Over the last two years, the launch of every major desktop CPU family from both AMD and Intel has been accompanied by a dedicated HTPC-oriented article. This coverage has been complementary to Anand's extensive analysis from a general computing perspective. Haswell will be no different.  The advancements made from Llano to Trinity and from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge had rendered entry level platforms good enough for casual / mainstream HTPC users. Advanced users still require discrete GPUs for using some video renderers and obtaining accurate display refresh rates. Each vendor has their own quirks when it comes to driver features and stability. This has made it difficult to declare any one solution as the perfect HTPC platform. Intel has hyped up improved GPU performance in the lead up to Haswell.

Has Intel improved the GPU performance and video-centric features enough to make discrete GPUs redundant for HTPCs? More importantly, how much of an improvement do we have over the HD4000 in Ivy Bridge? This question will be looked at from multiple angles in the course of this review. We will determine whether the shortcomings of Ivy Bridge (rendering benchmarks and refresh rate support, primarily) have been addressed. Also of importance are the HTPC configuration options, stability and power efficiency.

In this review, we present our experience with low-power desktop Haswell as a HTPC platform. We have listened to feedback from our earlier HTPC reviews at launch time and made efforts to source a low power CPU suitable for HTPC duties. In earlier HTPC reviews put out at launch time, we used the highest end CPU sampled by Intel / AMD. This time around, thanks to ASRock, we managed to get hold of an Intel Core i7-4765T CPU along with their mini-ITX motherboard, the Z87E-ITX.

In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we cover the video post processing options provided by the Intel drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities with respect to some of the popular OTT (over-the-top) services. 4K is the next major upgrade stop for the casual HTPC user. Haswell does have 4K display support and we will have a dedicated section to see how well it works. We are finally at a point where GPU encoders have become stable and popular enough for mainstream open source projects to utilize. A section is devoted to Handbrake's integration of QuickSync capabilities. In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • Surlias - Friday, December 6, 2013 - link

    Hey, I just bought my first 120 Hz capable HDTV, and I'm wondering how to configure it for both gaming and proper 24p media playback. Can I set the a custom resolution of 1920x1080 @ 120 Hz (GTX 770) just like you can with a 120 Hz monitor, and then leave it at that setting all the time? Then games would be able to do VSync up to 120 fps, and media would be able to lock in at 24p because it's an even divisor of 120. Or is this not possible on a TV due to HDMI limitations? If this is the case, then will it be necessary to manually switch back and forth between 60Hz and a 24 Hz custom resolution depending on the usage situation (since 24 Hz would be awful for gaming)? I've always found this particular subject confusing and I'm hoping someone can help me understand how this works. FYI, I mostly use XBMC for media playback, which has an option to "sync to display refresh rate", which I assume would be essential for enabling 24p playback.
  • redmist77 - Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - link

    I'm amazed at how well Haswell locks the video and audio sync. I can output 23.976Hz video to my plasma TV and all of the AV sync graphs in MediaPortal or MPC-HC are *dead* flat and there's never a stutter. 24Hz, 50Hz and 59.94Hz are all perfect too. That's possibly the holy grail of a HTPC. I haven't found any other bugs (DXVA2 etc.) either so it's looking good. DTS-HD, Dolby True HD bit streaming also works perfectly. 0-255 RGB HDMI output requires a registry fix but that's no big deal (default is 16-235)

    The next great challenge is a gaming HTPC that uses Intel 4600 for video and a giant PCI-E card when launching a game ;) I've sort of got it working using DisplaySwitch.exe and two HDMI inputs on my AV receiver but it's not quite seamless.
  • khmara - Friday, May 30, 2014 - link

    The flickering that is seen during the test with the Haswell in 4k on the Seiki 4k TV was due to Intel graphics settings having the refresh rate default at 29. If you manually change it to 30 the flickering is eliminated.
  • Tassadar - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    Hi all,

    I have a HTPC with an intel haswell and I can't get 23,97 fps, I have 24 even if i set 23 in intel panel properties.

    I have run CustomModeApp.exe but I only can enter entire numbers (no decimals) in the frequency. I also have try 23 but doesn't allow me to accept.

    Any help?

  • Gadgety - Monday, August 18, 2014 - link

    "... but the HDMI link never got locked (the display would keep flickering on and off). The frequency of locking was inversely proportional to the HDMI cable length... We will update this section as and when we reach closure on the issue with ASRock / Intel."

    This was in June 2013. Still no closure after 13 months?

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