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HD content playback will require fast CPU

Blue-laser technologies need serious speed

If you're thinking of using your PC to play high-definition Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD movies then you might have to think again.

While computer drives for both of the blue-laser formats make PC playback a possibility, you'll need to have a high-performance PC to watch most movies. Even then, some movies might not play back smoothly, manufacturers of multimedia playback and burning software suites said at this week's Ceatec show.

HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc allow the use of three compression systems: Mpeg2, VC1 or Mpeg4 AVC. To date, most movies have used the latter but that's the hardest for PCs to process, said Noritaka Baba, a manager at CyberLink. The company produces the Power DVD software and other similar multimedia suites.

CyberLink recommends that consumers have at least an Intel 3.2GHz Pentium D processor, which is one of the fastest processors that Intel makes. For laptop PCs, the company recommends at least a 2GHz Core Duo T2500 processor for playback of Mpeg4 AVC encoded content. Discs using the VC1 codec can be played back with slightly less powerful hardware and Mpeg2 encoded video requires the least amount of processing power, he said.

In a demonstration on the HD-DVD booth at Ceatec, a computer was playing the movie 'Shinobi'. Encoded in Mpeg4 AVC at about 20Mbps (megabits per second) it required about 70 percent of the power of the 3.2GHz Pentium D processor for playback, said Kazutaka Aiso, manager of the OEM sales group at Nero's Japan unit.

He said that of all the software on the market there is one title that won't playback smoothly on a PC. The title, 'Yozakura', was the first HD-DVD movie on the market in Japan and consists of high-definition images of Japanese cherry blossoms. The video on the disc averages around 30Mbps and that's just too much for today's PCs to handle, he said.

CyberLink and InterVideo, which produces the WinDVD software, also reported problems playing that title.

The problems only apply to playback of high-definition video because processing of the video needs to be done in real time. Consumers can get away with much less powerful hardware if they want to burn HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc media - it will simply take longer to complete the task as the processor's computing power drops, said Baba.

The advice of the software makers is borne out by the first computers to feature drives for the new disc formats.

Sony's Vaio L computer, which was launched earlier this week at the show and includes a Blu-ray Disc drive, runs on Core 2 Duo processors running at between 1.73GHz and 2.16GHz. NEC's Valuestar X, which is also based on a Blu-ray Disc drive, runs a 3.4GHz Pentium D processor. And Toshiba's HD-DVD-based Qosmio G30 has a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo processor inside.


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