Coming to the business end of the review, it must be quite clear by now that we can't recommend the GT 520 or the AMD 6450 with full confidence. They are probably doing well in the OEM market by getting incorporated into generic systems (not geared towards HTPC use). A discerning buyer building a HTPC system, having perused the various sections in this piece, would do well to avoid these two products.

Both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs suffer from a host of driver issues for the discerning HTPC user. Catalyst releases have been known to break GPU decoding in applications like VLC (something AMD has promised to fix in their next WHQL-certified driver). Supported refresh rates disappear from Catalyst if GPU scaling or ITC post processing is enabled. Different refresh rates default to different pixel formats on AMD cards. The HDMI audio driver maps the surround sounds in a 5.1 track to the rear surrounds in a 7.1 system on both NVIDIA and AMD cards. Both NVIDIA and AMD cards have been known to suffer from the silent stream bug at various points of time. Issues with RGB output levels and dithering resulting in banding artifacts on some displays have been reported on cards from both the vendors. The frustrating issue is that these problems get resolved in a particular driver release only to reappear in a later release. Unfortunately, issues like these are part and parcel of the HTPC experience. Both GPU vendors have a lot to learn from each other also.

If you prefer only AMD cards, the 6570 is the perfect HTPC card. The set of post processing options provided is very broad compared to what is provided by NVIDIA. All post processing options are enabled irrespective of ESVP, even for 60 fps videos. It has the highest HQV benchmark score of any HTPC-oriented GPU that we have evaluated so far. We didn't encounter any bitrate limitations with video playback. The pesky 23.976 Hz refresh rate may be a hit or miss depending on your setup, but it is way better than Intel's implementation. The lack of support for open source software developers and pricing relative to the NVIDIA GT 430 are probably the only complaints we can file against the 6570.

If you prefer only NVIDIA cards, the GT 430 is the perfect HTPC card for which you can obtain a passively cooled model. For enthusiasts, the ideal card would be one having more shaders than the GT 430 (for better madVR processing) and also the new VPU engine. However, there is no card fitting those criteria in the market right now. Our first impressions of the GT 430 last October were not favorable. However, driver updates have finally brought to fore the capabilities of the GPU. NVIDIA's support for the 3D ecosystem is better compared to AMD's. Support for custom refresh rates is a godsend for the videophiles and advanced HTPC users. The extensive support from open source applications is a definite plus. It is no wonder that most of the multimedia application developers swear by NVIDIA cards. The video bitrate limitations (not something one would encounter in real life), lack of comprehensive post processing options and the post-processing results when compared to the AMD 6570 (quite subjective) are probably the only complaints we can file against the GT 430.

If you are not in either camp, I would suggest going with the GT 430, if only for the price. Just last week, Newegg had a deal for the GT 430 at $20 after MIR. At that price, the card is simply unbeatable. At $70 without rebates, it is a more difficult decision to make. The 6570, retailing around $75, is probably a more future-proof card and has a better out-of-the-box HTPC experience. If you are the type of person who likes to constantly tinker with your HTPC and get excited by software tools which expose the HTPC capabilities of your GPU, go with the GT 430. If you are the install-it-and-forget-it type, a DDR3-based 6570 is the right card.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Andrew Van Til, Hendrik Leppkes and Mathias Rauen for their inputs to this article.

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  • enki - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    How about a short conclusion section for those who just use a Windows 7 box with a Ceton tuner card to watch hdtv in Windows Media Center? (i.e. will just be playing back WTV files recorded directly on the box)

    What provides the best quality output?

    What can stream better then stereo over HDMI? On my old 3400 ATI card it either streams the Dolby Digital directly (the computer doesn't do any processing of the audio) or can output stereo (doesn't think there can be more then 2 speakers connected)

    Thanks
    Reply
  • BernardP - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    The inability to create and scale custom resolutions within AMD graphics drivers is, for me, a deal-breaker that keeps me from even considering AMD graphics. It will also keep me from Llano, Trinity and future AMD Fusion APU's. I'll stay with NVidia as long as they keep allowing for custom resolutions.

    My older eyes are grateful for the custom 1536 X 960 desktop resolution on my 24 inch 16:10 monitor. I couldn't create this resolution with AMD graphics drivers.
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    In your case, you should just increase the size of the fonts and widgets instead of lowering the screen res. Reply
  • Assimilator87 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I wish there was a section dedicated to the silent stream bug. I have a GTX 470 hooked up to an Onkyo TX-SR805 and this issue is driving me insane. For instance, does this issue only plague certain cards or do all nVidia suffer from it? I was hoping the latest WHQL driver (275.33) would fix this, but sadly, no. Otherwise, the article was amazing and I'll definitely have to check out LAV Splitter. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    The problem with the silent stream bug is that one driver version has it, the next one doesn't and then the next release brings it back. It is hard to pinpoint where the issue is.

    Amongst our candidates, even with the same driver release, the GT 520 had the bug, but the GT 430 didn't. I am quite confident that the GT 520 issue will get resolved in a future update, but then, I can just hope that it doesn't break the GT 430.
    Reply
  • JoeHH - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    This is simply one of the best articles I have ever seen about HTPC. Congrats Ganesh and thank you. Very informative and useful. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Hi, Can you please compare hardware de-intelacing, etc., vs software?

    e.g. many players/codecs can do de-interlacing, de-noise, etc. in software, using the CPU.

    How does this compare with a hardware implementation?

    thanks
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    This is a good suggestion. Let me try that out in the next HTPC / GPU piece. Reply
  • CiNcH - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - link

    Hey guys,

    here is how I understand the refresh rate issue. It does not matter weather it is 0.005 Hz off. You can't calculate frame drops/repeats from that. In DirectShow, frames are scheduled with the graph reference clock. So the real problem is how much the clock which the VSync is based on and the reference clock in the DirectShow graph drift from each other. And here comes ReClock into play. It derives the DirectShow graph clock from the VSync, i.e. synchronizes the two. So it does not matter weather your VSync is off as long as playback speed is adjusted accordingly. A problem here is synchronizing audio which is not too easy if you bitstream it...
    Reply
  • NikosD - Thursday, June 16, 2011 - link

    Nice guide but you missed something.
    It's called PotPlayer, it's free and has built-in almost everything.
    CPU & DXVA (partial, full) codecs and splitters for almost every container and every video file out there.
    The same is true for audio, too.
    It has even Pass through (S/PDIF, HDMI) for AC3/TrueHD/DTS, DTS-HD. Only EAC3 is not working.
    It has also support for madVR and a unique DXVA-renderless mode which combines DXVA & madVR!
    I think it's close to perfect!
    BTW, in the article says that there is no free audio decoder for DTS, DTS-HD.
    That's not correct.
    FFDShow is capable of decoding and pass through (S/PDIF, HDMI) both DTS and DTS-HD.
    And PotPlayer of course!
    Reply

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