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Redwood and Cedar: Multimedia Functionality

The ATI Radeon HD 4000 series has been the best choice for HTPCs throughout 2008 and 2009. And the ATI Radeon HD 5000 is expected to be just as successful thanks to their heritage as well as to a few innovations including:

  • Support for the Protected Audio Path that allows outputting 7.1 audio (192 kHz / 24 bits per sample) with a bit rate up to 6.144 Mbps in such formats as AC3, DTS, Dolby True HD, DTS HD/DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation), etc, via HDMI 1.3a, but also transferring Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio streams for decoding by an external receiver. Since software players still have limitations concerning maximum-quality audio, this innovation should come in handy for owners of such receivers.
  • The dual full-HD video decoder in the Cypress, Juniper and Redwood processors will make them capable of reproducing Blu-ray 3D and other stereo 3D content (you will also need a TV-set/monitor with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and special glasses for that). Today, the dual 1080p decoder looks redundant, but if you are going to use your HTPC for a few next years, this feature may become useful. If you want it, you should not buy graphics cards based on the Cedar processor (ATI Radeon HD 5400) because it can only decode one HD and one SD video stream simultaneously.
  • The new GPUs’ support for Adobe Flash 10.1 decoding may come in handy, too, as more and more Web services allow watching high-quality flash-based movies and clips that often eat a lot of CPU resources.

So again, the new cards can make a good choice for an HTPC. But how exactly good are they? We will check this out right now using the newest toolset for video playback quality measurements called HQV Benchmark 2.0.

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 10.2 driver for ATI Radeon;
  • Nvidia ForceWare 196.21 driver for Nvidia GeForce;
  • CyberLink PowerDVD 9 Ultra;
  • Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit;
  • Microsoft Windows Performance Monitor.

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

  • ATI Radeon HD 5670
  • ATI Radeon HD 5570
  • ATI Radeon HD 5450
  • ATI Radeon HD 4770
  • Nvidia GeForce GT 240
  • Nvidia GeForce GT 220
  • Nvidia GeForce 210

We used the following tools to estimate the video playback quality in standard (SD) and high-definition (HD) resolutions:

  • IDT HQV Benchmark 2.0 DVD
  • IDT HQV Benchmark 2.0 Blu-ray

The driver settings remained the same. However, according to the HQV 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, in order to avoid artifacts in case of extremely high level of detail combined with aggressive noise suppression.

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 and the low bit-rates of the rips can be played perfectly by the system CPU.

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