Besides that pesky little required DRM update, there's a neat trick hiding underneath CyberLink's just-announced new version of its PowerDVD Ultra playback software: it can now unlock the power of NVIDIA's next-gen PureVideo HD VP2 architecture, which gooses Blu-ray and HD DVD playback to the extreme. This means that for the first time, NVIDIA's GeForce 8500/8600 series graphics cards can handle most of the processing for decoding and playing back HD DVD and Blu-ray's 1080p videos. All that number crunching is offloaded to NVIDIA's GPU processor instead of bogging down the PC's CPU.
We saw a demo comparing the difference between the last generation of NVIDIA's PureVideo HD tech used in its 7600 series and this newest PureVideo HD VP2 (video processor 2) inside its 8500 and 8600 series graphics cards rolled out in April. When they unleashed this VP2 beast, were we impressed?
Check out these numbers, which we saw happening with our own eyes. The slowest playback (blue bar on the graph below) was with a Core 2 Duo processor, the dark green bar is with NVIDIA's old PureVideo HD tech, and the bright green bar shows the quickness of PureVideo HD VP2:
There was a big difference. While the old 7600 GeForce cards needed between 62% and 75% of the PC's CPU utilization to play back a Blu-ray disc, with this honkin' PureVideo VP2 processor on board, it only used between 20% and 25% of the CPU utilization. Besides that, the Blu-ray playback was butta-smooth and clean.
This is important. This kind of power will let you do other things with your PC while you're watching Blu-ray or HD DVD movies, such as use your PC as a DVR, recording HDTV shows at the same time. It also means you can buy yourself an $89 graphics card and a $299 Blu-ray drive for your PC, and turn a garden-variety computer into a firebreathing home theater playback machine. As long as your PC has PCI Express, with this NVIDIA card inside and the $99.95 PowerDVD software, it can play back Blu-ray and HD DVD in full 1080p. Of course, you'll also need an HDCP-compliant monitor, or an HDTV set.
NVIDIA tells us there will soon be HDMI versions of its 8500 and 8600 series of graphics cards available (the current version have DVI connectors), so stay tuned, because we're going to be the first ones to put one of those in an old PC we have lying around here, along with one of those $300 Pioneer BDC-2202 Blu-ray drives that's on its way out next month. We'll show and tell you about the experience, right here on the Giz.
Along with this Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra software (or a new version of WinDVD 8, also forthcoming with the ability to hook up with NVidia's VP2), this'll be an efficient way to play back HD DVD and Blu-ray from a PC. Plus, with the lower requirement for CPU power, we'll be able to put a quieter computer in our living rooms. This software just brought us one step closer to practical PCs in the home theater.
PowerDVD Ultra Product Page [Cyberlink]