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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  • StardogChampion - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    I am wondering about this comment as well. Everything I've read seemed to indicate it would be available in mini-ITX form for building AIOs (so likely thin mini-ITX). Haswell will be a big disappointment without availability of the BGA packages in mini-ITX form. Reply
  • Sivar - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Thank you for the article.
    Note that x264 is a specific software encoder, not a type of video or a thing that can be accelerated ("While full x264 acceleration using QuickSync...")
    H.264 is the video standard.

    Also note that x264, the CPU-based encoding software, does not need to run in 2-pass mode to get great quality. 2-pass mode is ONLY if you want a specific file size regardless of quality. If you want a specific quality, you use quality mode. --CRF23, for example, returns small (though variable depending on content) file size and good quality.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Sivar,

    I did specifically want to mention full x264 acceleration using QuickSync -- That is because x264 is the H.264 encoder of choice for many users. The most beneficial addition to the CPU would be the ability to get hardware acceleration when using x264 with ANY set of options. That is simply not going to be possible with QuickSync (or, for that matter, any hardware-based encoder).

    Yes, agreed about the mistaken mention of 2-pass for improved quality. I will update it shortly.
    Reply
  • Spawne32 - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    People always fail to realize what key element in every one of these releases, how big the enthusiast market truly is. All of us posting here on this comment section regarding this review are a small fraction of the overall market intel targets, this is part of the reason AMD suffers so tragically with their current lineup. Power consumption and price are the two biggest factors in a regular consumers mind when purchasing a PC, be it laptop or desktop. Performance numbers rarely play a factor. I don't know what AMD is doing over there but I long for a day when AMD can actually challenge intel and drive prices down even further, because these 230-400 dollar starting prices for "mainstream" intel processors proves once again why I refuse to invest in them regardless of performance. The marginal increase in speed in my day to day activities does not warrant the price being paid for something that is obsolete in 1-2 years. AMD's highest priced processor right now is 179.99, its comparable intel counterpart in haswell....349.99, you do the math. Reply
  • bji - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Either the increases in speed with each successive generation are great enough to render previous generations obsolete, or the increases in speed with each successive generation are small enough that the previous generation is not rendered obsolete. You can't have it both ways just to try to make Intel look bad, sorry.

    I don't know what margin Intel is making on these parts - do you? Remember that they are sinking large R & D and transistor budgets into these minor speed increases, and at the same time sinking lots of money into developing the next generation of process technology. If $300 is not worth it to you, don't buy the part; Intel won't be able to sustain their R & D budgets if nobody buys the results.
    Reply
  • Deuge - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    If one of the GT3 or GT3e parts comes out in a refreshed NUC, id love to see a review of it from an HTPC perspective. Very interested to hear if it can handle Lanzcos + AR or Jinc. Reply
  • dbcoopernz - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Is the inability to use LAV with DXVA-native for madVR an Intel limitation? The devs of both the LAV filters and madVR have told me (on the doom9 forum) that DXVA-native is fine for madVR on AMD GPU's. Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    DXVA native DOES work with AMD using LAV filters and MadVR... I'm using it as I type (watching MotoGP) Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    It also works with the Haswell piece. I will update the article ASAP. Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    APU is the go to for HTPC builders. And stop with the power this and thermals that... undervolt it, toss in a Pico PSU, suspend to memory when not in use and enjoy. Take the hundreds saved and buy a Kabini or two as clients.

    If we're talking balls to the wall processing might, absolutely, lets talk Intel but not for a simple HTPC.
    Reply

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