HTPC enthusiasts are often concerned about the quality of pictures output by the system. While this is a very subjective metric, we have been taking as much of an objective approach as possible. We have been using the HQV 2.0 benchmark in our HTPC reviews to identify the GPUs' video post processing capabilities. The HQV benchmarking procedure has been heavily promoted by AMD, and Intel also seems to be putting its weight behind that.

The control panel for the Ivy Bridge GPU has a number of interesting video post processing control knobs which earlier drivers lacked. The most interesting of these is the ability to perform noise reduction on a per-channel basis, i.e, only for luma or for both luma and chroma. More options are always good for consumers, and the interface makes it simple enough to leave the decision making to the drivers or the application. An explicit skin tone correction option is also available.

HQV scores need to be taken with a grain of salt. In particular, one must check the tests where the GPU lost out points. In case those tests don't reflect the reader's usage scenario, the handicap can probably be ignored. So, it is essential that the scores for each test be compared, rather than just the total value.

The HQV 2.0 test suite consists of 39 different streams divided into 4 different classes. For the Ivy Bridge HTPC, we used Cyberlink PowerDVD 12 with TrueTheater disabled and hardware acceleration enabled for playing back the HQV streams. The playback device was assigned scores for each, depending on how well it played the stream. Each test was repeated multiple times to ensure that the correct score was assigned. The scoring details are available in the testing guide from HQV.

Blu-rays are usually mastered very carefully. Any video post processing (other than deinterlacing) which needs to be done is handled before burning it in. In this context, we don't think it is a great idea to run the HQV benchmark videos off the disc. Instead, we play the streams after copying them over to the hard disk. How does the score compare to what was obtained by the Sandy Bridge and Llano at launch?

In the table below, we indicate the maximum score possible for each test, and how much each GPU was able to get. The HD3000 is from the Core i5-2520M with the Intel drivers. The AMD 6550D was tested with Catalyst 11.6, driver version 8.862 RC1 and the HD4000 with driver version

HQV 2.0 Benchmark
Test Class Chapter Tests Max. Score Intel HD3000 AMD 6550D (Local file) Intel HD4000
Video Conversion Video Resolution Dial 5 5 4 5
Dial with Static Pattern 5 5 5 5
Gray Bars 5 5 5 5
Violin 5 5 5 5
Film Resolution Stadium 2:2 5 5 5 5
Stadium 3:2 5 5 5 5
Overlay On Film Horizontal Text Scroll 5 3 5 3
Vertical Text Scroll 5 5 5 5
Cadence Response Time Transition to 3:2 Lock 5 5 5 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 5 5 5 5
Multi-Cadence 2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 5 5
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video 5 5 5 5
3:2:3:2:2 24 FPS Vari-Speed 5 5 5 5
5:5 12 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5
6:4 12 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5
8:7 8 FPS Animation 5 5 5 5
Color Upsampling Errors Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP) 5 2 2 5
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE) 5 2 2 5
Noise and Artifact Reduction Random Noise SailBoat 5 5 5 5
Flower 5 5 5 5
Sunrise 5 5 5 5
Harbour Night 5 5 5 5
Compression Artifacts Scrolling Text 5 3 3 5
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 5
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 5
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 5
Upscaled Compression Artifacts Text Pattern 5 3 3 3
Roller Coaster 5 3 3 3
Ferris Wheel 5 3 3 3
Bridge Traffic 5 3 3 3
Image Scaling and Enhancements Scaling and Filtering Luminance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5
Chrominance Frequency Bands 5 5 5 5
Vanishing Text 5 5 5 5
Resolution Enhancement Brook, Mountain, Flower, Hair, Wood 15 15 15 15
Video Conversion Contrast Enhancement Theme Park 5 5 5 5
Driftwood 5 5 5 5
Beach at Dusk 5 2 5 5
White and Black Cats 5 5 5 5
Skin Tone Correction Skin Tones 10 0 7 7
    Total Score 210 173 184 197

A look at the above table reveals that Intel has caught up with the competition in terms of HQV scores. In fact, they have comfortably surpassed what the Llano got at launch time. Many of the driver problems plaguing AMD's GPUs hadn't been fixed when we looked at the AMD 7750 a couple of months back, so it is likely that the Llano's scores have not budged much from what we have above. In fact, the score of 197 ties with what we obtained for the 6570 during our discrete HTPC GPU shootout.

Testbed and Software Setup Video Post Processing in Action
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  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Well found! So nothing new in Ivy Bridge then...
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Also, when we are complaining about 23.976Hz versus something like 23.972 how can you be sure that your measurement is accurate? I would think that for most HTPC users the important thing is that the video clock and audio clock are derived from a common clock. Is there some way you can check for this? I'm also interested to know if automatic lip-sync over HDMI is working properly - it doesn't seem to work on my AMD E-450.
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Whether the clock is accurate or not, what matters it the number of frames dropped or repeated by the renderer because of this. madVR clearly indicates this in the Statistics.

    Yes, you are right about video and audio clock derived from a common clock, but I am not sure on how to check for this.

    Does lip sync not work for you on E-450, but does work on some other machine? I have played with the e-450 only briefly in the Zotac Zbox Nano XS, and I did watch one movie completely. I didn't have lip sync issues to warrant digging in further.. I do agree my sample set is extremely small.
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I agree that what matters is dropped frames. I'm not absolutely sure how madVR decides when to drop frames. As I see it there are four options

    1) lock playback to the video clock and drop or repeat audio frames
    2) lock playback to the audio clock and drop or repeat video frames
    3) lock playback to the video clock and resample the audio
    4) lock playback to some other clock (maybe the processor clock) and drop or repeat both video and audio frames.

    My guess its probably doing 2 which would make the reported dropped frames a good measurement. If it was doing 1 or 3 then it wouldn't drop frames. If its doing 4 then I'd argue that its a faulty renderer.

    Regarding the lip sync its difficult to be very scientific about it because I don't have any suitable test material. My TV definitely introduces a significant delay and for some reason I haven't had much luck correcting it with manual adjustment on my AV receiver. Maybe it varies with frame rate or maybe the delay is outside the range I can set manually. When I enable automatic lip sync it does seem to correct things for the set top box and standalone DVD player but for my E-450 (an ASUS mini-ITX motherboard) it seems to be way off. Its quite possible its a bug in PowerDVD or that it depends on the format of the audio track or I don't know what else.

    I do have machines that I could try but it would really help to have some test material in a range of frame rates and audio formats.
  • ghost6007 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    This article is great commentary on the video aspects of an Intel HTPC setup however nowhere on either the processor discussions or the Z77 motherboard articles was any attempt made to actually review the audio portions of HTPC setups which is still a major part of any Home Theater.

    IMO if you want a complete comprehensive look at HTPC capabilities of any platform addressing such things as audio decoding, audio pass through over HDMI and audio quality are a must until then it is not a complete review.
  • ganeshts - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    HDMI Audio Passthrough has now become a 'commodity' feature. It is an issue in only media players now.

    Yes, I agree there are some other audio tests that could be done, but we had to operate within time constraints. I apologize for the same.
  • ghost6007 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I hope you guys do a more comprehensive review once these chips are available via retail or even a Ivy Bridge HTPC build.

    This new platform seems like an excellent candidate for a powerful low power/noise HTPC setup.
  • Southernsharky - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Has there been some kind of study on HTPC users to find out what the average is?

    To me the big problem with this article is that it makes too many assumptions, the biggest of which is that we are all just watching videos on our tv.

    I do recognize that there is a market for that, but I'm sure that I speak for most of us when I say that I hope that is just the beginning of the HTPC and not the goal.

    When an integrated GPU can game at 1080p (or hopefully better... let me know. Until then my own "HTPC" will have a graphics card.
  • aliasfox - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I kind of have to agree. video/audio playback maybe the *primary* function, but as my HTPC is hooked up to the biggest screen in the apartment, I wouldn't mind throwing the odd game on there.

    My current HTPC does (very) light gaming, overnight video transcoding, light photoshop, and the (very rare) video edit. Oh, and it plays video and audio. Please don't ask what it is.
  • Marlin1975 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Why are you testing with a HD4000? The 4000 only comes in the higher and more costly chips? Most lowwer/Mid Ivy chips will use HD2500 video.
    The price differance is enough to buy a cheaper chip and get a full sep. video card that has its own memory, or wait for Trinity.

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