November 2008 Archives

Sun Nov 30 15:39:58 CST 2008

Message from the Newest nVidia fanboi

I try to avoid fanboi-ism. I'm sure I fail, but this time I know I did. As I write this, I am watching dual hi-def NFL games (split screen). We've been working on shoring up our media situation, and as a side effect, I've been encouraged to get my Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212 working with Myth. This new device has been (and as of writing still is) considered "experimental". I've used the Rube Goldbergish solution proffered by Hauppauge in Vista (but us MythTV fanbois even consider Media Center to be a prehistoric DVR--one set of channels?! Two tuners?! No neural network of distributed recording and watching!? DRM!?!?!?!?!?) I've been told by a friend of mine that the cost of listings outweighs the benefits of Myth. To him, and others like him that actually haven't used a well-running Myth system--us DIY Computer DVR folks consider the $99 for Vista Home Premium part of the "cost" of an Vista MCE system, not worth paying to get less functionality (cuz us DIYers don't pay the Windows tax when we assemble our own computers). And, yes, I've paid the Windows tax on a laptop with Premium, as well as on a DIY XP MCE 2005 system, so I use both. But, I value that friends opinion and choose to disagree without being disagreeable (like a fanboi would).

Back on point. We are looking to replace the cablo gubla and are making sure we will not have too much of a drop in services. If you read 3600 below, you'll see what we are working with now. Granted, most of the time most of our tuners sit idle, but during the Olympics, it was handy to pull in basically all of it, mostly in Hi-Def. The reason our HD-PVR went idle with respect to Myth, was I knew that none of our Myth boxes had a prayer at playing the output. Our main one b-a-r-e-l-y plays MPEG2 HD, and H.264 HD is roughly 30-50% smaller, thus much more complex to decode.

Which brings us to today. On or around November 14, nVidia announced that their VDPAU implementation was available in their beta 180.06 Linux drivers and they had proof-of-concept patches for mplayer. This feature allowed hardware offloading of rendering H.264, VC-1 (select models), MPEG1/2, and WMV3, including de-interlacing. The initial benchmarks were quite impressive--people noted that what once consumed most or all of a core before VDPAU only took 2-5% afterward, meaning all the CPU was doing was filling the card's buffer (and rendering audio if necessary). What this would mean to the Linux community, and of particular note, the MythTV community is HUGE. This means those of us that have been lingering in the P4 or Athlon 64 world (for MPEG2 HD) that saw H.264 only viable as a motherboard + CPU + memory (likely) + Video card (likely) upgrade or (like me) used some sort of UPnP server (or MythTV itself) to share files to devices such as the PS3 for rendering will be able to simply upgrade the video card in said systems to benefit from full H.264 rendering. In a way, this should please the Hauppauge folks, as cheaply rendered H.264 makes their HD-PVR 1212 device very attractive to the Myth crowd. I had to get in the fray and do some testing. Before I had thought about it much, we recently ordered an HD-Homerun to help replace some of our analog tuners that will be much less useful with Myth once there isn't an analog cable feed. There was a combo that gave me a GeForce 9400 GT for basically free. So yesterday, I took my second desktop, scratched its Linux (it's our hackintosh and Windows XP Pro game box), threw on Fedora 10, and used Chris Petersen's help to get Myth SVN compiled, as well as Janne's HD-PVR driver and also the nVidia proof-of-concept version of MPlayer. I first did the benchmarks with MPlayer with some existing H.264 stuff I had. While it was only 3% on one of the cores of my Core 2 Duo 2.13, the video itself had green blocks on about the bottom fifth that was very distracting. I was optimistic, but not too excited about the current state. I went ahead and got the 13.5 Mbps demo HD-PVR file from MythTV and that was impressive! The video rendered perfectly, only using 3% of processor, versus around 70-80 or so without vdpau. This was the video I was looking to have VDPAU-ed! I then got MythTV going and hooked the computer up next to our TV, borrowing the HDMI input and SPDIF input from our PS3, and network cable from the X360. I got a couple recordings last night, some with some bad artifacts due to the DirecTV receiver (it does that on its own on the channel I was using). I still was going to just hold off and wait for things to mature. But, when I got up today, I told that stand-alone Myth to go ahead and record the generic "Red Zone Channel Programming (HD)" for a few hours. As I write this, the piece that started at 1:00 PM is still going strong, looking very good and without the artifacts I got yesterday. I'm even getting the surround audio, all at about 4.7% for mythfrontend. As a comparison, I split screen with QAM MPEG2 on our production Myth, which had several cases of timing out or the old "Error displaying video".

So this has, once again, made me an nVidia fanboi. I intend to put the test box through the paces this week, then will migrate our production system to MythTV SVN (big thanks to Isaac himself who pushed through the Myth implementation of VDPAU). Meanwhile, I will order enough PCI GeForce 8400 and PCIe GeForce 9400 cards to bring the helped rendering to all our "production" frontends. I've been converting our keeper video to H.264, and up until now have been using the PS3 with Mediatomb to play them back, but this means I can get them back to MythVideo, where they belong. Both the PS3 and XBox 360 have many more containers and formats (like Matroska) they don't like than ones they do. I had known that, for the most part of the last several years, nVidia has been more Linux friendly than ATI, certainly they've been providing their drivers for Linux longer. But, when I went shopping for a decent card to do the gaming in aforementioned XP Pro, I chose an ATI card over a similarly priced nVidia one. I've had troubles getting Xv rendering in Linux to work with that, too... So, although AMD's acquisition might help move ATI out of the Windows-only (or Windows-best) domain, for now nVidia has given videophiles and HTPC DIYers a tremendous reason to chose them. And this is only the "proof-of-concept" and alpha patch days..... :)


Posted by james | Permanent link | File under: Geekdom, Sports