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High-Definition Video Playback

Nettops and netbooks were initially not intended for high-definition video playback: the potential of Intel Atom processors, even of dual-core ones, was not enough for smooth video playback in 1080p resolution. However, Nvidia decided to disagree with the designers of Atom processors and offered a GeForce 9300 chipset for this CPU that could provide the necessary hardware support for decoding of HD video in popular formats. This company turned netbooks and nettops into multimedia centers, that is why the users desire to watch HD video on compact and inexpensive solutions is no longer considered something out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, Pine Trail platform can’t be considered a real response to Nvidia ION. GMA3150 graphics core integrated into the new generation Atom processors supports hardware video decoding only for MPEG-2 format. As we have just seen from our benchmark results, the actual Pineview processor is barely different from the previous generation Atom CPUs in computational power. Therefore, mainboards built around Pineview processor and NM10 Express chipset won’t be able to become a multimedia platform.

To get a better idea of the real state of things we tried to watch several different movies in 1080p resolution recorded in different formats. The diagrams below show the number of frames per second displayed by the media player during video playback. For our tests we used a movie in H.264 format (Dark Knight), VC-1 format (Iron Man) and MPEG-2 format (Resident Evil). For the software video player we used Media Player Classic Home Cinema.

The results speak for themselves. Only ION platforms could provide fully-fledged video playback without any frame losses in all three cases. Pine Trail based system could only playback MPEG-2 movie normally, because this format is supported on the hardware level. In all other cases we saw something like a slideshow. The old Intel nettop and netbook platform was unable to playback even the MPEG-2 format normally.

Another type of workload, which any contemporary multimedia platform should cope with, is quality playback of high-definition video posted on various online resources, such as YouTube.com. The diagram below shows the fps rate during playback of a 1080p video from this web-site.

Before, we couldn’t watch online video on Nvidia ION. However, when they launched new Adobe Flash Player 10.1 the problem was solved: the player was capable of using the functionality of the chipset for decoding acceleration. As a result, an ION based system can display high-definition video just fine even if it is stored not on a local hard drive but online. As for Intel platforms, they perform poorly under this type of load, too.

The only thing that may change the situation is the addition of an external HD video decoder from Broadcom - BCM70015. Like Nvidia ION, this chip can accelerate the decoding speed for all major video formats. Besides, it is also supported by the Flash Player. Without this decoder systems built around a combination of Intel chipsets and Atom processors can’t be utilized as hardware media players.

However, we still have to make one small comment. Everything we have just said refers to HD video playback in maximum quality – 1080p resolution. As for playback of 720p video, Pine Trail platform should do it just fine even without any help from the graphics core: the performance of dual-core Atom D510 is sufficient to cope with this task.

Moreover, even the previous generation platform can play an H.264 video stream in 720p resolution just fine. However, if you would like to watch movies online with relatively high quality, then Aton 330 won’t be able to satisfy you anymore. However, even with Pine Trail platform the CPU utilization in this case is about 80% on average, which means that background processes or flash banners disaplyed on the same page may affect comfortable video playback.

 
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