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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  • electroju - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I think Linux is the best way to handle HD content compared to Windows because it works out of the box if you have either Intel or nVidia as the graphics card. The processing power being used is less than 20%. Though nVidia is better than Intel for graphics.

    IMHO, Video Lan Client was and still is designed to stream media from one computer and then to the next. It was not designed to be a stand-alone player. Also its reliability is poor compared to other media players that I used. Windows users have to rely on pathetic software for media playback from open source projects or go with the Windows Media Player. In Linux the media players are great except VLC. In Linux, Mplayer is the best and probably the best open source media player that is out there. Though open source software is great, but whatever they use to compile the code for Windows screws up everything.

    From what I read on here and other sites, the best way to playback HD in Windows is use commercial software or juggle with the reliability, stability, and high CPU usage when using open source software.

    The following is how I playback HD content or any videos using H.264, WM3/9, MPEG, VC with Mplayer and nVidia assuming using 190.x or higher nVidia driver and Mplayer is compiled with VDPAU support.

    mplayer -vo vdpau -vc ffmpeg12vdpau,ffwmv3vdpau,ffvc1vdpau,ffh264vdpau [FILE]

    VLC is not the best for HTPC. It is the worst to use. XBMC is better.
    Reply
  • Kailen - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I have tried most and no one ever says anything about the player which works the best. I have tried them all and I find for MKV playback SplashHD is the best. You can get it here at http://mirillis.com/en/

    I purchased the Pro version so I can output digital audio to my amp. Anyways it uses GPU for both NVIDIA and ATI and I have yet to come across a problem with it.
    Reply
  • PR3ACH3R - Friday, July 02, 2010 - link

    These damn SplashHD advertising goons are a menace. Reply
  • Kailen - Monday, July 05, 2010 - link

    Dunno what you are talking about advertising goon. I actually bought it and use it cause its better than all the other hack shit out there and is the easiest to use so my wife and child can use it. Reply

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