For the past couple of years NVIDIA has been telling us about how amazing its GPUs are at non-gaming applications. We kept seeing slides like this one that showed exactly how fast NVIDIA's GPUs were compared to dual and quad-core CPUs:

The performance advancements were incredible, NVIDIA was promising upwards of 100x gains over the fastest workstation CPUs. Unfortunately we couldn't get too terribly excited as most of these applications were far beyond the reach of the typical desktop user. Medical imaging and scientific analysis benefitted tremendously from GPU acceleration, but it's rare that a gamer with a $400 GPU is going to be searching for oil deposits in his/her spare time on the same machine.

What NVIDIA needed was that killer application that actually had relevance to the desktop user, and it was that sort of application that NVIDIA lacked. Until recently.

Enter Elemental Technologies, the makers of an unfortunately named application called Badaboom (cue cheesy mobster promo videos). Elemental took one of the most time consuming tasks on the desktop, and offloaded a great deal of it to the GPU.

We've seen the benefits of GPU accelerated video decoding, especially with the recent transition to high definition video formats encoded in MPEG-2/VC-1/H.264. Blu-ray movies went from completely unplayable on many machines to a total non-issue with the advent of hardware HD video decode acceleration in GPUs. Both ATI and NVIDIA resorted to specialized hardware to provide support for the full decode pipeline of codecs like H.264, but the small addition of die space was more than worth it. It would take at least 8 of Intel's cores to have the same video decoding power of a single GPU outfitted with either ATI's UVD or NVIDIA's PureVideo HD decode engine - the GPU approach is simply more sensible.

As soon as we got GPU video decode acceleration we wanted to know if/when it would be possible to accelerate video encoding on the GPU. For years ATI and NVIDIA have been telling us that video encoding could be accelerated on the GPU, but for years we were given nothing more than that statement. With the latest round of GPU releases things seemed different. Alongside its GT200 GPU, NVIDIA sent out very early copies of Elemental's Badaboom GPU accelerated video transcoder. Badaboom promised the unimaginable - GPU accelerated H.264 video transcoding at many times the performance of the fastest Intel CPUs.

The initial beta showed promise: the performance gains were significant, but we couldn't really measure quality. Today we have a near-final build of Elemental's Badaboom and we're able to look at the full picture. Today it's more than just about performance, we're looking at the feasibility of the first mainstream GPU-accelerated video transcoding application.

The Application
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  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    While what you say is true to an extent, we're testing the value of a specific piece of hardware to perform certain work. Using your logic, gaming benchmarks are worthless as well, because it's not like you're going to play games all the time.

    We can look at the power question in a lot of ways. It appears an E4500 would do about just as well as the Q6600 used in testing, so for power should we compare Q6600 with IGP to E4500 with GTX 280 (or 9800)? That's certainly one valid comparison point, but if you go that route you quickly get to the stage where you have so many valid points of comparison that the project becomes unmanageable.

    Personally, I assume most users understand that this is a look at energy efficiency for a specific task, and not a holistic look at PC power use. What it tells us is that in heavily bottlenecked situations, GPU encoding is far more efficient than CPU encoding. That's useful information. Now we just need a good codec and application to back it up.
  • Inkjammer - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    Since this is still a beta version, I have to wonder how much could possibly change by end of release? Were you able to talk to Elemental to address the issues with the beta and the dissapointment in the "advanced" settings?

    The Pro edition seems dissapointing, but if they ironed out the kinks in the end... I'd be interested in picking it up. Will there be a follow-up review for the release version?
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - link

    I've kept Elemental aware of all of the issues I've had. I gave them some suggestions back after my first preview of the software. Every single problem I've encountered Elemental has added to their list of things to QA for, I'm hoping we'll see some significant improvements in the next major release.

    I will keep an open dialogue with Elemental and definitely look at any significant changes in the future.

    Take care,
  • GotDiesel - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    Oh jeez.. are these guys retarded or what??? baseline only.. wake up guys.. everyone uses HIGH at least level 4.1..
    this is a typical example of windows software. all GUI and no go..

    what we need here is an open source version.. x264 is a perfect example of superior quality software surpassing close source .. now if only you "professionals" could do the same..

  • michal1980 - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    given, that most blu-ray content is already a varient of the efficent mp4 (avc,vc-1,x264 etc etc).

    to compress it just for the shake of saving file space seems foolish.

    IMHO, in most cases, the file on the blu-ray has been encoded to give you the best possible picture in that file size. No automagic program is going to somehow make the file size smaller, and maintain the same quality.

    Now if converting to a smaller resolution, theres a point, but then data loss is a given.

    IMHO, this solution would ideal for a gamer that wants to work with video, since inalot of cases more cores dont make a difference in gaming... yet make sense for data compression, you could have the best of both worlds, buy a higher speed, dual core, and use the money saved on a faster video card....

    if only the software worked.
  • gamerk2 - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    They said the same things with the .mpeg (and later. .mp3) formats: Why convert from .WAV and lose data and quality?
  • michal1980 - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    at least with a wav to mp3, theres a compression coversion.

    starting with a blu-ray to just run x264 on it.

    is like taking and mp3, and converting it to mp3 again, just with more compression.

    your stacking detail loss.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    True, but at 20-40 GB per BRD even a 1TB HDD runs out of space with only 20-50 movies. A 35 Mbps AVC stream may look "best", but outside of still captures I bet most users wouldn't notice a difference between 35 Mpbs AVC and 20 Mbps AVC... or possibly even 10 to 15 Mbps.
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - link

    if i'm buying a blu-ray, and paying for that 30-35Mbps. Why would I kill it?

    it just baffels me.
  • Lonyo - Monday, August 18, 2008 - link

    Since the 9600GT isn't too far off the 8800GT in gaming, but has a large difference in the number of SP's (IIRC), it would be interesting to see how the two compare, rather than looking at even lower end cards like the 9500 and 8600's.

    Any chance of some additional numbers (even only one benchmark) using the 9600?

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