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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  • Midwayman - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - link

    Have you ever seen a 4k display on a uncompressed signal? The clarity is just astounding.

    I'm more concerned about the ability to deliver content with that kind of bandwidth requirements. We already get hdtv signals that are so compressed that they're barely better than a really really good SDTV signal.
  • MobiusStrip - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Most of what you see labeled "HD" (or variants thereof) is marketing bullshit. You're not getting HD when the bitrate is 3 megabits per second, especially when anything on the screen is moving.

    You can blow a VHS picture up to "HD" resolution, and it won't be HD. That's exactly what's happening in most consumer devices today.

    "4K" is rapidly emerging as the next fraud. We'll see the same crap blown up to 3840 x whatever (barely even 4K by any standard), but containing 1K of real resolution if you're lucky.

    The era of increasing quality is over, as consumers prove over and over that they don't care about quality.
  • A5 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    "Otherwise, the Ivy Bridge platform has everything that a HTPC user would ever need."

    I'd like an open-source (or at least) free encoder that supports QuickSync and not having to be picky with my DRAM purchase to use GPU-accelerated decoders before I say that.

    Other than that, it seems to be good enough for the basic HTPC functionality - can't wait for the new i3s and Pentiums to see if the low-end parts are good enough!
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    You can use GPU accelerated decoders even with DDR3-1333 DRAM. You need to go high speed / low latency only if you want rendering through madVR.

    Use QuickSync Decoder or DXVA2 Native in LAV or MPC Video Decoder + EVR-CP to get full decode and rendering acceleration without worry about the DRAM.
  • babgvant - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    DVRMSToolbox (DTB) has included a QS capable transcoding solution for over a year. The main benefit to using it vs. the other retail options is that it supports EDL files during transcoding.

    DTB is FOSS, the QS dlls are just FSS.
  • A5 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Cool stuff. Hadn't heard of your tool before today, I'll make sure to check it out when I get my HDHR Prime from Woot.
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I've experimented with madVR a bit but in the end the problems with playing back DVDs and Blu-rays with menus has so far stopped me from using it seriously. However, I've seen reports claiming that Ivy Bridge includes higher quality upscaling within Windows Media Player (as part of the EVR I suppose). Any evidence of this?
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    You can take a look at the PowerDVD chroma upscaling screenshots linked in the text. I was really surprised at the quality (until I zoomed to 300%, I couldn't actually decipher the difference between PowerDVD and madVR!). Similar behavior with MPC-HC using MPCVideoDec.

    Btw, can you link me to the reports that you mention?
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    This was one of them. I also found a comment from one of the engineers that explained that they were using a higher quality upsampling algorithm too but I can't find it now.
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Andrew @ MissingRemote just refreshed my memory about this post by Eric Gur:

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