NVIDIA announces PureVideo HD

Sandwiched between the April 18 HD-DVD launch and the upcoming June 20 Blu-ray launch, NVIDIA has announced a new hardware acceleration technology for high-definition video discs. PureVideo HD is designed for GeForce 7-series cards and represents a superset of NVIDIA's existing PureVideo video processing engine. The company touts PureVideo HD as a complete solution for Blu-ray and HD-DVD media playback, as it not only takes load away from the CPU by having the graphics card accelerate HD video rendering, but PureVideo HD-ready cards will also include High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) support—a requirement to view HD media at full resolutions. NVIDIA says PCs without HDCP support will be forced to watch Blu-ray and HD-DVD movies at a quarter of their full resolution.

Along with being a "complete solution," NVIDIA even claims PureVideo HD will be a necessity for Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback on desktop and home theater PCs. A chart from NVIDIA's presentation includes a "worst case scenario" benchmark run on a high-end Intel Core 2 Duo system. Rendering full 30 FPS 1080p video in software pushed the machine's CPU utilization to 100%, the company said, and caused the video to drop frames. Meanwhile, enabling PureVideo HD acceleration allegedly cut CPU usage down to 70% and allowed smooth, skip-free video rendering. PureVideo HD won't do all the work, though; NVIDIA says the technology still requires at least a dual-core processor to help the graphics card along.

PureVideo HD also has some tricks up its sleeve in addition to raw hardware acceleration. The PureVideo HD hardware processor is programmable, meaning it is possible to upload new microcode to the graphics card in order to add support for new video codecs. Furthermore, PureVideo HD doesn't tap the graphics card's shader power for HD video acceleration. According to NVIDIA, this approach will be especially beneficial once Windows Vista comes along. Indeed, Vista's Aero graphical interface relies on pixel shaders to display its eye candy, and NVIDIA says PureVideo HD rendering won't cause slowdowns on that front. Finally, aside from being Vista-friendly, PureVideo HD will also include a number of video post-processing features. NVIDIA didn't delve too deeply in the subject, but functionality such as high-quality scaling, spatial temporal de-interlacing, inverse telecine, noise reduction, edge enhancement, and color correction will be included.

NVIDIA says PureVideo HD will become available as part of the next ForceWare driver update in "four to six weeks," and that it will require an HDCP-enabled GeForce 7-series graphics card to fully operate. HDCP-enabled cards in the GeForce 7 line already include the MSI NX7600GT-VT2D256E HD and all new GeForce 7950 GX2 models. Cards from other manufacturers including Asus, Leadtek, Albatron, AOpen, Chaintech, and Biostar are also expected to join the party in the future. However, an HDCP-compliant GeForce 7 card won't be all users need to play Blu-ray and HD-DVD media with NVIDIA's technology. Coughing up the cash for a supporting media player such as PowerDVD 6.5, PowerDVD 6.6, Nero ShowTime, WinDVD BD, or WinDVD HD will also be a requirement. And of course, a 5.25" desktop Blu-ray or HD-DVD player like Pioneer's over-$979 BDR-101A will be needed to actually play physical HD media.

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