Hardware Video Decompression
Hardware decompression for playback of HD content is crucial for many PCs out there, the simple reason being that many CPUs are not fast enough to play back HD smoothly. The situation is very reminiscent of the days when DVDs were new to the PC, and the CPUs of the time couldn't handle the 30 frames per second of 720x480 video output. Today, of course, DVD output is easy for contemporary CPUs, but new 1080i video is 30 frames per second of 1920x1080 pixels. HD optical formats are also compressed with V-1 and x.264 codecs that can bring even a modern CPU to its knees.
Both Avivo and Purevideo HD promise to take much of the processing load off of the CPU, and provide a smoother HD playback experience. This is something we will test to see who does a better job of providing smooth HD playback.
Visual Quality Enhancements
Just like the DVD arena, Avivo and Purevideo HD have the ability to actually enhance the HD viewing experience by removing noise, smoothing out jaggies and making the high-resolution video we watch even clearer.
To test these cards' ability to deliver image quality enhancements, we will be using the HQV's new HD benchmark on HD DVD.
HD Video Playback Software: Cyberlink's PowerDVD 7 And Intervideo's WinDVD 8
At this time, there are essentially two major software players that can process protected HD DVD/Blu-Ray content on the PC: Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra and Intervideo's WinDVD Platinum.
I wanted to mention that I have been working on this article for a few months now, and when I started I was given the impression by the Cyberlink and Intervideo Websites that all I had to do to get things up and running was to get a copy of the latest-and-greatest versions of PowerDVD and WinDVD. So I forged ahead and started testing, and was puzzled at how I couldn't seem to get much of anything to work. More often than not, playback would provide a black screen or a message informing me that my video driver was too old, which was puzzling since I was using the newest drivers available, and that every piece of the video chain - HD disk player, video card and monitor - were supposedly AACS/HDCP compliant.
Of course, I contacted the good folks at Cyberlink and Intervideo who let me know that their playing software was either being fixed for, or simply wasn't ready for, HD video playback. This would have been fine and dandy except that to my eyes, their Websites implied that their software was ready for HD DVD/Blu-ray disk playback. In my experience, it was not.
The good news is that PowerDVD Ultra build 2911_DVD070424-01b seems to work just fine, and from what I understand, it's already available at retail. The version of PowerDVD Platinum that we used for testing was build 22.214.171.124, which also seemed to work fine, but I'm not sure if it's been released to the public yet. In any case, the near future is looking good as far as the HD DVD/Blu-Ray playback software is concerned. Let's have a look at the hardware we used in our testing.