Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?
Windows Vista Will Require "Certified" Hardware (eHomeUpgrade) | Alexander
Grundner did a post on the CableCARD story (which might not be
exactly right) and in the process asked the question “Now what about Blu-ray and HD-DVD premium movie playback? Will
consumers also be required to buy a PC with "protected path" hardware
from an OEM, or will home builders be able to get trusted "Designed for
Windows Vista" PC components off the
shelf?” Now, first I don’t know for
sure if the report from Allchin about OEMs having to submit PCs to CableLabs for
testing is true. Both Jim Allchin and
Sean Alexander have said that it’s what CableLabs wants, AnandTech and ATI have slightly
different opinions from Jim & Sean saying that the system using CableCARDs
must meet a bar which has basically been set by CableLabs and agreed upon by
Microsoft. Microsoft would publish a
hardware/software list needed for CableCARD to work with Vista Media
Center. The latter is how I pictured it working from
the start and is most likely how it will work for HD DVD/Blu-ray playback.
There is no doubt
that HD DVD/Blu-ray playback on the PC will make use of Protected Media Path,
or PMP. Protected Media Path is a
collection of technologies including Protected Video Path (PVP). I’m assuming that CableCARD will also take
advantage of PMP, if not CableLabs just wants to let the content get cracked
wide open. I have heard that most of PMP
can actually be done in software (in Windows Vista only) and not in “special”
hardware but there are still some things to think here.
There are currently
no GPUs on the market that can decode 1920x1080 MPEG-4 AVC. This is a huge problem since both HD DVD and
Blu-ray include MPEG-4 AVC in there specs.
Content owners are free to use MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1, or MPEG-2. If you purchase a HD DVD using MPEG-4 AVC,
your machine needs to be able to decode it in order to play it. Also, for full resolution output HDMI/HDCP
will need to be supported. ATI has just
licensed HDMI for use in some of their products, yet to be seen which ones. So, you need a new GPU for HD DVD/Blu-ray
At this point, any
new GPU that can decode something like MPEG-4 AVC @ 1080p is going to be PCI
Express. If you’re current motherboard
doesn’t support PCI Express x16, you’ll likely need a new motherboard in order
to be able to purchase a GPU that is capable of decoding these codec’s. I don’t know for sure if a motherboard will
need to be “special” or not. Assuming
AACS approves Vista’s Kernel changes and PMP,
you will likely not need a “special” motherboard/processor. You will however want a fast processor (my
guess is at least 3.2GHz and up) for playback unless GPUs add a ton of hardware
acceleration. So, you might just need
(want) a new CPU too.
I know that
Microsoft isn’t going to support HD DVD playback on Windows XP at all. So, you’re going to need Windows Vista for
sure if you are going to use a Microsoft HD DVD playback solution. Companies like Cyberlink, InterVideo, or
NVIDIA might try and make a software solution for Windows XP, however those
solutions would have to be approved by AACS.
Blu-ray playback might get interesting on the PC, hopefully the BDA will
decided to release information on what’s need for BD+ soon. The hope is that it’s not too much hardware
based, since Microsoft isn’t building any BD+ support into Vista’s
You’re also going to need either a HD DVD or Blu-ray drive,
whichever you like. At the start, I’m
going to guess they will retail for >$400 upon launch.
At this point most users will either want to build a
whole new machine or purchase an OEM machine since many users will have extreme
upgrades in order to just get video decoded on their system. I would assume come Windows Vista all shipping system from
the big OEMs will have hardware that is cool with HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD and
I hope Microsoft doesn’t hide all of this information from smaller
OEMs. Since most of the hardware you will need
really can’t be purchased as of today, I would suggest just waiting it out for
a bit to see what comes up as the formats progress.