Blu-ray HD video decoding and playback
One of the things that buying a new graphics card will get you that an older card or integrated graphics solution might not have is decode and playback acceleration for HD video, including Blu-ray discs. The latest GPUs include dedicated logic blocks that offload from the CPU much of the work of decoding the most common video compression formats. To test how well these cards perform that function, we used CyberLink's new release 8 of PowerDVD, a Lite-ON BD-ROM drive, and the Blu-ray disc version of Live Free or Die Hard. Besides having the "I'm a Mac" guy in it, this movie is encoded in the AVC format (which includes H.264 video compression) at a 28Mbps bit rate.
In order to really stress these cards, we installed a lowly Core 2 Duo E4300 processor (a dual-core 1.8GHz CPU) in our test rig, and we asked the cards to scale up our 1080p movie to fit the native 2560x1600 resolution of our Dell 30" monitor. We then recorded CPU utilization over a duration of 100 seconds while playing back chapter four of our movie.
The pattern we've seen before with low-end cards holds true here: the Radeons tend to be more effective at offloading the decode task from the CPU than the GeForces. The differences aren't huge, though, and they're accentuated by the slow CPU. With the usual fast quad-core processor in our test system, you're looking at CPU utilization closer to 5% while playing a Blu-ray movie.
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