Entertainment And Beyond
The home theater PC (HTPC) market is still a fledgling field, but you don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize the growing threat that Hulu, Netflix, and others represent to the established cable and satellite markets. Why pay $150 per month for what can be subscribed to online for a fraction of the cost? All that’s needed is a way to push that online content off the desktop and through the home theater.
Eyefinity can help. Until now, we’ve usually thought about HTPCs as a single display affair—one compact PC outputting to the TV. Higher-end configs might build a tiny, secondary LCD into the system chassis. But what if you weren’t limited to one big display? What if you didn’t have to constantly switch channels or streams, or you could be free of annoying picture-in-picture limitations? If you had an HTPC that could support three dual-tuner cards, why not run five sports games on five screens and then have ESPN.com running on a sixth screen—all from one graphics card? Hitherto, this would have required multiple HTPCs, but now a “man cave” can run from a single microATX form factor machine.
Admittedly, you’re sucking down a lot of power for all of those displays, but at least you can drop your system count and save several hundred watts in the process. Actually, the power story is even better because of power savings in the new 5000-series GPUs. For example, idle power consumption on the Radeon HD 4890 was 90W. With the Radeon HD 5870, idle power plummets to only 27W.
Today, many tuner applications don’t support multiple output instances, but perhaps that’s because there hasn’t been a mainstream platform capable of providing an affordable many-stream solution. Eyefinity opens up a lot of future possibilities. Modern Radeon GPUs can support multiple H.264 decode streams at once. If you don’t care so much about having a TV tuner blitzkrieg but want more content off the Web, Blu-ray drives, and/or your hard drive, you can now go multi-stream output without sacrificing resolution because everything has to display on a single screen.
Is Eyefinity a game-changer in the display space? At the high-end, probably so. The technology’s potential in gaming and multimedia have probably only just started to be imagined. And even in mainstream settings, particularly in businesses, what employer wouldn’t see the wisdom of even a 15% productivity increase in workers who go to triple-head display? The cost of such an upgrade used to be prohibitive, but if one controller can power 3D apps across every display at full speed for under $100, and if three 19" or even 22" LCDs can be had for less than the price of one 30" screen, the return on investment seems obvious.
In our Eyefinity follow-up, coming shortly, we’ll take a look at the developer efforts surrounding AMD’s new display platform and some of the finer details you’ll need to know when you’re ready to take the Eyefinity plunge.