UPDATE: Adding HQV HD tests results obtained on the GeForce 8600 GTS ForceWare 163.69 drivers.
Today, a PC cannot be imagined without capabilities for playing multimedia content. Even cheapest entry-level PCs are equipped with an audio adapter, let alone a graphics core. The leading developers of computer chips are trying to endow the modern PC with a still broader range of multimedia capabilities to entice users into upgrading their hardware.
Products with rich multimedia functionality are not necessarily, by the way. For example, a few years ago Intel introduced its integrated 7.1 audio controller called Azalia that could output audio to progressive speaker systems and supported a number of innovative technologies. ATI, the graphics division of Advanced Micro Devices, has introduced an ATI Radeon X1250 graphics core integrated into AMD 690 chipsets which allows to connect modern TV-sets to the PC via the new HDMI interface.
Having a lot of multimedia features is good, but the quality of implementation is no less important. The sheer support for 7.1 audio doesn’t guarantee that modern games and movies will have a high-quality sound – you need an expensive sound card for that. As for HDMI support, you shouldn’t expect a PC with an entry-level CPU and an integrated graphics core to transform into a home theater after you add a HDMI connector to it. More likely, you’ll have to buy a standalone graphics card and a more advanced CPU.
It is about the quality of implementation that we are going to talk in this review.
Blu-Ray Disc vs. HD DVD: Ongoing Battle
Sony and Toshiba found themselves unable to reach an agreement on the topic of standardization of new-generation laser discs. As a consequence, the industry has two competing standards today: Blu-ray Disc (BD) from Sony and HD DVD from Toshiba.
Some reviewers consider Blu-ray as winning the battle of formats due to the integration of an appropriate optical drive into the PlayStation 3 console. On the other hand, only 3% of Xbox 360 users have bought an external HD DVD drive, which is indicative of low popularity of high-definition content among owners of Microsoft game consoles. This may also mean that users are not interested in the video capabilities of modern game consoles, be it a Microsoft Xbox 360 or a Sony PlayStation 3.
This supposition agrees with the recent news from the United States that the sales of HD DVD movies grew by 20% in Q2, but the sales of Blu-ray movies declined by 5%. Sales also grew by 37% for HD DVD players and declined by 5% for Blu-ray players. Meanwhile, the simplest HD DVD player from Toshiba costs about $200-300 in the USA, while the most affordable Blu-ray player from Samsung is priced at about $450.
It should be noted that this war of formats is not only about pricing but also about availability, which affects the sales of hardware as well as the sale/lease of intellectual property. Unfortunately, neither Blu-ray nor HD DVD has yet become widespread in Europe, and you still cannot buy BD/HD DVD in some countries.
You can’t buy HD content yet there, but over half of European publishers do not depend on Hollywood finances and choose the more affordable HD DVD format. For example, Luc Besson’s District B13 is already selling at Amazon.com.
One of the formats will eventually come out the winner to replace the DVD, but there is a war of codecs as well: Blu-ray can use H.264, MPEG2 HD or VC-1 whereas HD DVD uses H.264 or VC-1. Notwithstanding the option of choice, virtually all BDs use H.264 while most HD DVDs carry content encoded with VC-1. Different codecs have different hardware requirements, of course.