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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  • eio - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    great example! very interesting.
    I agree with Montage that for most snapshots, HD4600 is significantly better than HD4000 for retaining much more texture, even for this frame 4 in 1080p.
    but in 720p HD4600 shows its trade off of keep more fine grained texture: looks like HD4600 are regressed in low contrast, large scale structral infomation.
    as you said, this type of regression can be more evident in video than snapshots.
  • eio - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    another thing that surprises me is: x264 is a clear loser in this test. I don't understand why, what are the specific params that handbrake used to call x264?
  • nevcairiel - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link


    I'm curious, what did you use for DXVA2N testing of VC-1?
    LAV Video doesn't support VC-1 DXVA2 on Intel, at least on Ivy Bridge, and i doubt Haswell changed much (although it would be a nice surprise, i'll see for myself in a few days)
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link


    I made a note that DXVA2N for interlaced VC-1 has software fallback.

    That issue is still not fixed in Haswell. That is why you see QuickSync consuming lower power compared to DXVA2N for the interlaced VC-1 sample.
  • zilexa - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    To be honest, now that I have a near-perfect Raspberry setup, I would never buy a Core ix/AMD Ax HTPC anymore. Huge waiste of money for almost un-noticable image quality improvement.
    The Raspberry Pi will use max 6.5w, usually much lower. Speed in XBMC is no issue anymore, and it plays back all my movies just fine (Batman imax x264 rip 7-15MBps). I play mostly downloaded tv shows, streams and occasionally a movie. It also takes care of the whole download process in the background. So I don't even have a computer anymore at home. I sold my old AMD 780G based Silverstone M2 HTPC for €170 and it was the best decision ever.

    Still cool to read about the high end possibilities of HTPC/MadVR or actually just video playback and encoding, cos thats what this is really about. But I would never buy a system to be able to support this. HTPC in my opinion is to be in a lazy mode and able to playback your shows/movies/watch your photos and streams in good HD quality and audio.

    If you need HTPC, in my opinion there is no need for such an investment in a computer system which is meant for a huge variety of computing tasks.
  • jwcalla - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    It's going to depend on individual needs of course, and I think your Raspberry Pi is on the other end of the extreme, but otherwise I kind of have the same reaction. This has got to be an $800+ build here for an HTPC and then I begin to wonder if this is a practical approach.

    Owing to the fact that Intel's entire marketing strategy is to oversell to the consumer (i.e., sell him much more than he really needs), it seems that sometimes these reviews follow the strategy too closely. For an HTPC? Core i3 at the max. And even that's being generous. If one needs certain workloads like transcoding and such then maybe a higher end box is needed. But then I question if that kind of stuff is appropriate for an HTPC.
  • superjim - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    Playback a raw M2TS 1080p 60fps file on your Pi and get back to me.
  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    How did you get around the "interface is not accelerated" issue on the RPi? I found it completely useless when trying to navigate the XBMC interface itself (you know, to select the show to watch). Sure, once the video was loaded, and processing moved over to the hardware decoder, things ran smooth as silk.

    I sold my RPi two weeks after receiving it due to this issue. Just wasn't worth the headaches. Since moved to a quad-core AthlonII running off an SSD with a fanless nVidia dGPU. So much nicer to work with.
  • vlado08 - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link

    What about Frame Rate Conversion (FRC) capability?
  • ericgl21 - Monday, June 3, 2013 - link


    Let's assume you have two 4K/60p video files playing in a loop at the same time for a duration of 3 hours.
    Is it possible that Iris or Iris Pro could play those two video streams at the same time, without dropping frames and without the processor throttling throughout the entire movie playback ?
    I mean, connecting two 4K TVs, one to the HDMI port and the other to the DisplayPort, and outputting each video to each TV. Would you say the Iris / Iris Pro is up to this task? Could you test this scenario?

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