It is time for HTPC enthusiasts to rejoice! Videolan announced the availability of VLC 1.1.0 a couple of days back. VLC's popularity soared in the mid-2000s when standard definition videos were all the craze, and CPUs were powerful enough to easily decode them. Over the last few years, many people have built up a big library of high definition videos, and one of the complaints against VLC was the fact that all the inbuilt codecs relied completely on the CPU horsepower for decoding. Even the most powerful modern day multi-core processors have trouble decoding HD videos [Clarification: 'trouble' with CPU decoding might mean dropped frames, stutters, sudden spikes in CPU usage and kicking in of the CPU fan etc. These are more noticeable in single threaded decoder implementations].

HTPC users with GPUs capable of accelerating HD video decode initially relied on the bundled software (from Cyberlink / ArcSoft / Corel). However, the bloatware and container restrictions imposed by these players led enthusiasts to other open source projects such as Media Player Classic - Home Cinema (MPC-HC). These tapped into the GPU capabilities using DXVA / DXVA2 APIs on Windows and VAAPI on Linux. The extent of support provided in these APIs depended on the GPU vendor. Historically, Nvidia has provided much better support than ATI, while Intel was lagging behind for quite some time till late last year. This is evident from one of the popular blog posts used as a reference by people wanting to get DXVA working on their GPUs. Users of MPC-HC also had to deal with external codec packs such as CCCP. In addition, a large number of options had to be set up correctly in order to get GPU decoding to work. There was an urgent need for the big player in this space to come to the party, and Videolan has done that exactly with the 1.1.0 release of the VLC Media Player.

However, all is not well yet in VLC land. Videolan supplied the caveat that the experimental GPU acceleration would work only on Nvidia GPUs as of now. They cited troubles with the ATI drivers and the lack of access to a Intel IGP as the reason for not being able to support non-Nvidia platforms with confidence. With a core developer team of just 5 people, coupled with the fact that most of them are not Windows developers, it is hard to find fault with that reasoning.

At the end of our testing, we found out some unexpected good things. However, there was some disappointment as well. Before going into the details, let us take a look at the test bed and test suite we used for the analysis.

Testing Methodology
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  • vfigueira - Monday, June 28, 2010 - link

    1201N

    I have a 3g Usb Modem (ZTE MF622) and a bluetooth mice (Genius Navigator BT905).

    I use the 1201N manly for internet and movies on the move.

    If i only use internet, the battery lasts a little more than 3 hours.
    If i only use it for movies (hd content) i last more than 2 hours but less than 3.

    The user experience is not bad, but could be better.
    I had for a little time a Acer 1810T with a SU2300 and the experience was better.
    Windows Media Player with K-lite, played Hd content flawless and smooth, and battery life was way better than 1201N.

    The atom 330 is always at full power.
    Asus should be working in a bios version, which could downclock the processor and support AHCI. The only 2 faults worth mentioning.

    All the players i used, are the latest version.
    Reply
  • smartalco - Sunday, June 27, 2010 - link

    I still always have VLC installed because I have yet to find any video it won't play in 4 years. I very rarely watch movies on my computer (never blu-ray), and have a decent quad core, so CPU usage isn't a problem. When I find a video that VLC can't handle, I might consider something else. In the meantime, on with the performance increase! Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, June 27, 2010 - link

    Personally I don't like VLCs interface much and prefer ZoomPlayer. But seeing them adress this important topic with its diverse problems is very good and will ensure that I also keep VLC installed for all the cases ZoomPlayer can't handle.
    And thanks to Anandtech for testing - this is certainly not a trivial task. As becomes obvious to me when I consider all the abreviations in this article which don't tell me anything, except "probably somehow video related".
    Reply
  • archer75 - Sunday, June 27, 2010 - link

    It has everything built in! And it's still the preferred player of choice for HTPC's. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, June 28, 2010 - link

    I have many avi files from 2005-2009 that used to play just fine on VLC. Now they don't work. It is retarded. I complain how WMP doesnt play certain mp3's, but this is just as annoying. Reply
  • david007 - Monday, June 28, 2010 - link

    Mpc hc supports most of the codecs except few odd ones (real and quicktime) out of the box without having to install the codec packs, so why use vlc for other formats than mkv? Reply
  • Nx6 - Monday, June 28, 2010 - link

    Interesting article, but it would be much more useful if there was some comparison to other CPU-only and/or GPU-assisted decoders such as CoreAVC. Reply
  • PR3ACH3R - Tuesday, June 29, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the review, & for mentioning just how badly ATI have neglected their Blue Screening, Lockup Causing, DPC Spiking horrible DXVA drivers.

    I would be eternally grateful, if/when the fixed ati drivers ever come your way, if you can also check for these problems, that have been ignored in Anandtech for way too long:

    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=18...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the forum post link.

    I will try to take these issues up with ATI once I have a testbed with their new card set up.
    Reply
  • PR3ACH3R - Saturday, July 03, 2010 - link

    Thank you very much for your reply.
    God bless you for taking it on, this has been going on since the 5xxx launch & has been ignored here so far.

    Please fill us all in on this when possible,
    All The Best.
    Reply

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