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Nvidia GeForce GTX 460: Multimedia Functionality

Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics accelerator consumes very little power according to today’s standards and is of relatively compact size. As a result, this graphics card may suit (though with a few allowances) for home theater PCs (HTPC). In other words, GeForce GTX 460 is the first card on a GPU with Fermi architecture that should be considered as a possible option for video playback, image quality and video decoding.

I have to point out that Nvidia doesn’t officially position GeForce GTX 460/GF104 exclusively as a gaming solution and has no intention to compete against the “king” of HTPC systems – AT Redwood GPU and graphics cards based on it, namely, Radeon HD 5670, 5750 and 5770. The latter two consume even less power, are even smaller and cheaper and boast a bunch of other great HTPC-friendly features.

Nevertheless, official positioning doesn’t mean that video and sound playback by GF104 remained unchanged. The new graphics processor now supports protected audio path and therefore can bitstream Dolby Digital TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio for decoding in an external receiver. Of course, it also supports regular 7.1 sound (192kHz/24bits per sample) with up to 6.144Mbps bitrate in AC3, DTS, DolbyDigital, DTS HD, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) and other advanced audio formats over HDMI 1.3а.

The actual „video core” was most likely inherited from GeForce GT240 products and underwent certain modifications. This way the GF104 graphics processor has at its disposal a dual FullHD video coder supporting MPEG4-MVC codec and allowing to view Blu-ray 3D and other stereo 3D content on a TV or monitor supporting 120 Hz refresh rate with special glasses. Of course, like all other contemporary GPUs, GF104 supports hardware decoding of MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG4-AVC/H.264, VC-1, WMV-HD, Adobe Flash 10.1 and other formats.

Judging by the technical specifications, GF104 chip and products based on it can become a pretty good choice for a gaming HTPC. In the following chapters we are going to check whether it is true using HQV 2.0 tests and several movies.

Video Playback Benchmarking Testbed and Methods

We are going to investigate the decoding performance and playback quality of Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 and other 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 10.6 driver for ATI Radeon;
  • Nvidia ForceWare 197.45 for Nvidia GeForce
  • Nvidia ForceWare 258.96 for Nvidia GeForce GTX 460
  • CyberLink PowerDVD 9.3
  • CyberLink PowerDVD 10 for GeForce GTX 460
  • Microsoft Windows Performance Monitor
  • Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit

The following graphics cards and integrated graphics processors took part in our tests:

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 460
  • Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT/GTS 240
  • Nvidia GeForce GT 240
  • Nvidia GeForce GT 220
  • ATI Radeon HD 5750
  • ATI Radeon HD 5670
  • ATI Radeon HD 5570
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850
  • ATI Radeon HD 4770

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 and ATI Radeon HD graphics cards were set higher, but not to the maximums. 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

We didn’t use any free content for this test session.

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