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Nehemiah M10000 Review
Posted on May 19, 2003

EPIA Video Playback Tests

Many people purchase EPIAs as multimedia playback devices. There are several different media formats widely available for purchase and download. Different formats are encoded at varying degrees of compression - some easier to decode than others. The EPIA Ms are optimised for MPEG2 decoding, so should use less CPU time to achieve the same results as a classic EPIA.

In all our graphs we show green as watchable, yellow as borderline, and red as unwatchable. We took average CPU utilisation figures to draw the length of the bars.

We chose 7 representative samples and checked the CPU utilisation whilst playing back a movie at full screen in 1024x768 resolution, with default DivX playback quality settings for DivX content. We watched for stutters, loss of audio sync, bad picture quality and general nastiness.

We used Cyberlink PowerDVD and the Core Media Player for playback, and the Windows task manager to measure CPU utilisation. Anything peaking at 100% is bad, causing loss of picture or audio quality. The task manager is that thing hiding in your taskbar that produces graphs something like this:

Task Manager

VCD Playback

VCD Playback

None of the boards had difficulties playing a VCD at full screen. VCD is a very loosely compressed MPEG1 format, requiring little CPU.

320x240 DivX 3 AVI Playback

 

320x240 DivX 3 AVI Playback

Results were almost identical to the VCD - no problems, smooth playback, and all over a LAN from another PC. This AVI size is common for small TV clips, requiring much less pixel crunching than a full-resolution DivX movie.

DVD Playback

 

DVD Playback

Our first casualty. The EPIA 5000 exhibited glitches during DVD playback, which we lessened but didn't entirely remove by reducing the resolution to 800x600. We classed this as borderline - OK for previewing a movie, but not much more. The EPIA 800 exhibited some occasional minor glitches, but nothing particularly bothersome. We suspect some tweaking would remove those altogether. The EPIA Ms all had no problems, delivering a smooth, clear picture - as you would expect from a chipset optimised for MPEG2 decoding. Remember to turn the hardware acceleration in PowerDVD *on* before playing DVDs for the first time on your EPIA.

SVCD Playback

 

SVCD Playback

SVCD playback proved slightly easier than DVD playback for the classic EPIAs, although the EPIA 5000 had very occasional glitches. For some reason the ME6000 required more CPU to complete the task, but still delivered a vibrant full screen picture. SVCD is an MPEG2 based codec, and PowerDVD was happy to use the hardware decoding of the EPIA Ms. SVCD and VCD are well defined formats, with standardised bit rates for video and audio.

DivX3 AVI Playback

Content in the DivX format abounds on the internet and varies widely in quality and bit rates. There are no fixed standards - one encoder might use the default settings in their ripping program, another might perform all manner of processing wizardry to squeeze the best picture onto a 700MB CD. We chose 2 movies with different bit rates and encoding methods and a third XviD movie for good measure.

DivX3 AVI Playback

These are the results for a DivX 3 encoded movie, which had a 843 kBits/s video stream and 96 kBits/s audio stream. The EPIA 5000 froze every second or so, rendering it unwatchable. Both the ME6000 and EPIA 800 lacked the processing muscle to playback perfectly, glitching occasionally. Other DivX content with a slightly lower bandwidth would play on these machines - we suspect a decent Linux based player would tip the balance in their favour. The remaining EPIA Ms had no such problems, producing smooth video straight from the CD.

DivX4 with AC3 AVI Playback

 

DivX4 with AC3 AVI Playback

Our next choice was a DivX4 encoded movie with an 1810 kBit/s video stream and 384 kBits/s AC3 audio stream. To pass this test, the CPU not only had to decompress the video, but decode the surround sound too. We didn't expect the classic EPIAs or ME6000 to manage this, and they couldn't - freezing every second or so. The M9000 had a few problems with occasional glitches, though the M10000s both managed without any loss of quality. We prevented ourselves from turning our M9000 into an M10000 by overclocking it - tempting though it was. This was probably the trickiest DivX movie we could find.

XviD with AC3 AVI Playback

 

XviD with AC3 AVI Playback

Finally, we chose an XviD encoded movie with AC3 to see what the differences were. As before the slower trio had problems - enough to make the movie unwatchable. The M9000 had occasional glitches, and the M10000s both produced excellent results.

Optimising Video Playback

We used recent DivX and XviD codecs running on Windows XP with a standard stick of 256MB PC133 or PC2100 RAM, and chose default playback quality settings at 1024x768 resolution. We chose this as a typical setup - but it is NOT the fastest possible. We would recommend looking at Linux based media players and/or faster decoders such as 3vix. In borderline cases, try reducing the video resolution or playback quality settings - and make sure hardware acceleration is enabled. With these optimisations, your EPIA will better our test results.

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