HTPC Credentials - Network Streaming and Local Playback

Given the ECS LIVA's fanless nature and the presence of Intel HD Graphics, we expect most purchasers to use it as a media playback machine / HTPC. Given the specifications, it is quite clear that we are not looking at a madVR capable machine, but one targeted at the entry-level / average HTPC user or someone looking for a HTPC to put in a second or third room (non-primary HTPC). There are two HTPC aspects that we will explore in this section, one related to network streaming (OTT services), and the other related to local file playback. Prior to that, we have a small sub-section dealing with refresh rate accuracy.

Custom Refresh Rates

We found last year that Haswell provided excellent display refresh rate accuracy, but never tested out Bay Trail systems on that aspect. Fortunately, our experience with the ECS LIVA put any lingering doubts to rest.

The gallery below presents some of the other refresh rates that we tested out. The first statistic in madVR's OSD indicates the display refresh rate. madVR itself drops plenty of frames to keep up with the playback requirements (which is expected given the system specifications), but those are not related to the refresh rate of the display.

Network Streaming Efficiency

Evaluation of OTT playback efficiency was done by playing back our standard YouTube test stream and five minutes from our standard Netflix test title. Using HTML5, the YouTube stream plays back a 720p encoding, while Adobe Flash delivers a 1080p stream. The power consumption at the wall as well as the GPU usage while playing them on Mozilla Firefox are provided in the graphs below.

YouTube Streaming - HTML5

YouTube Streaming - Adobe Flash

Netflix streaming evaluation was done using the Windows 8.1 Netflix app. Manual stream selection is available (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S) and debug information / statistics can also be viewed (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-D). Statistics collected for the YouTube streaming experiment were also collected here.

Playback using Adobe Flash is leaner on the resources compared HTML5 streaming. This is likely due to the fact that the HTML5 stream delivers a 720p version which needs scaling in addition to decoding for display on a 1080p screen. In any case, the power numbers for YouTube and Netflix streaming are the lowest that we have seen on a desktop machine so far.

Decoding and Rendering Benchmarks

In order to evaluate local file playback, we concentrate on XBMC's native decoding / rendering (used by the average HTPC user) and the combination of native DXVA decoding with EVR and EVR-CP (using MPC-HC v1.7.3). The following table summarizes the GPU usage and power consumption at the wall in various cases. Numbers in bold indicate visible dropped frames.

ECS LIVA - Decoding & Rendering Performance
  GPU Load (%) Power (W) GPU Load (%) Power (W) GPU Load (%) Power (W)
480i60 MPEG2 75.44 6.22 69.64 6.14 80.62 7.19
576i50 H264 72.94 5.81 68.85 5.81 42.16 4.91
720p60 H264 74.46 6.87 79.47 7.55 86.32 6.86
1080i60 MPEG2 92.78 8.17 98.44 8.40 87.73 7.82
1080i60 H264 98.78 8.51 95.71 8.44 91.65 8.07
1080i60 VC1 98.03 8.49 97.88 8.52 88.95 7.98
1080p60 H264 80.63 7.39 98.37 8.63 88.63 8.06
1080p24 H264 36.80 5.30 45.89 5.70 43.23 5.20
4Kp30 H264 67.39 6.47 99.13 8.58 70.36 6.59

The ECS LIVA is more than sufficient for XBMC playback of common media files (DVD - 480i60, Blu-ray - 1080p24 etc.). It is only when it comes to high resolution / high frame-rate interlaced videos that problems start creeping in. That said, I do believe that the average / entry-level HTPC user's playback requirements probably don't include such video streams.

HD audio bitstreaming works if one downloads the audio drivers directly off Intel's website. However, with the Netflix Windows 8.1 app in our setup (ECS LIVA + Pioneer Elite VSX-32 + Sony KDL46EX720), attempts to bitstream Dolby Digital Plus resulted in the video completely freezing. This is the same bug that I talked about in the Intel NUC review at the beginning of the year, and it continues to be unresolved to this date. In fact, this problem is not restricted to the Netflix app, but even XBMC, if it attempts to bitstream Dolby Digital Plus in non-WASAPI mode. As a non-primary HTPC, users are probably not going to use the ECS LIVA to bitstream HD audio. Intel should still look into it for using their iGPU in a primary HTPC. The problem is quite clearly in the Intel HD Audio driver, and a fix for that is long overdue.   

Performance Metrics Power Consumption and Thermal Performance


View All Comments

  • nathanddrews - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    "if it attempts to bitstream Dolby Digital Plus in non-WASAPI mode"

    I believe that attempting to bitstream anything without WASAPI results in stuttering for XBMC on any platform whether it's Intel, NVIDIA, or AMD...
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I am talking about XBMC's sound device settings. If it is left at default, XBMC tries to bitstream DD+ and fails. If it is explicitly set to WASAPI mode, then DD+ bitstreaming is successful. I have seen this issue only in the Intel GPUs. NVIDIA and AMD are perfectly OK. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Strange, I run XBMC on all three GPUs and am connected via HDMI to HD-audio AVRs and always have to select WASAPI to make stuttering go away when bitstreaming. I'm using XBMC Frodo on Windows 7.

    I only have a couple DD+ tracks from HD-DVDs, but everything else is DD/DTS, PCM, or TrueHD/DTSMA. I'll have to test those out tonight to make sure.
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    "On the temperature side, we see the temperature stabilizing at slightly less than 100 C."

    How hot does the actual casing get? I'm a little concerned by a nettop that could boil water.
  • puppies - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I don't think you have much to worry about, if you don't believe me go and fine a 12 watt kettle and boil some water. See you in a month. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I wouldn't be too concerned, as the 100C is for the CPU core. There is plenty of air gap between the chassis top and the heat sink itself. The chassis is plastic, doesn't get too hot at all. Heat dissipation from the heat sink is via perforations on top of the chassis lid.

    Most importantly, the 100C was reached during a 'power virus' test designed to stress the system with conditions that are rarely, if ever, reached during normal usage.
  • Lyrick_ - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    What's the chance of you guys introducing a Steam Streaming Bench on HTPC like configurations? Reply
  • FoolOnTheHill - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    A Steam streamer is the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this. I'd love to see this reviewed somewhere (preferably here). I have a decent gaming PC that is in a completely separate room from my HDTV, and I'd love to have a cheap way to do Steam game streaming. Would this be able to handle 1080p streaming? Reply
  • daddacool - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I tried a Giga-byte BRIX with a Baytrail Celeron N2807 for a Steam streamer with mixed result. I'm on a gigabit LAN and the host machine is an i7 3770K with a GTX 770 OC. Tomb Raider was practically unplayable at 1080P.

    I also have a BRIX with a Core i3-3227U in it and that's much better- it will drop a few frames at 1080P but it super smooth at 720P.
  • djfourmoney - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    Should have gotten the AMD 5545m Brix, runs GREAT on Stream. Intel Graphics are improved but still Intel Graphics and at least a generation behind ATI/AMD. Reply

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