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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  • meacupla - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    there's like... exactly one mITX FM2 mobo even worth considering out of a grand total of two. One of them catches on fire and neither of them have bluetooth or wifi.

    LGA1155 and LGA1150 have at least four each.
    Reply
  • TomWomack - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    The mITX FM2 motherboard that I bought last week has bluetooth and wifi; they're slightly kludged in (they are USB modules apparently glued into extra USB ports that they've added), but I don't care.

    The Haswell mITX boards aren't available from my preferred supplier yet, so I've gone for micro-ATX for that machine.
    Reply
  • BMNify - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    I know you're trolling but the fact is more people are content with converting their 5 year old C2D cookie cutter desktop into an HTPC ($50 video card + case + IR receiver = job done) than buying all new kit.
    We reached the age of "good enough" years ago. Money is tight and with all the available gadgets on the market (and more to come) people are looking to make it go as far as possible. Intel is going to find it harder and harder to get their high margin silicon into the homes of the average family. Good enough ARM mobile + good enough x86 allows people to own more devices and still pay the bills. It looks like AMD has accepted this, they've taking their lumps and are moving forward in this "new world". I'm not sure what Intels long term strategy is but I'm a bit concerned.
    Reply
  • Veroxious - Tuesday, June 04, 2013 - link

    Agreed 100%. I am using an old Dell SFF with an E2140 LGA775 CPU running XBMCbuntu. It works like a charm. I can watch movies while simultaneously adding content. That PC is near silent. What incentive do I have for upgrading to a Haswell based system? None whatsoever. Reply
  • kallogan - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    2.0 ghz seriously ??? The core 45W Sandy i5-2500T was at 2,3 ghz and 3,3 ghz turbo. LOL at this useless cpu gen. Reply
  • kallogan - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Forget my comment didn't see it was a i7 with 8 threads. 35W tdp is not bad either. But the 45W core i7-3770T would still smoke this. Reply
  • Montago - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    I must be blind... i don't see the regression you are talking about.

    HD4000 QSV usually get smudgy and blocky.. and that i don't see in HD4600 ... so i think you are wrong in your statements.

    comparing the frames, there is little difference, and none i would ever notice while watching the movie on a handheld device like an tablet or Smartphone.

    The biggest problem with QSV is not the quality, but the filesize :-(
    QSV is usually 2x larger than x264
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Montago,

    Just one example of the many that can be unearthed from the galleries:

    Look at Frame 4 in the 720p encodes in full size here:

    HD4600: http://images.anandtech.com/galleries/2836/QSV-720...
    HD4000: http://images.anandtech.com/galleries/2839/QSV-HD4...

    Look at the horns of the cattle in the background to the right of the horse. The HD4000 version is sharper and more faithful to the original compared to the HD4600 version, even though the target bitrate is the same.

    In general, when looking at the video being played back, these differences added up to a very evident quality loss.

    Objectively, even the FPS took a beating with the HD4600 compared to the HD4000. There is some driver issue managing the new QuickSync Haswell modes definitely.
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    The main Haswell performance test from Anand at least showed improved QuickSync performance over Ivy, as well as something called the "Better Quality" mode (which was slower than Ivy, but never specified what it really meant) Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 03, 2013 - link

    Anand used MediaEspresso (CyberLink's commercial app), while I used HandBrake. As far as I remember, MediaEspresso doesn't allow specification of target bitrate (at least from the time that I used it a year or so back), just better quality or better performance. Handbrake allows setting of target bitrate, so the modes that are being used by the Handbrake app might be completely different from those used by MediaEspresso.

    As we theorize, some new Haswell modes which are probably not being used by MediaEspresso are making the transcodes longer and worse quality.
    Reply

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