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HD Video Playback and Encoding

One of the major applications for Mini-ITX systems is HTPC. Therefore, we pay special attention to HD video content playback and transcoding tests. Especially, since here Brazos platform receives the long-awaited carte blanche, because most software media players and transcoding utilities can use graphics accelerator streaming pipelines for video decoding and processing.

However, high definition video playback is no problem for any contemporary platform, because all integrated graphics cores have special units responsible for decoding of popular video formats. The Radeon HD 6310 graphics accelerator on UVD3 engine built into AMD E-350, as well as Intel HD Graphics 1000 with Quick Sync technology from Core i3-2100T processor are no exceptions.

So, we have every right to state that there won’t be any problems during HD video playback in such popular formats as MPEG-2, H.264 and VC-1 using players supporting DXVA. There won’t be any missing frames and the x86 processor cores utilization will remain fairly low. Therefore, any of the systems discussed today may suit just fine for an HTPC.

AMD E-350

Intel Core i3-2100T

You should, however, keep in mind the existing restrictions: AMD Brazos platform doesn’t support Blu-ray 3D and only has HDMI 1.3 interface. Intel’s graphics is free from these restrictions.

HD video transcoding is a much more illustrative test that involves more powerful resources. Transcoding is a pretty resource-demanding task, but its primary distinguishing feature from 3D rendering, for instance, is the fact that it may indeed be used by home users. While households get more portable devices capable of paying back video, desktop systems are in greater need to transcode video content into formats supported by cell phones, portable players and tablets. Therefore, platform developers put a lot of effort into ensuring that their systems can deliver high transcoding speeds.

And this is where AMD’s and Intel’s approaches differ dramatically. AMD suggests that graphics core shaders be used for transcoding acceleration. As for Intel, they implemented a special Quick Sync unit in their Sandy Bridge processors, which is optimized specifically for video encoding and decoding. Of course, both these technologies require special software, but it is not a problem today any more. Popular commercial transcoding utilities, such as Arcsoft Media Converter or Cyberlink Media Espresso can work with Intel Quick Sync unit as well as with Radeon HD shaders via Stream/APP technology.

We tested both systems in transcoding utilities. We measured the time it took to transcode a small H.264 1080p video clip about 7 minutes long into an iPhone 4 friendly format (H.264, 1280x720, 4 Mbps). All brand name technologies, including AMD Stream/APP, Intel Quick Sync and Nvidia CUDA were, obviously, enabled.

The results on the diagrams hit AMD below the belt. It turns out that hardware acceleration of HD video playback promoted by the company so aggressively doesn’t actually accelerate anything. Even a system based on Intel G41 chipset with the Celeron processor - that has absolutely no specialized units for work with HD video and therefore uses its regular x86 processor cores only - is 1.5-2 times faster than AMD Brazos. So, the only hope for AMD is that software developers will eventually come up with some miracle optimizations for their algorithms.

However, Intel Quick Sync supporters may rejoice. Special units in Core i3-2100T processor transcode video very quickly. The platform with Intel HD Graphics 1000 core is beyond competition and if you transcode video often, you definitely should consider Sandy Bridge platform for your needs.

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