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Underground Stream: A GPGPU History

ATI Stream: Finally, CUDA Has Competition
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The December 2008 launch of the ATI Catalyst 8.12 driver officially brought Stream to the masses, and to showcase it, AMD re-spun the ATI Avivo Video Converter to be Stream-compatible. It was a big deal, with AMD promoting the technology to anyone and everyone who would listen. Unfortunately, the software wasn’t quite finished. Initial positive impressions of performance gains quickly evaporated in the face of critical output issues, and Stream flowed underground for nearly five months.

I anticipated that AMD would follow Nvidia’s lead and resurface with a posse of application developers in tow. This seemed reasonable given that AMD’s November 2008 launch presentation for Catalyst 8.12 contained slides showing “a sizeable selection of developers lined up to adopt Stream come launch--including some pretty big guns.” How big? ArcSoft and Cyberlink show up almost as an afterthought. Adobe got its own slide for Acrobat Reader, Photoshop CS4 Extended, After Effects CS4, and Flash 10. Microsoft also got its own real estate for Vista, Expression Encoder, PowerPoint 2007, and Silverlight.

Fast forward to today. Who showed up to the new Stream party with AMD? CyberLink, with PowerDirector 7 and MediaShow Espresso, as well as ArcSoft with its SimHD plug-in for the TotalMedia Theatre 3 player. And that’s it. LoiLo, which we saw in our recent CUDA coverage, was in AMD’s Stream presentation, but the company has yet as of this writing to supply a Stream-optimized version of its video editor. Video preview in LoiLoScope has been UVD-accelerated since January, but this isn’t the same as Stream acceleration. Also, it didn’t take long during the Stream re-launch presentation to notice that everyone was talking about Espresso while almost completely ignoring PowerDirector 7. Why? Because CyberLink hasn’t updated the engine in PD7 yet. The app is still only accelerating encoding, as per the old Catalyst driver. This is also true of AMD’s own ATI Avivo Video Converter. To get the complete Stream meal, you need to run Espresso. Thus far, it is the only application with full Stream pipeline support.

“MediaShow Espresso takes full advantage of the new Stream encoding pipeline when you are transcoding from MPEG-2 or AVC to MPEG-2 or AVC,” says Tom Vaughan, director of business development at CyberLink. “So, with the new pipeline, we can offload more of the process to the GPU. Sometimes the performance improvement with the new Stream pipeline might show up as lower CPU usage, depending on your GPU, your CPU and other factors.”

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