Earlier this week, we looked at the performance impact of playing back H.264 encoded Blu-ray titles on a modern day PC.  We explored the necessity of graphics decode acceleration for systems with CPUs less powerful than a Core 2 Duo E6700. The capability of different graphics cards was determined by looking at CPU overhead while decoding movies.

The final verdict on HD content on the PC indicated that high performance CPUs and GPUs would both be needed, especially considering that our test movie, X-Men III, is not likely to be the most stressful movie to be released over the next few years. With the titles available right now, we would recommend at least an E6600 with an NVIDIA GeForce 7 Series graphics card that runs at 450MHz or higher.

Today, we would like to look at the state of HD-DVD playback on the PC. The importance of looking at both formats rest mainly in the types of codecs and bitrates used. Currently, most Blu-ray movies are MPEG-2 and most HD-DVD movies are VC-1. Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD support H.264 as well, and this is the codec in which we are really interested (as it is the most difficult to decode). In addition to the recent release of Blu-ray titles that use H.264, there are also a couple HD-DVD titles that employ AVC: The Interpreter and U2: Rattle and Hum.

Our first article on HDCP compatible graphics cards looked at the performance of an MPEG-2 Blu-ray movie (Click), and our article earlier this week focused on one of the first H.264 movies released in the U.S. for Blu-ray (X-Men III). This time we will be looking at Serenity (VC-1) and The Interpreter (H.264) to try to get an idea of performance characteristics of HD-DVDs.

Our only dilemma thus far has been the lack of availability of PC HD-DVD drives. But not to worry: we have a solution. Microsoft's add-on HD-DVD drive released for the Xbox 360 will work with any PC that supports USB 2.0. Not only can 360 owners use it to extend the capabilities of their console, but PC users now have an affordable external HD-DVD drive available. Let's take a look at the drive itself before we get into HD-DVD performance.

Xbox 360 HD-DVD Drive
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  • Stereodude - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    [url=http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=328&type=...">http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=328&type=...]PC Perspective[/url]showed a much more dramatic reduction in CPU usage with an E6300, 7600GT, and the Interpreter. Seems things aren't quite lining up between the two reviews. Average CPU went from 82.8% down to 41.7% Only by using an x6800 and a 8800 GT* were similar results obtained in this review.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    Could be the USB interface is demanding more of the CPU. Unless two sites use identical hardware, you can't really compare the results and call one more accurate. Given that the HD-DVD for 360 is currently available at $200 (the internal drive used on that other review is apparently pre-release hardware), the results we show are at least indicative of what people looking to take that route will experience. I'm sure once Derek can get a PATA drive he can look at performance differences.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    I havent' read their review, but we did see ~41% with the x6800 8800gtx/gts.

    We didn't test the E6300 + 7600 GT with the interpreter, but i would think we'd see higher than 82.8% ...

    As always, it's not really useful to compare numbers from multiple sites, as we likely used different motherboard, ram, sections of the movie, etc...
  • DNW - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link


    (1) You need just the HD DVD player, not the Xbox, correct?

    (2) The back of the HD DVD player appears to have 3 connectors. Are these all USB connectors? If so, you hook up your the HD DVD player to your computer, and your computer to your television, correct? Does it matter how the computer is output to the TV? Is video-out sufficient, or do I need DVI, or HDMI etc.

    (3) What are the computer system requirements? I am asking because on one of my HDTV's, I have an old computer built 2-3 years ago from whatever spare parts I had laying around. Is this critical? My TV supports 1080p. Is getting that resolution dependent upon the computer?

    (4) The HD DVD player appears to come with a remote control. Will I use that remote to play/stop/start/pause/etc the DVD's, or will all that be done through the computer? In other words, is this a computer component or a home theatre component?

    For under $200 plus the cost of a Netflix subscription, I would like to 'get my feet wet' with high definition dvd's. Even if I use this configuration for just a few months, it will be worth the rather insignificnat investment required. I just want to make certain I understand it before I make the purchase. Thanks!
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    1) just need the HD-DVD player.

    2) It is also a USB hub AFAIK... the mini connector hooks into the computer.

    3) you'll need a CPU at least as fast as the E6300 and a graphics card that can do some hardware decode acceleration if you want to avoid choppy playback and dropped frames. you'll also need usb 2.0 support (480Mbit), a graphics card that can output 1920x1080 @60Hz either over DVI or component (analog). A top of the line computer from 2 or 3 years ago will probably not cut it.

    4) the remote controls the XBox 360, not the HD-DVD player.
  • totalcommand - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    The fact is with the right H264 encoding HD films can easily be fit on DVD-9 discs with minimal loss of quality.

    The companies are just trying to create a new market by increasing format size, but it's really unnecessary unless we want 6hr+ of film on our discs. Not to mention, with a new market, they get new copy protections like HDCP, which lets them infringe on our fair-use rights.

    It really doesn't matter that Bluray has a 20Gb advantage over HDDVD - we don't need that extra space right now.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, December 17, 2006 - link

    some sort of "newness" is required -- standard DVD players can't play HD formats, as the players don't have the ability to decode H.264 ... Either we were going to get new players that use current DVD media or new players with new media. Since its a very good idea to future proof the design, more size is better -- and it just makes sense that if we require an update to player hardware we might as well also update our media to hold more data.

    the horrid drm and copy protection schemes are not a problem with the media as much as the MPAA -- had we stuck with standard DVD media, the industry could just have easily forced those wanting to play HD video on DVDs to adopt AACS -- because this is required in the data on the disks and the players -- not the physical media itself.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    "Right now" is the key. All things being equal (and I'm not saying they are!), having more capacity is better. We'll see which one wins our long term, but there's a good chance the consumer has already lost.
  • trueimage - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    How are you "enabling" and "disabling" HW Accel... All I see is a checked hardware acceleration box that is greyed out. I have no idea if it is turned on or not, and I certainly can't uncheck it...
  • Renoir - Saturday, December 16, 2006 - link

    You can't enable/disable while playing a video. Stop playback and then the checkbox will no longer be greyed out. Hope that helps. Took me a while to figure that out myself :-)

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