It is time for HTPC enthusiasts to rejoice! Videolan announced the availability of VLC 1.1.0 a couple of days back. VLC's popularity soared in the mid-2000s when standard definition videos were all the craze, and CPUs were powerful enough to easily decode them. Over the last few years, many people have built up a big library of high definition videos, and one of the complaints against VLC was the fact that all the inbuilt codecs relied completely on the CPU horsepower for decoding. Even the most powerful modern day multi-core processors have trouble decoding HD videos [Clarification: 'trouble' with CPU decoding might mean dropped frames, stutters, sudden spikes in CPU usage and kicking in of the CPU fan etc. These are more noticeable in single threaded decoder implementations].

HTPC users with GPUs capable of accelerating HD video decode initially relied on the bundled software (from Cyberlink / ArcSoft / Corel). However, the bloatware and container restrictions imposed by these players led enthusiasts to other open source projects such as Media Player Classic - Home Cinema (MPC-HC). These tapped into the GPU capabilities using DXVA / DXVA2 APIs on Windows and VAAPI on Linux. The extent of support provided in these APIs depended on the GPU vendor. Historically, Nvidia has provided much better support than ATI, while Intel was lagging behind for quite some time till late last year. This is evident from one of the popular blog posts used as a reference by people wanting to get DXVA working on their GPUs. Users of MPC-HC also had to deal with external codec packs such as CCCP. In addition, a large number of options had to be set up correctly in order to get GPU decoding to work. There was an urgent need for the big player in this space to come to the party, and Videolan has done that exactly with the 1.1.0 release of the VLC Media Player.

However, all is not well yet in VLC land. Videolan supplied the caveat that the experimental GPU acceleration would work only on Nvidia GPUs as of now. They cited troubles with the ATI drivers and the lack of access to a Intel IGP as the reason for not being able to support non-Nvidia platforms with confidence. With a core developer team of just 5 people, coupled with the fact that most of them are not Windows developers, it is hard to find fault with that reasoning.

At the end of our testing, we found out some unexpected good things. However, there was some disappointment as well. Before going into the details, let us take a look at the test bed and test suite we used for the analysis.

Testing Methodology
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  • Boofster - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    Not sure if it was mentioned but the K-Lite pack is by far the best I've used. It handles everything and is updated to the latest patches.

    I've also had great results with ffdshow from afterdawn but that ended with Windows 7.

    CCCP + VLC was also just fine. No hardware GPU love for us ATI 5xxx traitors.

    But K-Lite from with MPC-HC definitely trumps all.
  • larson0699 - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    Thank you. I've used KLCP+MPC since its inception with no trouble whatsoever, whether as a RunOnceEx-initiated install on a fresh OS or clients' existing junk configs (common sense -- look for, uninstall, and reg-clean the previous 1 or 2 codecs first). I'd experimented with other codec packs (Nimo was a common one years back) and VLC and always came back to the tried and true.

    The later versions of the pack are so dependent on ffdshow (in default install), however, that I'm considering using just ffdshow herein.
  • Stuka87 - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    Hopefully they get a Mac port with the support out. As I use a Mac Mini as my HTPC. Although it would also need to support ATI or an Intel GMA (I have an old G4 Mini and an Intel).

    But its certainly a step in the right direction getting it working at all.
  • knowom - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    This is why Nvidia has a better reputation from a driver and software standpoint over the competition it's like trying to compare x86 to ARM there's a reason x86 is preferable from a performance and usability standpoint.
  • 0roo0roo - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    if you time stretch videos for some reason the vlc implementation of audio pitch adjustment is just not as clear as say gomplayers. it does cost a few dollars but coreavc's gpu acceleration works without a hitch right now, and with gom you can speed crank videos at your pleasure, using gpu accel on or off. vlc's problems are that its half baked in so many ways that its just a fall back player for me. it plays dvds well, i'll give it that.
  • ganeshts - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    True, it takes a jack of all trades master of none approach. Seems to have worked well so far, except that they now have some serious catching up to do with the rest of the media players :)
  • mojtabaalemi - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    no idea about GPU Accelerarion on VLC but in CPU decode its one of lightest softwares i have seen ever . i could play some video files containing DVDRIPs and even 1080i mpeg videos on a vaio p serie with a poor z520 1.33GHz intel atom while any other player and codecs but coreavc were unable .
    so except for h264i will go for VLC on atom .
  • Rsaeire - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    I've been using MPC-HC, and MPC before that, for years now. MPC-HC is easily the best media player currently available as it plays DVD, mkv, DivX, Xvid, Blu-ray etc without the need for additional codecs. In addition, it even plays HD DVD, albeit with a little codec assistance. As such, it plays pretty much all the main media containers and codecs with ease and supports full GPU hardware acceleration of all HD codecs.

    As for the several users commenting on deinterlacing which such gems as it being a "legacy concept" or that "DVDs and Blu-Ray are not interlaced", I guess they need to do a bit more research regarding both video formats, as there is still content stored on both formats that is interlaced. If there wasn't, then why is deinterlacing such a big topic? You just need to check out the numerous posts on AVSForums or have a look at ATI's CCC to see the numerous deinterlacing options available, e.g. Weave, Bob, Adaptive, Motion adaptive, Vector Adaptive. I doubt that ATI would waste any time on providing so many different deinterlacing options for something that is "not important in the modern world".
  • vfigueira - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    I have an Asus 1201N.
    The inicial install of windows 7, came with arcsoft, wich reads hd content smoth and with low cpu usage.
    The problem with that player are using srt subtitles and usability.
    I`m using "Gomplayer" with "K-lite 5.7.5 Full" codecs, means that i`m not using built in codecs. I`ve been using previous versions of both, and the experience is pleasant, except for view dvd. Don`t recomend for dvd`s.

    While reading this article i instaled both vlc and mcp-hc.

    I made several tests using "" form Avatar.

    CPU USAGE during playback min and max;
    Gomplayer - 17/49 average 32
    Arcsoft - 09/36 average 14
    vlc without hardware aceleration - 16/33 average 25
    vlc with hardware aceleration - 13/28 average 16
    windows media player - reads with 50 to 80 % of cpu usage, but is not smoth. not viewable
    wmp classic hc - not smoth, high cpu usage

    So, vlc is not bad, but i will stick with gomplayer using k-lite full

    Sorry my english
  • mojtabaalemi - Sunday, June 27, 2010 - link

    as you have 1201N?
    is it satisfying?
    how long is battery life?
    dual core atom 330 power?
    and about mpc-hc : try a new version .

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