Is Your PC High Definition DVD Ready?Original Page URL: http://www.digital-digest.com/articles/PC_Blu-ray_HD_DVD_Ready_page1.html
Date Added: Jun 8, 2007
Date Updated: Jun 8, 2007
Last year, I wrote the guide Is your computer fast enough for high definition DVD playback? trying to see, at that time with the limited information back then, what kind of computer can play back high definition DVD content. That article concentrated more on the theoretical CPU/performance side of things based on H.264 playback, but this article will concentrate on real world requirements now that more information is available.
This article will go through the hardware and software requirements to achieve Blu-ray and HD DVD playback on your (Windows XP) PC. With the state of things as they are, there is a good chance that even if you match or exceed all the requirements listed, you might still not achieve Blu-ray/HD DVD playback or at least perfect playback. A lot of this is due to early adopter issues, such as software incompatibility/efficiency, and a lot of it has to do with the confusing state of the various layers of copy protection that has been forced upon the high definition formats. It is wise to keep this in mind when reading this article.
Since it is still relatively early days for Blu-ray and HD DVD playback on PCs, the first version of this guide will not be very complete in any sense of the word. Instead, it will be updated in time and more and more information will be added as it is made available.
Software you'll need:
Hardware you'll need:
Playing back Blu-ray or HD DVD requires a lot of computing power. Blu-ray discs (BDs) that uses MPEG-2 (most of the earlier BD releases) will require less CPU cycles, while the BDs/HD DVDs that uses VC-1 or H.264 will stress even the latest CPUs (especially H.264). Then you have your graphics card, which can provide accelerated decoding. And of course, you'll need a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive to be able to read the movie in the first place.
Before we go into detail about what's required, there is actually a tool you can download and run which will test your current system for Blu-ray and HD DVD compatibility. Download and install the CyberLink BD / HD Advisor. Run it and you will be presented with two options - one to test Blu-ray compatibility and another to test HD DVD compatibility. Run the test and you should get the results fairly quickly.
If all of the tests show a "green" light, then you have a very good chance of playing back a Blu-ray or HD DVD movie on your system. The only thing that is slightly misleading might be the CPU test, because it will often return a "yellow light" (needs upgrade) even though the CPU should be fast enough.
The new version of WinDVD, WinDVD 9, also now adds Blu-ray and HD DVD playback. And it also comes with a similar tool called the WinDVD High-Definition Advisor Tool. It is a very similar tool to the CyberLink BD / HD Advisor, except it will test for WinDVD compatibility rather than PowerDVD Ultra compatibility.
We will now go through the individual computer component requirements one by one:
Generally speaking, any dual-core or better part will be good enough. This means Pentium D or Athlon 64 X2 as minimum requirements for acceptable performance. The full list of CPUs that are recommended for PowerDVD Ultra can be found here. A similar list of system requirements for WinDVD 9 Plus Blu-ray can be found here. It is worth noting that with video acceleration (see below), the CPU requirements drop dramatically.
1GB or better is what you need - you might get by on 512MB in Windows XP, but it is not recommended. 2GB or more on Vista is recommended.
This is where things get a bit tricky. There are actually 2 different set of requirements for graphics cards. The first is the most important: HDCP output compatibility. HDCP is a copy protection system designed to protect the digital pathway between your graphics card and your monitor. Both your graphics card and your monitor must support HDCP if you are using a DVI or HDMI connection, in order for a full resolution picture to show up (generally, a HDMI connection includes HDCP support). Otherwise, you have to use a VGA connection path (eg. using a DVI to VGA connector) and have the playback resolution reduced. Notebooks with internal paths are exempt from HDCP. The CyberLink/WinDVD advisor tools should tell you whether you are connected using a HDCP compatible pathway ("Video Connection Type").
PowerDVD Ultra requires fairly new GPUs to be present before it would even run, regardless of HDCP support, VGA output or otherwise. WinDVD is a bit more forgiving, and older cards will run as long as it has full HDCP support through DVI output or if you connect using a VGA cable.
The second requirement is technically optional, but you may find that playback will suffer quite a bit if you don't have it. Decoding acceleration will take some of the load off your CPU and shift it onto your GPU - the CPU usage can decrease from a constant 100% to a more manageable 10 to 30%. ATI cards that have AVIVO HD (ATI Radeon HD 2x00 range) and NVIDIA cards with PureVideo HD will benefit most from the acceleration. Below is a list of cards that is recommended (according to Cyberlink), but we've highlighted our recommended ones (the ones in bold are likely to have HDCP, the ones in underlined come in both HDCP and non-HDCP flavours so you need to check with the manufacturer, and the rest are unlikely to have HDCP except for a few specific models):
Please note that you will still have to satisfy the HDCP requirements even if your card is one of the cards listed above - it is up to the card's manufacturer (not the GPU chipset manufacturer) to put in HDCP hardware, so check your video card's manufacturer's website for more information. Also note that PowerDVD Ultra does not like any ATI cards that are not listed above, even if they offer no difference in playback performance to the minimum listed card - so for those with ATI X800, for example, you will most likely get an error about incompatible graphic drivers in the Cyberlink BD / HD Advisor (and a similar message when you try playback in PowerDVD Ultra).
If your monitor is connected digitally (DVI or HDMI), then you will need to ensure your monitor is HDCP compliant as well. Generally, if you monitor has HDMI inputs, it should support HDCP because HDCP is mandatory for HDMI.
The second requirement for your monitor is the supported resolution. To get the best out of high definition DVD, you need a display that is capable of at least 1920 x 1080 resolution, as this is the native resolution of high definition films. The picture will still look good on monitors that have lower resolutions, but you won't be seeing the full resolution.
The CyberLink BD / HD Advisor does not test your sound device. While you will be able to listen to high definition movies using only a set of stereo speakers or a headphone, to get the best out of it, you need to invest in a 7.1 audio system. A modern HD onboard audio will work fine with 7.1 output, an 7.1 audio card is even better as DSP can be done on the card, as opposed to your CPU.
Blu-ray / HD DVD Drive
And of course, you will need to be able to read the Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, and this requires a drive that is capable of at least reading Blu-ray or HD DVD discs. Your DVD-ROM drive will simply not work. One of the cheaper alternatives to buying a dedicated HD DVD drive is to buy the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive. This drive enables HD DVD playback for your Xbox 360, but not only that, it doubles as an external HD DVD/DVD reader drive for your computer (compatible with Windows XP/Vista, and Mac OS if you can find a HD DVD player software for it). You can read our guide on Setting up the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive under Windows XP.
As recommended by Cyberlink, you will need NVIDIA ForceWare drivers later than version 93.71 and ATI Catalyst drivers later than version 6.7 in order to ensure compatibility with PowerDVD Ultra for Blu-ray or HD DVD playback. It is worth keeping an eye on this thread @ AVS Forum, since there are certain combinations of drivers that will work best with PowerDVD Ultra. But the general rule is to get the latest drivers, which will work better with PowerDVD Ultra or WinDVD.
When this guide was first wrote, there was really only one commercially available product to playback Blu-ray and HD DVD movies, PowerDVD Ultra. Since then, several alternatives have popped up, including PowerDVD's main competitor, WinDVD. WinDVD 9 Plus Blu-ray adds both Blu-ray and HD DVD playback, and rivals PowerDVD Ultra in terms of support (both now support Blu-ray Profile 1.1).
There has also been some favourable views on Arcsoft Totalmedia Theatre, which also supports both Blu-ray and HD DVD playback, and it comes with a 15 day trial version so you can test it out for yourself!
So that's it for now. More information will be added to the guide as it becomes available. While Blu-ray and HD DVD playback should already be possible for some people, hopefully Blu-ray and HD DVD playback will become less simple as better hardware and more software become available.
Got more questions? Post them in our High Definition DVD Forum and get them answered by other expert users.
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