The ability to cram in more and more transistors in a die has made it possible to have both the CPU and GPU in the same silicon. Intel's GPUs have traditionally catered to the entry-level consumers, and have often been deemed good enough for basic HTPC use. AMD introduced their own CPU + GPU combination in the Llano series last year. While AMD does have a better GPU architecture in-house, they could not integrate their best possible GPU for fear of cannibalizing their mid-range GPU sales. The result was that Llano, while being pretty decent for HTPC use, didn't excite us enough to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Today, Intel is taking on AMD's Llano with a revamped integrated GPU. We have traditionally not been kind to Intel in our HTPC reviews because of the lack of proper drivers and open source software support. Things took a turn for the better with Sandy Bridge. One of Intel's engineers took it upon himself to bring reliable hardware decoding support on Intel platforms with the QuickSync decoder.

As a tech journalist in the HTPC space, I spend quite a bit of time on forums such as Doom9 and AVSForum where end-users and developers interact with each other. The proactive nature of the QuickSync developer in interacting with the end-users was something sorely lacking from Intel's side previously. We have seen various driver issues getting quashed over the last few releases, thanks to the new avenue of communication between Intel and the consumers.

With Ivy Bridge, we are getting a brand new GPU with more capabilities. Given the recent driver development history, even advanced HTPC users could be pardoned for thinking that Ivy Bridge would make a discrete HTPC GPU redundant. Video post processing quality is subjective, but that shouldn't prevent us from presenting pictorial results for readers to judge. One of the most talked about issues with the Intel GPU for HTPC purposes is the lack of proper 23.976 Hz display refresh rate support. Does this get solved in Ivy Bridge?

In this review, we present our experience with Ivy Bridge as a HTPC platform using a Core i7-3770K (with Intel HD Graphics 4000). In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we have the results from the HQV 2.0 benchmark and some pictorial evidence of the capabilities of the GPU drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities (Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight performance). In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • MGSsancho - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    While I agree with most everything there is something I would like to nit pick on, While making a digital copy of old film in what ever format you use, more often than not a lot of touching up needs to be done. Wizard of OZ and all the 007 films can be an example. (I am ignoring the remastering of Star Wars and Lucas deciding to add in 'features' vs giving us a cleaned up remaster sans bonuses.) Still when your spending millions in remaster I expect at least not muddy the entire thing up.

    However I feel we need to bring in higher bitrates first. I will not apologize over this, yes encoders are great but a 4mbs 1080p stream still is not as good as nice as a 20mb-60mb vbr blu-ray film The feeling that a craptastic 4k or even 2k bitrate will ruin the expedience for the non informed. Also notice I am ignore an entire difference debate whether the current can candle true HD streaming to every household, at least in the US.
  • nathanddrews - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Higher bit rates will be inherent with 4K or 2K over 1080p, but bit rates aren't the be all end all. 4K will likely use HVEC H.265 which offers double the compression with better quality than H.264.

    Fixing scratches, tears, or other issues with film elements should never be a reason for mass application of filtering.
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    H.264 doesn't even offer 2x the compression over Mpeg 2. I doubt H.265 offers 2x over 264.

    "This means that the HEVC codec can achieve the same quality as H.264 with a bitrate saving of around 39-44%."

  • Casper42 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I LOL'd at "Walmart Black Friday" Nathan :)

    And for the OP, 32", really?
    Its completely understandable you don't see the difference on a screen that size.
    Step up to a 60" screen and then go compare 720p to 1080p (who uses 1080i anymore, oh thats right, crappy 32" LCDs. Don't get me wrong, I own 2, but they go in the bedroom and my office, not my Family Room.)

    I think 60" +/- 5" is pretty much the norm now a days for the average middle class family's main movie watching TV.
  • anirudhs - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Cable TV maxes out at 1080i ( I have Time Warner). My TV can do 1080P.
  • nathanddrews - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    1080i @ 60 fields per second when deinterlaced is the same as 1080p @ 30 fields per second. The picture quality is almost entirely dependent upon your display's ability to deinterlace. However, cable TV is generally of a lower bit rate than OTA or satellite.
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Yea but because of shimmering effects progressive images almost always looks better.

    If the video is 2:2 or 3:2 many tv's can build the frame in to a progressive image anymore.
  • Exodite - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    In the US, possibly, but I dare say 55-60" TVs are far from the norm everywhere.
  • peterfares - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    2560x 27" and 30" monitors are NOT very pixel dense. 27" is slightly more dense (~12.5% more dense) than the standard display but the 30" is only about 4% more dense than a standard display

    a 1920x1080 13.3" display is 71.88% more dense than a standard display.
  • dcaxax - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    On a 32" you will certainly not see a difference between 720p and 1080p - it is barely visible on a 40". Once you go to 52"+ however the difference becomes visible.

    On a 61" screen as you suggest the difference will be quite visible.

    Having said that I am still very happy with the Quality of properly mastered DVD's which are only 576p on my 47" TV.

    It's not that I can't tell the difference, its just that it doesn't matter to me that much, which is why I also don't bother with MadVR and all that, and just stick to Windows Media Center for my HTPC.

    Everyone's priorities are different.

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