December 29, 2006
As I recently discovered, playback of high definition video is very demanding. You'll need a beefy PC to achieve the holy grail of maximum 1080p (1920x1080) resolution playback. Here are the minimum system requirements according to Cyberlink:
- Very fast single core CPU (3.2+ GHz Pentium 4, 2.0+ GHz Pentium-M, 2.4+ GHz Athlon 64), or almost any dual core CPU
- NVIDIA 7600gt or better, or ATI X1600 or better
- 512mb system memory, 256mb video card memory
- for digital HDMI output, a certified video card with HDCP support and a HDMI connector
If you're wondering how your system stacks up for high-definition video, Cyberlink offers its BD / HD Advisor software, which runs through the requirements checklist automatically. Here's how my current home theater PC scored:
Cyberlink's tool is helpful, but it's also a subtle sales pitch for their PowerDVD Ultra HD playback software, which was just released a week or so ago. That's fine by me; I already use PowerDVD to enable DVD playback through Windows Media Center. It's the least problematic of all the DVD software I've tried, and believe me, I've tried all the major players at one point or another.
Most of the system requirements for Hi-Def are reasonable, but the CPU requirement is off the charts, even by modern gaming standards. Those insanely high CPU requirements are there for a reason. I can personally vouch for that. Although the Pentium-M chip in my home theater PC is overclocked to 1.75 GHz and has a full 2 megabytes of L2 cache, it can't play 1920x1080 (1080p) content without massive stuttering. It's possible the GPU could offload some of the work from the CPU, but getting GPU decode acceleration working is a crapshoot at best. Fast dual core CPUs are cheaper and certainly simpler than dealing with the hassle of offloading the decoding to the video card.
For most modern systems, all you'd have to do is..
- Drop in a new video card, one with HDMI output and HDCP support. There are a number of these on the market now; just look for the certified models with the HDMI connector. You will pay a premium over the standard DVI and VGA models, but it's not prohibitive. Capable HDMI+HDCP video cards can be found for under $150.
- Add a HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drive. Internal Blu-Ray drives go for around $699 now. Unfortunately, there are no commercially available internal HD-DVD drives available at the moment, only the (amazingly cheap) external $199 Xbox 360 add-on, which also works on the PC.
- Purchase HD playback software, such as Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra. No high-def playback capability is built into any OS that I'm aware of.
My HTPC uses an analog VGA connection, so it neatly bypass any HDCP requirements. I don't need to buy a new video card unless I want digital output; my old workhorse Radeon 9600 has 256 megabytes of memory and enough muscle to handle very high resolution analog video playback. But then there's this ominous disclaimer on the Cyberlink page:
Note: Some Blu-ray Discs or HD DVD titles may require a digital output instead of analog. In this case, the digital output requirements listed above must be satisfied in order to play those titles.
Scary stuff. Gotta plug that pesky analog hole eventually, I suppose.
Most of this is moot to me, as my home theater PC is currently connected to my EDTV plasma, which is only capable of 800 x 480. It's a perfect resolution for DVDs, but high-def, it ain't. Still, I like to think that this system would be capable of 720p (1280x720) playback if I had a reasonably cheap HD or Blu-Ray drive to drop into the drive bay.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Yes, you're right, the 'morons' would pay more like $200 for Monster cables. The 'rule of thumb' stores and mags like is to reserve 10% of your cash outlay on home theater for wires. Heck with juicy descriptions like 'Nitrogen-injected dielectric' what's not to like :P
You're right, and I don't agree on the price, but salesmen are pushy, and your parents will buy them if you don't watch out. Either that or they're cheap and will stick with the good old yellow composite cable and all that resolution is flushed down the drain.
Sorry but I really don't think your Radeon 9600 will cut it.
Producing analogue output instead of digital doesn't save you anything in the decoding/processing stakes and they clearly mark the ATI X1600 as being minimum spec - the Radeon 9600 is less powerful than that and not by any small amount.
"Drop in a new video card, one with HDMI output and HDCP support."
Or run a crack for windows to disable the DRM. (erm, which I'm sure will be available as soon as there is sufficient demand for it)
Also wouldn't it be better just to download something from a href="http://www.apple.com/trailers/"http://www.apple.com/trailers//a if you want to see if your system can handle HD video?
Damien, you misunderstand. The reason the 7600gt and x1600 are "minimum" is because those are the lowest-end cards with HDMI+HDCP, eg, digital encrypted output. If you don't want/need digital out, there are any number of video cards capable of playing 1920x1080 video back.
The CPU is doing all the work! All the video card is doing* is displaying 24 1920x1080 images per second. And that's hardly anything at all by today's standards. Video is simply not the bottleneck with high-def.
* unless you manage to get H.264 or WMV decode GPU offload working. If you want to do this, good luck-- you're gonna need it! I can point you to a half-dozen forum threads of people struggling with various bits of drivers, playback software, and the OS to get this stuff to work. It might be better in Vista, but we're not sure yet.
Hmmm, it'll be interesting to see the outcome of dvd vs HD-DVD vs Bluray. I'd vote for HD-DVD because it seems less restrictive, but I won't shelving my normal dvd player in the near future.
DVD's are bad enough with region restrictions - it's already hard enough explaining to mothers why they exist in the first place, but thankfully most players are regionless-capable nowadays.
I can't wait to tell parents that they need a small supercomputer and degree in IT just to play these newer movies on their computer - don't forget the special digital connections to confound and confuse all the honest people out there. Wait till you tell them that the fancy hdmi cable is $100 extra.
It certainly won't hurt the pirates - they'll get around it and the rest of us suffer.
For a little bit of increased resolution all this fuss - I'll keep my dvd's thanks, they're good enough.
I have a 70 inch hidef dlp tv
it has dvi and hdmi inputs among others
i have been able to hook up my laptop to display on this with a svideo cable but i cant play any games cuz the screen goes blank. videos and all other things work fine with good results
the laptop is a dual core athalon 1.8 the graphic card i cont remember but the ram is shared
would just about any video card with an hdmi output work just as well as any other? will i be able to get the display from a game on to my tv?
Hey Jeff, love the blog.
My media center is FAR from powerful, and I run 1080p h264's on it no problem.
nvidia 7200gs 512mb
amd 3500+ single core
its honestly nothing fast, and a very budget machine.
The problem with these dvd applications is they are wayyyyy to hardware reliant. I don't understand how a 20 gig mpeg4 avc files with an avereage bitrate of 17-18 mb/s streaming in VLC, media player classic and media player 10 has no problems whatsoever, with a 5.1 to a reciever and everything via ac3filter.
no sync issues, no studdering.
What needs to happen is these dvd software companies need better AVC codecs and more optimization.
To help matters further I also use coreAVC on that machine:
*BUT* the latest build of FFDSHOW plays fine as well in my latest tests.
And I wouldn't consider the fact that its streaming from a disc to be at all an issue bc most of these files are streaming from a PC in the other room, although that is 1000 base.
I am waiting for more people to do trial and error stuff on various forums until I have an easy way to do it in media center without having to upgrade much because I know it won't be nessesary when they finally get their act together.
Mike, I think an Athlon 3500+ (2.2 GHz) might be a bit more powerful than the 1.75 GHz Pentium-M I am using. It's almost enough to meet the Cyberlink requirement of 2.4 GHz.
Do you have links to any sample high-def clips you use to test with?
Nobody caught that the video card is "Unknown", but the driver isn't compatible. Just an observation...
Ya, bluray and hd dvd? Thanks, but NO FREAKIN THANKS.
Nothing about those formats is right and they treat you like a criminal just for buying them. Worse, they continue to punish you with features like digital only content and changing encryption keys that stand a chance of invaliding your current library.
The thought that I would need a machine with more horse power than your average desktop is just insane.
These formats implemenations are so flawed that there is no point in buying them.
This kind of processing power takes electrical power. What will happen to US energy consumption if we all move to 1080p video? How much power would 150 million 1080p TVs suck?
Well, to be fair, Intel and AMD are doing very well on the power-per-watt metric today with their latest CPUs.
I doubt we'll be worried about having enough computational power for hi-def video two years from now. Particularly since dual-core does so well on video decoding, even at low clock speeds. So in that sense, the problem will solve itself with no effort at all on our part.
I read that vista cost article a little while ago and find it somewhat hard to believe. Even after looking through all the links and the sources, I just don't think a company with as much influence as Microsoft would end up creating all of those artificial complexity barriers in their new easy-to-program operating system. I work in the field of IT (mainly) and the unified drivers have been a godsend for dealing with certain hardware devices.
The entire thing reminds me (intentionally) of certificate revocation lists. The power they yield is absolutely amazing; I can't imagine the same thing being applied to physical hardware devices. Even if only advanced features of their drivers are disabled.
The bottom line is, graphics cards aren't made for doing military-grade encryption. And when you try to make them do it, the price goes through the roof, and the graphics quality suffers (compared to what you could fit on the chip if it didn't have to spend 50% of its time doing AES).
Ed and Xepol are right on the money; High-Def is just putting money in the pirates' pockets, and that money will soon be coming out of the pockets of gullible Windows Vista users.
Why do PC's make this stuff so difficult? Macs already recognise the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive without the need for any additional driveers. The next rev of OS X (Leopard) has ND DVD and Blu Ray support built in.
Get a Mac.
To be fair to Damien's original comment, and contrary to what I stated, the video card *DOES* have an effect on very high resolution video playback:
As long as you're not using something truly horrible like integrated video, the difference in playback between video cards is fairly minimal, though. Compare the very high end NVIDIA card with the low end from that article:
CPU load (min/avg/max), on an Athlon FX-60 (dual 2.6 GHz)
GeForce 7900 GTX: 26, 37.5, 43
GeForce 7300 GS: 30.5, 38.9, 50
GeForce 7900 GTX: 7.2, 17.5, 35.9
GeForce 7300 GS: 14.1, 22.4, 36.7
GeForce 7900 GTX: 3.1, 17.3, 26.6
GeForce 7300 GS: 2.3, 17.6, 27.4
WMV HD 1080p
GeForce 7900 GTX: 5.7, 12.7, 20.3
GeForce 7300 GS: 7.0, 12.7, 21.1
The only variable in these tests is the video card, so any differences should be directly attributable to the video card.
That article confirms what I'd already read elsewhere - that graphics cards have on-board processing facilities to assist with video playback and have done for quite some time.
The problem is that MPEG4/H.264 and some of the newer codecs are sufficiently advanced that some/all of these facilities on the graphics cards can not be used for decoding this.
No doubt graphics cards will expand their functionality to meet what MPEG4 requires but until then those of us with hardware a year or so old are going to need to shell out.
Typical macolyte ignorant comment. There are absolutely no issues with PCs recognizing the HD-DVD addon. It was designed for the XBOX (a MS product) an MS explicitly says that the HD-DVD will work on Windows. I just bought one. I plugged in and XP instantly recognized the drive and installed the drivers for it. Easy. No problems.
The problems people are having is with playing High Def DVDs. I got PowerDVD Ultra and it won't play the King Kong HD disc it comes with(I watch its memory usage go up past 200MB and then is crashes). I think my video card is too weak. So I'll get a new one and (hopefully) that'll be all.
As it stands now you can't even play HD-DVD discs on OSX unless they we authored in DSP4. So, still if you wat to play HD-DVD, it's only done on PCs...for now.
I have an odd question...
I have a Blu ray drive, and PowerDVD Ultra, 7600GT, 3.2Ghz P4, and Vista...
I just recently played "House Of Flying Daggers" and it rocked! Quality was superb and the sound was to die for... So I went out and bought "Casino Royale" and it looked like crap... it was studdering and hiccuping the whole way... I cehcked the drivers: they were OK... so I figured it must be the CPU, right?
CPU was hovering around 98%!
So then I wondered: why did "Daggers" look so good?... played that one; CPU: 35-40% They are both 1080P running on the same system so why would one max the CPU and the other not even come close? were the disks coded differently?
Does anyone know why this happened because this one is blowing my mind!
I am responding to the comment by mike where he stated his PC specs and they were not powerful, yet he still managed to play the 1080p res. at no stuttering....could you please elaborate on what software U are using to playback the DVD's and which decoders....very much appreciated if you do respond
Mitchell (I just go the XBOX 360 HD-DVD drive working on the computer !!!)