Low heat dissipation and power consumption are the traditional virtues of entry-level graphics cards, making them suitable for HTPCs. Nvidia’s GeForce 210 and GeForce GT 220 are no exception. Considering their modest pricing, you may want to prefer them to using a mainboard-integrated graphics core, especially if you want to improve your video playback quality.
As we already noted above, the fourth-generation PureVideo engine enables the new GPUs to offer full hardware acceleration for decoding all HD video formats including MPEG 2 HD, MPEG 4 AVC (H.264), VC1, and WMV HD without any limitations (as was the case with earlier GeForce series products). Besides, they support MPEG-4 Part 2 Advanced Simple Profile, DivX version 3.11 and higher, Adobe Flash video 10.1, etc. Unfortunately, the new GPUs do not support Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio bit-streaming, which means that owners of top-end audio systems with receivers won’t be able to output lossless audio via HDMI using GeForce 210 and GT 220. These cards, like the competing ATI Radeon HD 4500/4600, can output lossless audio in LPCM format, though.
Video Playback Benchmarking Testbed and Methods
We are going to investigate the decoding performance and playback quality of our today’s testing participants on the following platform:
- Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 CPU (3.16GHz, 6MB cache, 1333MHz PSB);
- Gigabyte EG45M-DS2H mainboard (Intel G45 chipset);
- OCZ Technology PC2-8500 memory (2x1GB, 1066MHz, 5-5-5-15, 2T);
- Western Digital HDD (640GB, SATA-150, 16MB buffer);
- Antec Fusion 430W chassis;
- Samsung 244T monitor (24”, 1920x1200@60Hz max resolution);
- LG GGC-H20L optical drive (Blu-ray, HD DVD, DVD);
- ATI Catalyst 9.10 for ATI Radeon;
- ATI Catalyst version 8.66.6_Beta2 for ATI Radeon HD 5700;
- Nvidia ForceWare 191.07 for Nvidia GeForce;
- CyberLink PowerDVD 9;
- Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit;
- Microsoft Windows Performance Monitor.
We also used the following additional testbed:
- Intel Core 2 Duo X6800 CPU (2.93GHz, 4MB cache, 1066MHz PSB)
- Asus P5Q Pro mainboard (Intel P45)
- OCZ Technology PC2-8500 memory (2x1 GB, 1066 MHz, 5-5-5-15, 2T)
- Microsoft Windows Vista 64-bit
The following graphics cards and integrated graphics processors took part in our tests:
- Nvidia GeForce GT 220
- Nvidia GeForce 210
- Nvidia GeForce GTS 250/9800 GTX
- Nvidia GeForce GT 240/9800 GT
- Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT
- ATI Radeon HD 5770
- ATI Radeon HD 5750
- ATI Radeon HD 4850
- ATI Radeon HD 4770
- ATI Radeon HD 4670
- ATI Radeon HD 4550
We used the following tools to estimate the video playback quality in standard (SD) and high-definition (HD) resolutions:
- Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark
- Silicon Optix HQV HD Benchmark
The driver settings remained the same. However, according to the HQV HD suite requirements, the noise suppression and detail levels for Nvidia GeForce graphics cards were set to the maximums.
Unfortunately, Windows 7 doesn’t support HD DVD playback using CyberLink PowerDVD player. That is why we used an additional testbed with Windows Vista OS and traditional HQV HD test to estimate the HD playback quality. Moreover, since absolutely all graphics accelerators participating in our today’s test session demonstrate extremely low results in the HQV test, we also estimated the DVD playback quality in Windows Vista. As a result, you can see the results obtained at different time, on different computer systems and with different drivers on the diagrams. Although in this case you can argue about the fairness of such comparison, since the HQV HD results may vary depending on the driver version, we believe that by providing the HQV HD data we show the maximum potential of the participating GPUs very well.
Since the owners of high-end sound systems will be extremely interested in the results of lossless threads playback, we also included DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital TrueHD (where available) in order to increase the CPU load in all played movie fragments.
Keeping in mind that all tests are run under Windows 7/Windows Vista OS without disabling background services, the CPU utilization peaks shouldn’t be regarded as critical. It is much more important how much time it takes the CPU on average to complete the task. Note that the CPU utilization may vary. Therefore, 1-2% difference is not indicative of any advantage of a certain graphics accelerator over the competitor.
To estimate the CPU utilization during full-HD video playback (1920x1080) and full-HD video with enabled “picture-in-picture” (PiP) or Bonus View (according to Blu-ray disc Association classification) feature, we used the following movies:
- Alien Vs. Predator: MPEG2 HD, chapter 18
- Constantine: VC1, picture-in-picture, chapter 25
- Dark Knight: VC1, chapter 1 (credits not included into the test sequence)
- Death Race: MPEG4-AVC/H.264, picture-in-picture, chapter 14
- The Day After Tomorrow: MPEG4-AVC/H264, chapter 14
Like in a number of our previous articles, we decided to give up tests with free online media content (MKV rips of well-known shows), because its decoding is currently not supported by existing commercial software.