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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  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - link

    I've heard this song and dance before. It never happens. Plus, limiting people to GDDR5 of pre-determined amounts for a HTPC seems like an exercise in being stupid. Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - link

    Yeah, I'm not buying that rumour. Doesn't make much sense. Reply
  • JDG1980 - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    It's good to see that Intel finally got around to fixing the 23.976 fps bug, which was the biggest show-stopper for using their integrated graphics in a HTPC.

    Regarding MadVR, I'd be interested to see more benchmarks. How good can you run the settings before hitting a wall with GPU utilization? How about on the GT3e - if this ever shows up in an all-in-one Mini-ITX board or NUC, it might be a great choice for HTPCs. Can it handle the good scaling algorithms?

    My own experience is that anti-ringing doesn't add that much GPU load. I recently upgraded to a Radeon HD 7750, and it can handle anti-ringing filters on both luma and chroma with no problem. Chroma upscaling works fine with 3-tap Jinc, and luma also can do this with SD content (even interlaced), but for the most demanding test clip I have (1440x1080 interlaced 60 fields per second) I have to downgrade luma scaling to either Lanczos 3-tap or SoftCubic 80 to avoid dropping frames. (The output destination is a 1080p TV.) I suspect a 7790 or 7850 could handle 3-tap Jinc for both chroma and luma at all resolutions and frame rates up to full HD.

    By the way, I found a weird problem with madVR - when I ran GPU-Z in the background to monitor load, all interlaced content dropped frames. Didn't matter what settings I used. Closing GPU-Z ended the problem. I was still able to monitor GPU load with Microsoft's "Process Explorer" application and this did not cause any problems.

    Regarding 4K output, did you test whether DisplayPort 60 Hz 4K works properly? This might be of interest to some users, especially if the upcoming Asus 4K monitor is released at a reasonable price point. I know people have had to use some odd tricks to get the Sharp 4K monitor to do native resolution at 60 Hz with existing cards.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    This is very interesting.. What version of GPU-Z were you using? I will check whether my Jinc / anti-ringing dropped frames were due to GPU-Z running in the background. I did do the initial setup when GPU-Z wasn't active, but obviously the benchmark runs were run with GPU-Z active in the background. Did you see any difference in GPU load between GPU-Z and Process Explorer when playing interlaced content with dropped frames? Reply
  • JDG1980 - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    I was using the latest version (0.7.1) of GPU-Z. The strange part is that the GPU load calculation was correct - it was just dropping frames for no reason, it wasn't showing the GPU as being maxed out. For the video card, I was using the newest stable Catalyst driver (13.4, I believe) from AMD's website. The OS is Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit).

    The only reason I suspected GPU-Z is because after searching a bunch of forums to try to find out why interlaced content (even SD with low madVR settings) wouldn't play properly, I found one other user who said he had to turn off GPU-Z. I cannot say if this is a widespread issue and it's possible it may be limited to certain system configurations or certain GPUs. Still worth trying, though. Thanks for the follow-up!
    Reply
  • tential - Sunday, June 02, 2013 - link

    I don't understand the H.264 Transcoding Performance chart at all can someone help?

    QuickSync does more FPS at 720p than 1080p. This makes sense.

    The x264 on the Core i3 and core i7 post higher FPS in 1080p but lower in 720p. Why is this?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Maybe the downscaling of the frame from 1080p to 720p sucks up more resources, causing the drop in FPS? Remember that the source is 1080p... Reply
  • tential - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Ok so if I'm downscaling to 720p, why does FPS increase with quicksync, but decrease with the processor?

    It's OPPOSITE directions one increases (quicksync) one decreases (cpu). Wouldn't it be the same both ways?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Downscaling is also hardware accelerated in QS mode. Hardware transcode is faster for 720p decoded frames rather than 1080p decoded frames. The time taken to downscale is much lower than the time taken to transcode the 'extra pixels' in a 1080p version. Reply
  • elian123 - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Ganesh, you mention "The Iris Pro 5200 GPUs are reserved for BGA configurations and unavailable to system builders". Does that imply that there won't be motherboards for sale with the 4770R integrated? Will the 4770R only be available in complete systems? Reply

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