your device creates within its storage medium. Making that decision before you know it is very,very limited as a communication medium. Or for portable storage.

    I understand the realization of the discussion in the new 'formats,as discussed for H.264. They are always considered as formats. So format=playback device, .. playback device = codec/propriety. Its certanly relevant.

    Of course the ubiquity of Divx is self explanatory.The other formats are exactly as self explanatory - in that you need to look out for the equipment that is needed to use them. Sometimes your told what you need. As in the case of the computer whats available is extremely limited. While the proprietaries continue to monopolize in their own fashion - rather than a standard wich one could consider ubiquitous.

    If I'm a starter,whats granny looking up to now.?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    I can't say I actually understand your point in most of that post, but let me clarify a few things at least.

    USB 2.0 is 480 megabits per second (not megabytes!). SATA-2 is technically 3.0 gigabits per second with 8/10 encoding, resulting in real bandwidth of 300 megabytes per second. So, SATA-2 is at least four times faster than USB 2.0, and realistically USB 2.0 is not as reliable in terms of connectivity and bandwidth so you typically max out at closer to 300 megabits for USB 2.0. Given that the maximum throughput we've seen on a Blu-ray disc was only 41 megabits (and average was a much lower 18 mbps), obviously even 300 mbps is more than sufficient.

    In terms of CPU usage, H.264 uses more CPU power for higher bitrates, not less. That means a disc with a 10 mbps average bitrate will use less CPU power to display than something that has a 20 mbps bitrate. It's also why looking at downloaded H.264 QuickTime movies that are only 480p resolution doesn't correlate well with viewing 1080p BRD/HDDVD titles.

    If you want to watch HDDVD, and you don't have an Xbox 360, you can just go out and get a standalone player for around $125 (no idea on quality, but HDMI is included). BRD players are quite a bit more expensive, to the point where if you can actually find a 20BG PS3 for MSRP ($500) you might as well go that route and get the console for "free". Except you can't find such PS3 prices right now and probably won't be able to for another 3 months. Our best advice is that if you're not dying to get BRD/HDDVD support as soon as possible, just continue to wait and we'll continue to provide analysis on the market and which hardware is best suited for this sort of content.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Correction: HD-DVD players start at around $350 it appears, so getting the Xbox 360 drive and using it with a PC would be far cheaper. Stupid froogle searches and price hacks.... Reply

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