Building your Own and Final Thoughts

Building your own HD HTPC System

So after all of that, are you ready to build your own HD-DVD or Blu-ray ready home theater PC?  The task is getting easier, but I wouldn’t quite call it easy quite yet.  Independent of what processor platform you choose (Intel or AMD), motherboard or memory, there are a several items you need to have; think about the PureVideo HD logo program.

Graphics cards that support HDCP and have the power to support the PureVideo HD decoding acceleration are what you would want to look for.  HDMI is optional, but not required as DVI outputs can be used on HDMI TVs and monitors as well.  The current list includes cards like:

Next you’ll need to get an HD-DVD drive or a Blu-ray drive, or both!  One of the best parts of getting an HTPC version to play your next-generation DVDs is that you can get one system that will play both if you use two optical drives.  But are any available yet?

Blu-ray drives:

HD-DVD drives:

Okay, so you STILL can’t find HD-DVD drives available online — if any of you come across some, please let me know!  The Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, though an external device that can work on your PC, is a big coup for the HD-DVD camp as it is priced under $200.  Blu-ray drives are much more prevalent but still be prepared to pay more than $600 for the drive itself.

You’ll also need software from CyberLink, Nero or InterVideo to play the HD content as well; and as of today this software is not available in a retail form in the US — though I am told that it should be ready early in 2007.  In the mean time, if you do some searching, you might be able to find a Japanese version of the PowerDVD software for sale by looking in the AVSForum, a great place to find information on home theater equipment of any kind. 

GPU and CPU Performance Metrics

One thing that came up in our talks with NVIDIA about PureVideo HD and the complex hardware acceleration that their GPUs support is the minimum and recommended specifications for both CPU and GPUs.  To clarify this, we should point out that there are two main levels of PureVideo HD support; one that supports all the VC-1 content and one that will do VC-1 and H.264 (the more processing strenuous codec) as well. 

NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology - Is the PC Ready of HD Video? - Graphics Cards 26

The minimum requirements for the GPU for PureVideo HD (shown in the table above) call for a GeForce 7 GPU with a 400 MHz core clock and memory clock and 128MB of memory.  The recommended GPU that will run both VC-1 and H.264 decoding successfully increases the clock speeds of the GPU to 500 MHz for core and memory speeds and doubles the memory to 256MB.  Interestingly, the GPU itself is not the key factor here: a GeForce 7600 will have nearly the same HD-DVD decoding power as a 7900 card if they run at the same core clock frequency.  Clock rate is the most important feature here, though not the only one — the additional pipelines of a 7900 versus a 7600 do help, as does the increased frame buffer, but clock rates are the most vital.  Keeping that in mind, note that just because the PureVideo HD logo is on your graphics card, it might not be enough to get the full H.264 decoding experience, so be sure to check!

The main system processor also comes into play here, and NVIDIA has some recommendations there as well. 

NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology - Is the PC Ready of HD Video? - Graphics Cards 27

There are both recommended and minimum CPUs for each family shown here; interestingly the Pentium 4, the Pentium D 8xx series and Pentium M processors are not recommended for H.264 decoding speeds, even with a recommended GPU with decoding acceleration.  The recommendations for the Pentium D 9xx series and Pentium EE series are pretty high — 3.4 GHz each, making them a poor choice for a cool and quiet HTPC system.  The Athlon 64 X2 series can be run with a 4200+ model or higher and any Core 2 Duo over 1.8 GHz passes their recommended CPU tests as well. 

The system we tested in and used to evaluate PureVideo HD is actually on the edge of the recommended list as it included a Core 2 Duo E6400 and 7600 GT card with a core clock of 540 MHz. 

Final Thoughts

My experiences with NVIDIA’s PureVideo HD technology have been nothing but positive and I am continue to be impressed by NVIDIA’s goal to make HD video and movies easily understandable and accessible to users looking to enter the market.  Their GPUs have more than enough power to aid in the decoding process and off-load the CPU to free it up for other tasks, while maintaining great image quality in all of our viewing.  Their logo process is a step in the right direction as it attempts to give users an easy to use resource in picking or building their own HD-DVD or Blu-ray ready system for their desktop or HTPC.  The prices and availability of some other components like optical drives and playback software are really what is holding us back now, but hopefully those will be addressed by the beginning of the new year and the world of high-definition video can expand further into the home and office.

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Be sure to use our price checking engine to find the best prices on the NVIDIA PureVideo HD GPUs, Blu-ray drives, and anything else you may want to buy!

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