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High Definition Integration
High Definition Integration
Integrated Graphics' HD Woes
Integrated graphics solutions have had their primary roles changed over the years from trying to offer decent graphical performance (and failing), to being cost effective convergence platforms in HTPC builds. Then came the whole high definition (HD) era, which again negated the role of integrated graphics in the realm of obsolescence. HDMI became a bigger part of the problem, as well as hardware decoding of new HD video CODECs for Blu-ray and HD DVD content. The biggest players in the game are AMD and NVIDIA, and yet, the chipsets we have today still leave us wanting. The AMD 690G, NVIDIA GeForce 7150 and GeForce 7050 all include basic HDMI/HDCP support, but no hardware H.264/AVC nor proper VC-1 acceleration. They are also lacking in the audio department, being unable to support multi-channel audio over HDMI. These stumbling blocks make the HDMI support on these chipsets seem almost irrelevant (other than just to have a single connection for audio and video) as one cannot really use the onboard IGP as the primary driver for Blu-ray/HD DVD content if you're building a HD HTPC.
Menage a trois
Intel has actually become somewhat of a third party in the scene as they've been continuously improving on their own IGP solutions over the past two years. Their latest Intel G35 chipset for example, beat NVIDIA and AMD to be the first IGP chipset to feature native 8-channel LPCM output via HDMI, but the chipset still has no support for H.264/AVC hardware decoding, and Intel's drivers aren't all that developed yet. So, the search for a proper HTPC platform goes on.
NVIDIA GeForce 8200
In comes the NVIDIA GeForce 8200 mGPU, codenamed MCP78S, the newest integrated graphics chipset to come from the Big Green. Now, before we go on back to topic, the GeForce 8200 is an AMD AM2+ chipset, which makes it the successor to the GeForce 7050 PV/nForce 630a chipset. This time, the GeForce 8200 is a single chip solution, supporting AMD Phenom processors and HyperTransport 3. Specification-wise, the chipset features twelve USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit LAN MAC with NVIDIA FirstPacket technology and HD Audio support. Its MediaShield storage solution offers native support of six SATA 3.0Gbps and two IDE drives. In terms of expansion capability, the chipset is capable of supporting one x16 PCIe 2.0, two PCIe x1 and up to five PCI slots. Besides supporting PCI Express 2.0 for a discrete graphics card, the rest of the features that make up the GeForce 8200 mGPU is pretty much standard for an entry level solution.
As its name implies the GeForce 8200 mGPU is a DirectX 10 compliant graphics chip based on the GeForce 8 architecture, and is fully Windows Vista Premium certified. It has a 500MHz core clock and 16 stream processors running at 1200MHz. The GeForce 8200 will also be NVIDIA's first chipset to bring Hybrid SLI to the table (you can read more about Hybrid SLI in our in-depth article here ).
HD Comes Full Circle, Almost
The true gem of the GeForce 8200 isn't actually is 3D performance or DX10 support, but its video capabilities. The GeForce 8200 will feature a complete PureVideo HD engine, capable of 100% hardware acceleration of MPEG-2, VC-1 and H.264/AVC video streams. NVIDIA's hasn't confirmed which flavor of PureVideo HD powers the GeForce 8200, but it's surely a newer derivative of the VP2 engine that provides full GPU-based HD video decode and acceleration. The chipset also comes with HDMI 1.3a compliance as well as being able to handle multi-channel LPCM audio output through HDMI as well. This makes the GeForce 8200 the first integrated graphics solution to offer a real solution for low cost HTPC replacement that will fully offload all HD decoding to the GPU. Still, it isn't perfect yet. While HDMI 1.3a compliant, the GeForce 8200 doesn't support the new 12 and 16-bit color depths capable of the standard. Also, we understand that the chipset will not support transporting Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio streams via HDMI.
In a nut shell, the GeForce 8200 brings one new technology to the table and upgrades another. Time will tell if Hybrid SLI will really be able to bring merit to the value segment as far as PC gaming performance is concerned, but in the mean time, PureVideo HD and HDMI 1.3a is looking real good for HTPC enthusiasts - if it works as advertised.
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