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Best graphics card for HD/Blu-ray playback (no gaming)?

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July 17, 2008 6:24:16 PM

I'm looking to upgrade my X1950 Pro for the best HDMI-capable graphics card for Blu-ray disks and HD file playback.

I'm not a gamer, so I don't need a card that's good for that, unless it's the best card for videos too. I'm a movie buff, I have a 30-inch LCD display with an HDMI input, and I want to power it to the max for movie-watching purposes and video editing. I don't want to spend more than I have to, but I don't mind spending whatever I need to if it will make movies look and play better on my display and give me the editing capabilities I need.

All things being equal (if they actually are), ATI Avivo HD or Nvidia Pure Video HD are both fine -- I don't have a brand preference unless I can derive meaningful playback and/or editing advantages from a Crossfire setup, in which case I'd need two ATI cards for my Intel motherboard.

My current system (in addition to the X1950 Pro): Intel D975XBX2 motherboard, QX6700 CPU, 8 GB Mushkin DDR-2 800 RAM, Corsair 620W (3 12V rails) PSU, HT Omega Striker Sound Card, Vista 64-bit OS.

I'd be very grateful for any help. Thanks!
July 17, 2008 6:38:22 PM

A ati HD3650 will do then, you could always wait for the budget HD4xx0 part to arrive. Ati has free software thats why i'm recommending it
a c 358 U Graphics card
July 17, 2008 6:42:06 PM

I actually bought an ECS 9600GT which comes with an Artic Cooling S2 "massive" heatsink for my HTPC. The heatsink makes the card about 2" taller than the typical video card. Reasons why I bought it:

1. Passive cooling = no noise
2. Low power consumption. 60w max when gaming, about 40w - 45w max when doing non-gaming stuff like watching video.
3. About 10% - 15% better performance than my X1900XT 512MB in gaming (in case I wanna play games).


As to which is better at "video quality" it is subjective. I've read a few comparisions a couple of and it was a split decision. Some preferred ATI, other preferred nVidia.

Best advice if you can't decide between ATI or nVidia, by 'em both to test them out, then return the one you don't like. In my opinion, that's a huge waste of time.
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July 17, 2008 7:19:30 PM

@ jaguarskx: absolutly ****!
@ bobxone:
You do NOT need to spend that much money for a graphic card that you even can't play games!
You can go for much cheaper one (ATI HD3450 or ATI 3650) that are about $50 and they has got UVD wich means that you can play easy Full HD and blue ray even with cheap CPU!
a b U Graphics card
July 17, 2008 7:21:42 PM

yonef:The 9600 has video decoding capability, and depending on the movie editing software, it could potentially be accelerated by the fast video card.
July 17, 2008 7:37:22 PM

Im not trying to sway from what you want just introducing another option.
Have you looked into the MB with intergrated video? They have come a long way in the last year and more to come with the G45 chips, (not avaiable yet). Right now the 780G ATI chip sets seem to hold the 1st spot.
Here is a couple of examples:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
July 17, 2008 7:48:00 PM

Just to let you know Nvidia doesnt support sound over the HDMI and ATI does i found that out the hard way when i got another 8800GS for my HTCP/game system
July 17, 2008 8:14:12 PM

MrMeth said:
Just to let you know Nvidia doesnt support sound over the HDMI and ATI does i found that out the hard way when i got another 8800GS for my HTCP/game system


Nvidia supports sound through DVI>HDMI via supplied jumper. SPDIF>Video card. Plug one end into the MB SPDIF the other end into the Video card.

9xxx series up.
July 17, 2008 8:37:34 PM

knotknut said:
Im not trying to sway from what you want just introducing another option.
Have you looked into the MB with intergrated video?


Thanks for your suggestion, but I'm delighted with my Intel D975XBX2 motherboard.
July 17, 2008 9:26:35 PM

knotknut said:
Im not trying to sway from what you want just introducing another option.
Have you looked into the MB with intergrated video? They have come a long way in the last year and more to come with the G45 chips, (not avaiable yet). Right now the 780G ATI chip sets seem to hold the 1st spot.
Here is a couple of examples:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Horrible idea, IMO. He would have to purchase a new motherboard and processor, not to mention re-install a fresh OS which can be the most annoying thing of all.

I say ATI HD3650 should be more than enough. Some come with HDMI output and are less than $100.
July 17, 2008 9:34:05 PM

You will need a Blu-Ray DVD drive also, yes?
a c 358 U Graphics card
July 17, 2008 11:29:20 PM

yonef said:
@ jaguarskx: absolutly ****!
@ bobxone:
You do NOT need to spend that much money for a graphic card that you even can't play games!
You can go for much cheaper one (ATI HD3450 or ATI 3650) that are about $50 and they has got UVD wich means that you can play easy Full HD and blue ray even with cheap CPU!


If you bothered to actually read my response, I stated that the 9600GT fit the bill for me because:

1. It is passively cooled
2. 60w max under gaming conditions, otherwise 40w - 45w max
3. More powerful than my X1900XT in case I WANT TO PLAY GAMES WITH IT.
July 17, 2008 11:43:34 PM

jaguarskx said:
If you bothered to actually read my response, I stated that the 9600GT fit the bill for me because:

1. It is passively cooled
2. 60w max under gaming conditions, otherwise 40w - 45w max
3. More powerful than my X1900XT in case I WANT TO PLAY GAMES WITH IT.



If you really want to play newer games, you'll need more than just a single 9600gt.

If you only want to watch videos, hd or not, you can do with just fine with onboard. Remember, cpu is what does the decoding. Even though the latest gpus can also supplement cpu, it's not necessary since all modern dual/quad cores are powerful enough to decode in real time alone without assisstance. When a video is playing, it doesn't matter if your cpu load is 50% or 5%, as long as it doesn't reach 100%, the video will play perfectly smoothly and you'll see no difference. :p 
July 17, 2008 11:47:08 PM

Second the 3650 suggestion. I can also agree it's complete overkill (in terms of computing power and energy consumption - where's amdfangirl?)for a BluRay playing HTPC (more or less), but if it's old (read: upgraded) equipment, why not re-assign its usage?
a b U Graphics card
July 17, 2008 11:51:30 PM

IMO for now, HD3650, and then later if GPGPU assisted editing does take off get not another, but get an HD4850 on the cheap at that time.

Until GPU assisted encoding actually matures stick with a nice solid base.

My recco;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

The only reason to consider the nVidia series IMO would be for the dual stream acceleration which works on the G9x series chips, and the RV770, but it's not available on the HD2K and HD3K series. It's not a major issue, but the PIP feature of BluRay would benefit fom dual-stream decoding.
July 17, 2008 11:54:00 PM

Did I miss something here? Why does it matter if the cpu itself can decode in real time just fine? Donate some money to help feed hungry children instead. :p 
a b U Graphics card
July 17, 2008 11:59:53 PM

dagger said:

If you only want to watch videos, hd or not, you can do with just fine with onboard. Remember, cpu is what does the decoding. Even though the latest gpus can also supplement cpu, it's not necessary since all modern dual/quad cores are powerful enough to decode in real time alone without assisstance. When a video is playing, it doesn't matter if your cpu load is 50% or 5%, as long as it doesn't reach 100%, the video will play perfectly smoothly and you'll see no difference. :p 


However not all streams can be decoded smoothly just on CPU, high bit-rate H.264 BR titles can make a CPU even with a slightly acclerated GMA series GPU chug. Add audio decoding to that and it will be peg close to 90% all the time and chug alot. Better to have the CPU pegged at 5-20% and the GPU running a low 2D workload with little or no sttutering.
http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?i=325...

Remember that's a single stream, not dual stream BD2.0 content.

Quote:
Did I miss something here? Why does it matter if the cpu itself can decode in real time just fine?


Yes, you missed the course on encrypted H.264 encoding/decoding. :kaola: 
July 18, 2008 12:28:35 AM

Strange, x.264 playback didn't even hit 20% max utilization for me. I encode fansubs with it too. :p 
a c 358 U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 12:42:17 AM

dagger said:
If you really want to play newer games, you'll need more than just a single 9600gt.




It's an HTPC.

I have a primary PC for games
a b U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 1:22:00 AM

dagger said:
Strange, x.264 playback didn't even hit 20% max utilization for me. I encode fansubs with it too. :p 


That's not the same an encrypted BR disc, let alone a BD2.0 disc now is it. :kaola: 

Not everyone wants to waste their time ripping and re-encoding just to watch a $3 rental.
July 18, 2008 2:43:07 AM

knotknut said:
You will need a Blu-Ray DVD drive also, yes?
Yes, but I haven't gotten that far yet. One component at a time.
July 18, 2008 2:50:41 AM

jaguarskx said:
I actually bought an ECS 9600GT which comes with an Artic Cooling S2 "massive" heatsink for my HTPC. The heatsink makes the card about 2" taller than the typical video card.
I checked out this card at Newegg, and it looks good. I like the passive cooling option given the way I'll be using the card.

My only concern is the height of the heatsink. There aren't any specs on the card's precise dimensions either at Newegg or on the ECS site itself (!!!). I can't find a phone number for ECS tech support, either.

Do you know if the heatsink is actually 2" taller than the card's PCB -- or is it slightly shorter or taller?

I have a mid-tower case, but it's only 7-1/2" wide.
a b U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 4:03:58 AM

Actually the Accelero is quite big. It's very effective, but it is big.

Look at the profile shot at NewEgg;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ShowImage.aspx?CurImage=1...

If you've got a mid tower I'd recommend something like this then if you want a GF9600GT;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Although I still think that HD3650 ASUS is all you need at a good price, for any space concerns this Sapphire HD3450 will fit any rig and do most things the HD3650 does, and it comes with a native HDMI port as well as DVI;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

And a different ASUS if you're put off by the reviews of the other one;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

The GF9600GT is a solid card, but if you're not gaming, for the money you would save on that GF9600GT you could almost buy a Liteon BR-ROM drive or be half way to an BR-Burner (personally I'd recommend the LG BR/HD-DVD COMBO DRIVE, I had one it was great [sold it to a friend due to price of media and cheapness of externall HDDs]).
July 18, 2008 5:54:02 AM

Out of curiosity for while it's being tossed about, what was it that the Radeon HD 3650 had that the HD 3450 lacks that could be useful here? Does it have a better interface for using HDMI? Or was I mistaken in that the SP array of the 3450 (kicking out what, some 48 gigaflops?) would be sufficient, when coupled with a decent CPU, for handling the decoding of encrypted Blu-Ray movies?
jaguarskx said:
3. More powerful than my X1900XT in case I WANT TO PLAY GAMES WITH IT.

Well, they ARE NOT GAMING, so that means that this point, while all very bully for you, is completely pointless to the OP, and hence not germaine to this thread. So don't be surprised when people attack you over it.

dagger said:
Strange, x.264 playback didn't even hit 20% max utilization for me. I encode fansubs with it too. :p 

Last I checked, anime didn't actually come in 1080p, and tended to often be in resolutions as low as 320x240 particularly when traded over the Internet... That's over 2 megapixels compared to 76.8 kilopixels, a ratio of 27:1, and decoding strain is directly proportionate to the resolution involved. So if you hit, say, 10% utilization (you say, "not even 20%") with those fansubs, then you're talking getting getting about 22/60 fps at 1920x1080... Not ideal. If you're running at DVD-quality 720x480, (345.6 kilopixels) then the ratio goes down to 6:1, which could still be problematic.

And that's just from resolution alone; not to count the other anti-piracy security measures built into the codec when used on commercial BD-ROM movie discs, that wouldn't be bothered with on a fansub...
a c 358 U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 6:10:56 AM

bobxone said:
I checked out this card at Newegg, and it looks good. I like the passive cooling option given the way I'll be using the card.

My only concern is the height of the heatsink. There aren't any specs on the card's precise dimensions either at Newegg or on the ECS site itself (!!!). I can't find a phone number for ECS tech support, either.

Do you know if the heatsink is actually 2" taller than the card's PCB -- or is it slightly shorter or taller?

I have a mid-tower case, but it's only 7-1/2" wide.



Here's a better deal. It's a 9600GT made by Asus that is also passively cooled, but it is the height of a standard card. It will take up two slots, just like the ECS I mentioned. Price... $110 after a $20 mail-in rebate,, much less than the ECS 9600GT which is probably selling for around $175.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121244

Again, max power consumption should be about 40w - 45w under 2D applications, idle is about 20w - 25w and under full load (gaming) 60w. Therefore, if you live in a city with high electricity cost (NYC is about $0.19 - $0.21 per KWH), it'll make your electricity easier to swallow especially if you intend on keeping it on 24/7.

If you are in the market for a power supply, then I recommend the Seasonic S12 series which have a minimum efficiency of 80% and a max of around 88% depending on the load. Last time I checked a technical review, they are general at their most efficient with a 80% - 95% load (i.e. percentage of the max power output).

If you really want to know the height of the ECS 9600GT w/ Arctic Cooling S2, then it'll have to wait 'till the weekend.
a c 358 U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 6:29:53 AM

nottheking said:


Well, they ARE NOT GAMING, so that means that this point, while all very bully for you, is completely pointless to the OP, and hence not germaine to this thread. So don't be surprised when people attack you over it.





While I did not exactly recommend the 9600GT to the OP (it mostly fits my needs), it has peaked his interest (2 posts before yours) since it is passively cooled.

Silence is key when it comes to an HTPC (in my opinion) 'cause I don't wanna hear any fans whirling around while I'm trying to listen to music or watch a movie.

July 18, 2008 6:40:56 AM

jaguarskx said:
If you really want to know the height of the ECS 9600GT w/ Arctic Cooling S2, then it'll have to wait 'till the weekend.
No -- I'd feel silly asking you to open up your case to answer a question on a message board.

Both the ECS and the Asus 9600GTs that you recommended look good. I'll do some measuring and thinking.
July 18, 2008 6:42:54 AM

TheGreatGrapeApe said:
If you've got a mid tower I'd recommend something like this then if you want a GF9600GT;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Although I still think that HD3650 ASUS is all you need at a good price, for any space concerns this Sapphire HD3450 will fit any rig and do most things the HD3650 does, and it comes with a native HDMI port as well as DVI;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

And a different ASUS if you're put off by the reviews of the other one;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168....
Those are all excellent suggestions. Thanks!
July 18, 2008 6:43:35 AM

jaguarskx said:
Silence is key when it comes to an HTPC (in my opinion) 'cause I don't wanna hear any fans whirling around while I'm trying to listen to music or watch a movie.

Oh, I agree that passive cooling is key for a HTPC, and is heavily desireable in any machine that is to be intended for non-gaming uses, where a low enough TDP where such a thing is possible may be attained.

However, if memory serves, the stock coolers for a number of low-end card models (including the Radeon HD 3450, if memory serves) is a large heatsink, without a fan, so that would mean the bulk of those cards would be silent, whereas you have to seek out (and often pay more, oddly enough) for a silent version of a stronger card like the 9600GT.
July 18, 2008 6:47:29 AM

A follow-up question:

For purposes of an HTPC, what is the benefit (if any) of graphics card that has a 256-bit memory interface over one that has a 128-bit memory interface?
July 18, 2008 8:08:51 AM

Memory interface, just like DDR clock speed, serves one end: it's a factor in the total memory bandwidth. In the case of decoding video, I don't think you really need all that much, since the bandwidth demands for handling a video stream would be much less than those for making countless passes to draw each and every frame of a 3D scene multiple times per second.

So in the end, even a 64-bit interface as found on the Radeon HD 3400 series should be fine.
a b U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 3:08:57 PM

I'd say that I'm with nottheking here - for what you said, a 3450 will be sufficient, draw less power, and heat up your case less.
a b U Graphics card
July 18, 2008 6:11:38 PM

nottheking said:
Out of curiosity for while it's being tossed about, what was it that the Radeon HD 3650 had that the HD 3450 lacks that could be useful here? Does it have a better interface for using HDMI? Or was I mistaken in that the SP array of the 3450 (kicking out what, some 48 gigaflops?) would be sufficient, when coupled with a decent CPU, for handling the decoding of encrypted Blu-Ray movies?


The UVD portion is the same and un-processed they will be equal, the difference is mainly when AVIVO HD post-processing effects are use to improve the image from default. And the SPUs for any GPGPU consideration would be less of course with the 1/3 stream processors. It's a minor difference, but I don't wanna simply say they're the same, as the limitations usually start at the HD2400 and HD3400 series. The HD3650 is usually able to handle anything you throw at it for video playback, and of course the GPGPU diff is all in the SPUs.

July 19, 2008 10:38:15 PM

Thanks to everyone for your help. Much appreciated!
July 21, 2008 1:54:37 PM

jaguarskx said:
Last time I checked a technical review, they are general at their most efficient with a 80% - 95% load (i.e. percentage of the max power output).

Wrong. Almost all PSUs have their max efficiency at ~45-65% of their rated capacity.

At SPCR they acheived max efficiency at 52% of the rated (198W / 380W) for the S12 380W:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article753-page4.html

Why is this misinformation being perpetuated?!?
July 21, 2008 2:11:42 PM

hey guys, i have quad core 4 gig ram, vista, 2 graphics cards 8600 gt and 8800 gt now, im bout to get rid of the 8600 gt as im running 2 x 22inch monitors and 1 40 inch full hd 1080p samsung 100hz tv, i want the best quality possible and best sound out of my pc, whats the best way to go with the new graphics card? less noise, best quality, digital sound optical port if possible or if the card will use hdmi hdmi carries sound, so that will be fine? people what do u guys think?>
!