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Video Playback Quality

The HQV 2.0 test suite is a means to subjectively evaluate the quality of some video processing operations performed by a graphics card. As we wrote in our earlier reviews, this suite is very detailed and focuses on comparing Blu-ray and DVD players, which are based on specialized video processors. Therefore, today's GPUs do not always score the highest marks in it.

HQV 2.0 DVD

Today, few people watch regular DVD movies on TVs and monitors at the native resolution of DVD content. Most users instead prefer larger screens with full-HD resolution (1920x1080). So, the primary goal of any video processor is not just to properly display video content, but to be able to upscale the image, perform movement correction, reduce noise, improve detail quality, etc. Video fragments used in the HQV 2.0 DVD tests are selected in such a way as to demonstrate how good today’s video processors are at performing each of the mentioned operations.

Announcing its UVD 3.0, AMD did not say anything about image quality improvements. Indeed, the upconverting quality of the Radeon HD 6850 is the same as that of its predecessors.

HQV 2.0 Blu-ray

Similar to HQV 2.0 DVD, the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray test suite allows to subjectively evaluate a video processor at high display resolutions.

Like in the previous case, we don’t see any difference from the older cards’ results. That’s just fine, actually. The Radeon HD 5000/6800 cards deliver higher quality than the competing GeForce solutions and most of their failures (the tests where they score 0 points) occur with noncommercial content. We don't think that users who watch HD movies directly from Blu-ray discs will be disappointed with them. You can only have poor quality when trying to upscale HD content from iTunes and other such services.

With its Radeon HD 6850 series and Catalyst 10.10 driver AMD has begun to set its noise removal and edge enhancement settings at a rather aggressive level by default. We don’t know the reason for that but that makes the new cards score maximum points in the appropriate HQV 2.0 test clips. Unfortunately, the user-defined noise removal setting is far from perfect, making the image fuzzy even at 50%. As a result, many 720p video clips start to look as VHS video cassettes.

Considering that real movies contain numerous scenes shot at different locations with different lighting and often with different cameras, a good video processor must be able to adapt itself to the specific scene on the fly. Therefore we would recommend the user to check out the default video processor settings and adjust them if needed.

By the way, the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray test did not run on the Radeon HD 6850 until we updated it to its latest version but all movies were reproduced excellently. CyberLink PowerDVD 10 with support for AMD Radeon HD 6800 and Blu-ray 3D will be released on November 5, 2010.

When analyzing the results of the HQV tests, you must keep it in mind that the scoring method is highly subjective. Therefore a small difference in the total scores of different graphics cards should rather be neglected.

Blu-ray Playback

Now let’s see how the Radeon HD 6800 series can offload the CPU when decoding HD video.

We don’t see any changes over the previous generation Radeons when playing Dark Knight or Constantine. The new card is good, but not perfect.

The average CPU load when playing our MPEG4-AVC movies on the Radeon HD 6850 is quite low at 7%. The peak load is lower as well, which means you are unlikely to experience sudden slowdowns when watching such movies.

Judging by these results, the entropy decoding of MPEG2 HD on the GPU helps considerably lower the average and peak CPU load. The HD 6850 is the best Radeon in this test.

Summary

Like most of its predecessors, the Radeon HD 6850 is a good choice for a home multimedia computer.

Offering hardware support for decoding video in many formats (including DivX/XviD, MPEG2-HD, MPEG4-AVC, MPEG4-MVC, WMV-HD, VC-1, Adobe Flash 10.1), being able to bitsream all popular types of audio formats via HDMI 1.4a, and featuring high-quality hardware post-processing of SD and HD video, the Radeon HD 6850 is the most advanced graphics card on the market in terms of multimedia capabilities. The downside is that it consumes quite a lot of power and is rather large, so we don’t expect this card to come with passive cooling. As for the HD 6870, it is too long to fit into an HTPC system case.

The Radeon HD 6850 offers higher-quality Blu-ray playback and DVD upscaling than same-class competitors, but still cannot score the maximum amount of points in HQV 2.0. AMD will have to optimize the video engine or driver to achieve better performance in that benchmark.

A special feature of the new card, AMD HD3D technology can output Blu-ray 3D movies to a wide range of TV-sets and projectors without your having to purchase additional software (except for a Blu-ray 3D player like CyberLink PowerDVD Deluxe). Nvidia's competing technology 3D Vision requires that you purchase a special driver/middleware from Nvidia.

 
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