While we have had our hands on HDCP capable video cards for over a month, we haven't been able to really test our hardware with HDCP protected content. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drives are both scarce and expensive, and a good variety of content is tough to find. Fortunately, NVIDIA and CyberLink are touring the world showing off what they can do when a PC with a PureVideo graphics card and an HD-DVD player get together with some Japanese imports for a little fun.
At this point, it is fair to say that no PC capable of playing back an HD-DVD or a BD at full resolution will be without a graphics card capable of accelerating some portion of the decode process. All of the graphics cards we have seen with real HDCP support (including the ROM and keys required) will feature NVIDIA's PureVideo HD or ATI's AVIVO. While this is, of course, a selling point from both NVIDIA and ATI's side, offloading processing from the CPU happens to be a necessity on lower end hardware. Our perspective on video decode acceleration for graphics cards that support HDCP has shifted to the point where we now feel CPU offloading is a requirement.
With DVDs, the debate over GPU acceleration had to do with lowering power consumption. At this point, with higher resolutions, processing requirements, and content protection, power isn't a priority yet. Our tests will show that PureVideo is more of a resource shift that draws the same amount of power rather than a feature that will enable mobility. It will still be some time before we see a notebook capable of playing an entire HD-DVD or BD movie at resolution on one charge.
All of the parts that made this demo work are still in beta, from the CyberLink player to the NVIDIA drivers used. While PureVideo HD is capable of accelerating high def video files, this new driver is the first that allows PureVideo HD to be used on HDCP protected content. These capabilities should be enabled in a ForceWare driver release sometime near the end of July or the beginning of August.
CyberLink should also start selling their HD-DVD player on store shelves in Q3. Curiously, player vendors seem to be releasing different versions of their software for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. As both media formats are capable of holding data compressed with multiple (and overlapping) encoding schemes, there shouldn't be much difference in the players. Hopefully CyberLink, InterVideo, et al, will merge their player versions at some point in the future, but we aren't sure of the technical reasons that might have required this initial move.
We are taking a first look at HD-DVD playback on the PC with NVIDIA's PureVideo HD and CyberLink's player. The questions we want to answer are: what can early adopters of HD content expect in general, and what kind of performance does PureVideo HD offer? First, lets take a look at what exactly PureVideo HD does.