Final Words

We've been hearing for quite some time now that Blu-ray and HDDVD movies could prove to be too much for today's desktop microprocessors; today we finally have the proof. X-Men: The Last Stand encoded using the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC High Profile at 1080p requires more processing power to decode than affordable dual core CPUs can handle. We are at a point where GPU decode acceleration is essentially required with all but the highest end processors in order to achieve an acceptable level of quality while watching HD content on the PC.

NVIDIA hardware performs better under our current set of drivers and the beta build of PowerDVD we are using, but exactly how well GeForce 7 Series hardware handles the decode process is more dependant on the type of card being used than ATI. In general, higher performance NVIDIA cards do better at decoding our H.264 Blu-ray content. The 7950 GX2 doesn't perform on par with the rest of the high end NVIDIA cards as SLI doesn't help with video decode. With the exception of the X1600 Pro, each of the ATI cards we tested affected performance almost exactly the same.

While there isn't much more to say about performance right now, we do need to consider that we are working with an early release of our player software, and ATI and NVIDIA are always improving their driver support for video decode acceleration. While we can't count on seeing improved performance in the future on current hardware, it is always nice to know that the possibility exists. We will continue to track performance with future player and driver updates.

But no matter what we see in the future, NVIDIA has done an excellent job with the 8800 series. G80 based cards will definitely lead the way in HD video decode performance, making it possible to stick with a cheaper CPU and still get a good experience. Of course, nothing about playing HD content on the PC is cheap right now, especially if we are talking about using an 8800 in conjunction with our Blu-ray drive.

For those who don't have the money to build a computer around Blu-ray or HDDVD, a standalone player is the other option. We tested our Samsung player with X-Men: The Last Stand to see if it could handle the demands of an H.264 movie (as any good CE player should). We were happy to see that the Samsung box didn't seem to have any problems playing our movie.

As for recommendations, based on our testing, we would not suggest anything less than an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 for use in a system designed to play HD content. The E6400 may work well enough, but not even the 8800 GTX can guarantee zero dropped frames on the E6300. ATI owners will want to lean more towards an E6700 processor, but can get away with the E6600 in a pinch. But keep in mind that X-Men: The Last Stand is only one of the first H.264 movies to come out. We may see content that is more difficult to decode in the future, and faster processors are definitely a good place to pad your performance to ensure a quality HD experience on the PC.

X-Men: The Last Stand CPU Overhead
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  • charleski - Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - link

    The only conclusion that can be taken from this article is that PowerDVD uses a very poor h.264 decoder. You got obsessed with comparing different bits of hardware and ignored the real weak link in the chain - the software.

    Pure software decoding of 1080-res h.264 can be done even on a PentiumD if you use a decent decoder such as CoreAVC or even just the one in ffdshow. You also ignored the fact that these different decoders definitely do differ in the quality of their output. PowerDVD's output is by far the worst to my eyes, the best being ffdshow closely followed by CoreAVC.
  • tronsr71 - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    The article mentions that the amount of decoding offloaded by the GPU is directly tied into core clock speed (at least for Nvidia)... If this is true, why not throw in the 6600GT for comparison?? They usually come clocked at 500 mhz stock, but I am currently running mine at 580 with no modifications or extra case cooling.

    In my opinion, if you were primarily interested in Blu-Ray/HD-DVD watching on your computer or HTPC and gaming as a secondary pastime, the 6600GT would be a great inexpensive approach to supporting a less powerful CPU.

    Derek, any chance we could see some benches of this GPU thrown into the mix?
  • balazs203 - Friday, December 15, 2006 - link

    Could somebody tell me what the framerate is of the outgoing signal from the video card? I know that the Playstation 3 can only output a 60 fps signal, but some standalone palyers can output 24 fps.
  • valnar - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    From the 50,000 foot view, it seems just about right, or "fair" in the eyes of a new consumer. HD-DVD and BluRay just came out. It requires a new set-top player for those discs. If you built a new computer TODAY, the parts are readily available to handle the processing needed for decoding. One cannot always expect their older PC to work with today's needs - yes, even a PC only a year old. All in all, it sounds about right.

    I fall into the category as most of the other posters. My PC can't do it. Build a new one (which I will do soon), and it will. Why all the complaining? I'm sure most of us need to get a new HDCP video card anyway.
  • plonk420 - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    i can play a High Profile 1080p(25) AVC video on my X2-4600 at maybe 40-70 CPU max (70% being a peak, i think it averaged 50-60%) with CoreAVC...

    now the ONLY difference is my clip was sans audio and 13mbit (i was simulating a movie at a bitrate if you were to try to squeeze The Matrix onto a single layer HD DVD disc). i doubt 18mbit adds TOO much more computation...
  • plonk420 - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link">

    give that a try ... high profile 1080p AVC, with all CPU-sapping options on except for B-[frame-]pyramid.

    it DOES have CAVLC (IIRC), 3 B-frames, 3 Refs, 8x8 / 4x4 Transform
  • Spoelie - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    CABAC is better and more cpu-sapping then CAVLC
  • Stereodude - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    How come the results of this tests are so different from">this PC Perspective review? I realize they tested HD-DVD, and this review is for Blu-Ray, but H.264 is H.264. Of note is that nVidia provided an E6300 and 7600GT to them to do the review with and it worked great (per the reviewer). Also very interesting is how the hardware acceleration dropped CPU usage from 100% down to 50% in their review on the worst case H.264 disc, but only reduced CPU usage by ~20% with a 7600GT in this review.

    Lastly, why is nVidia">recommending an E6300 for H.264 blu-ray and HD-DVD playback with a 7600GT if it's completely inadequate as this review shows?
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    HD-DVD movies even using H.264 are not as stressful. H.264 decode requirements depend on the bitrate at which video is encoded. Higher bitrates will be more stressful. Blu-ray disks have the potential for much higher bitrate movies because they currently support up to 50GB (high bitrate movies also require more space).
  • balazs203 - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    Maybe the bitrate of their disk is not as high as the bitrate of that part of XMEN III.

    I would not say it completely inadequate. According to the Anandtech review the E6300 with the 8800GTX could remain under 100% CPU utilisation even under the highest bitrate point (the 8800GTX and the 7600GT had the same worst case CPU utilisation in the tests).

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