website hit counter Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD? - Chris Lanier

Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

CableCARD on 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 playback.

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 new Kernel.

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.

Published Wed, Feb 1 2006 17:59 by chrisl


# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

So as long as the OEM is willing to commit the resources and invest in their business with the CableCard licensing issues, Microsoft will communicate openly about Vista hardware configurations and not pull another "Away Mode" situtaion? If so, then the OEM market should continue to thrive with Vista, CableCard and HD/Blu-ray DVD.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 6:48 PM by MikeA

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

As a small Media Center OEM, I can tell you that we have heard nothing official from MS regarding HD-DVD or CableCards. Not from want of trying though, they just refuse to tell us what is going on.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 8:10 PM by Anon

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

FYI, I asked Thomas Hawk (the blogger who attended and reported back from the exclusive dinner with Jim Allchin) to find out the answer to my question by sending an email to his Microsoft contacts -- i.e. Jim Allchin, Sean Alexander, Charlie Owen, etc.

As of yet, NO ONE has responded. But I'll let everyone know once we get word from any of the Microsoft people working on Windows Vista Media Center.

Side note: If what Thomas reported back from Jim Allchin's dinner was incorrect, I think Sean Alexander would have corrected his statements when he linked to his recap of the event (,guid,ac5b9c90-1d7a-4aaf-81a8-b024b1d16628.aspx).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 10:52 PM by Alexander Grundner

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

I talked with a couple of different people at CES and got 2 different scenarios.
1) The whole box must be certified (ie no small oems)
2) The components must be certified

But I do think that Microsoft would like everybody to be able to build cablecard pc's
It is not something they would want to restrict; any resistance is coming from Cablelabs
I discuss it on this weeks show

Thursday, February 02, 2006 2:37 AM by Ian Dixon

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

There are acctually several GPUs that can help decode MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) 1080p. The X1000-series from ATI and the GeForce 6 and 7 series can both decode 1080p material. Some of the cards don't guarantee 1080p playback but with some minor CPU assistance they can. Most of these cards are PCI-Express though but there are some integrated and some for AGP. Both manufacturers have solutions for protected video path too so I think one would be rather safe with one of these cards.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 4:19 AM by Seb

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Seb: The only tests that I have seen are for 720p at lower bitrates with these cards. The card will need to be able to decode 1080i/p MPEG-4 AVC **High Profile**. I'm doubting that any card sold right now with current hardware acceleration could do this. NVIDIA's 7800 GTX can't do 720p AVC without hitting 100% CPU many times over. Trying 1080 in AVC HP will be nothing but a slideshow. ATI's X1800XT does better with 720p, staying under 80%, but again it needs to be able to do 1080 AVC in HP.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 7:39 AM by chrisl

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Chris, are those tests you've seen available on the web anywhere? I'd be really interested in reading through them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 10:35 AM by MattP

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

ExtremeTech just did some testing using Nero Digital AVC encodes at 720p (checkout there homepage). I didn't download any of them to see what profile or bitrate, but the profile will likely not High, and the bitrate is likely a lot lower than what will be used in HD DVD/Blu-ray encodes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 10:49 AM by chrisl

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Two comments,

1. Glad to here I'm not the only one who is working with a small OEM and getting zero information from MS about future technology.

2. Chris, the 7-series is supposed to be able to decode H.264 1080p just fine. According to various CES coverage NVIDIA was showing HD-DVD content being decoded on a GeForce 6600GT.

and again with a 7800 GO in a Toshiba laptop

Thursday, February 02, 2006 5:04 PM by SpHeRe31459

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Thanks SpHeRe. It will be interesting to see what the performance is once released for the 6600GT. While it decodes the content using under 50% of the CPU, it is using a Pentium D 830. Which is a 3.0GHz, Dual Core chip IIRC. Likely means for most that a new processor would be needed for get smooth playback.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 6:03 PM by chrisl

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Trust me I'll be testing H.264 on all the 6 and 7 series GPUs I can get my hands on when the drivers are released.

Now honestly we all know H.264 is a demanding codec. You aren't realistically going to play 1080p H.264 content on like a P4 2Ghz.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 6:15 PM by SpHeRe31459

# re: Hardware Upgrades For HD DVD/Blu-ray/CableCARD?

Can't wait to see the results! =)

H.264 is a very demanding codec, and even more so at least 12Mbps, 1920x1080p24 in HP which is (I hope) the lowest bitrate we should see for AVC based HD DVD/Blu-ray! :)

Thursday, February 02, 2006 6:28 PM by chrisl