FreeSync, and nVidia G-sync both are attempting to get better 3D rendering out of today’s graphics cards no matter what part of the market they are aimed at. But like other “features” introduced by graphics card manufacturers there’s a drive now to set a standard common to the manufacturers of cards and hopefully too, the manufacturers of display panels.
Adaptive-Sync is the grail for which AMD is searching, promoting and lobbying for going forward. It’s not too manufacturer specific and is just open enough to be adopted by most folks. The benefits are there too, as the article states Tom’s Hardware has tried out nVidia’s G-sync and it works. Which is reassuring given that sometimes these “features” don’t always appear as big revolutionaries strides in engineering so much as marketing talking points.
AMD has been successful so far in pushing adoption by the folks who make RAMDACs and video scaler circuits for the display manufacturers. That’s the real heavy lifting in driving the standard. And with some slight delays you may see the display panel manufacturers adopt this ActiveSync standard within the next year.
For now, use Handbrake for simple, effective encodes. Arcsoft or Xilisoft might be worth a look if you know you’ll be using CUDA or Quick Sync and have no plans for any demanding work. Avoid MediaEspresso entirely.
Joel Hruska does a great survey of GPU enabled video encoders. He even goes back to the original Avivo and Badaboom encoders put out by AMD and nVidia when they were promoting GPU accelerated video encoding. Sadly the hype doesn’t live up to the results. Even Intel’s most recent competitor in the race, QuickSync, is left wanting. HandBrake appears to be the best option for most people and the most reliable and repeatable in the results it gives.
Ideally the maintainers of the HandBrake project might get a boost by starting up a fork of the source code that has Intel QuickSync support. There’s no indication now that that everyone is interested in proprietary Intel technology like QuickSynch as expressed in this article from Anandtech. OpenCL seems like a more attractive option for the Open Source community at large. So the OpenCL/HandBrake development is at least a little encouraging. Still as Joel Hruska points out the CPU still is the best option for encoding high quality at smaller frame sizes, it just beats the pants off all the GPU accelerated options available to date.
AMD, and NVIDIA before it, has been trying to convince us of the usefulness of its GPUs for general purpose applications for years now. For a while it seemed as if video transcoding would be the killer application for GPUs, that was until Intel’s Quick Sync showed up last year.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to accelerated video transcoding, really. Not the least of which is HandBrake’s dominance generally for anyone doing small scale size reductions of their DVD collections for transport on mobile devices. We owe it all to the open source x264 codec and all the programmers who have contributed to it over the years, standing on one another’s shoulders allowing us to effortlessly encode or transcode gigabytes of video to manageable sizes. But Intel has attempted to rock the boat by inserting itself into the fray by tooling its QuickSync technology for accelerating the compression and decompression of video frames. However it is a proprietary path pursued by a few small scale software vendors. And it prompts the question, when is open source going to benefit from the proprietary Intel QuickSync technology? Maybe its going to take a long time. Maybe it won’t happen at all. Lucky for the HandBrake users in the audience some attempt is being made now to re-engineer the x264 codec to take advantage of any OpenCL compliant hardware on a given computer.
Similarly disappointing for everyone who isnt Intel, its been more than a year after Sandy Bridges launch and none of the GPU vendors have been able to put forth a better solution than Quick Sync. If youre constantly transcoding movies to get them onto your smartphone or tablet, you need Ivy Bridge. In less than 7 minutes, and with no impact to CPU usage, I was able to transcode a complete 130 minute 1080p video to an iPad friendly format—thats over 15x real time.
QuickSync for anyone who doesn’t follow Intel’s own technology white papers and cpu releases is a special feature of Sandy Bridge era Intel CPUs. Originally its duty on Intel is as old as the Clarkdale series with embedded graphics (first round of the 32nm design rule). It can do things like just simply speeding up the process of decoding a video stream saved in a number of popular video formats VC-1, H.264, MP4, etc. Now it’s marketed to anyone trying to speed up the transcoding of video from one format to another. The first Sandy Bridge CPUs using the the hardware encoding portion of QuickSync showed incredible speeds as compared to GPU-accelerated encoders of that era. However things have been kicked up a further notch in the embedded graphics of the Intel Ivy Bridge series CPUs.
In the quote at the beginning of this article, I included a summary from the Anandtech review of the Intel Core i7 3770 which gives a better sense of the magnitude of the improvement. The full 130 minute Blu-ray DVD was converted at a rate of 15 times real time, meaning for every minute of video coming off the disk, QuickSync is able to transcode it in 4 seconds! That is major progress for anyone who has followed this niche of desktop computing. Having spent time capturing, editing and exporting video I will admit transcoding between formats is a lengthy process that uses up a lot of CPU resources. Offloading all that burden to the embedded graphics controller totally changes that traditional impedance of slowing the computer to a crawl and having to walk away and let it work.
Now transcoding is trivial, it costs nothing in terms of CPU load. And any time it can be faster than realtime means you don’t have to walk away from your computer (or at least not for very long), but 10X faster than real time makes that doubly true. Now we are fully at 15X realtime for a full length movie. The time spent is so short you wouldn’t ever have a second thought about “Will this transcode slow down the computer?” It won’t in fact you can continue doing all your other work, be productive, have fun and continue on your way just as if you hadn’t just asked your computer to do the most complicated, time consuming chore that (up until now) you could possibly ask it to do.
Knowing this application of the embedded graphics is so useful for desktop computers makes me wonder about Scientific Computing. What could Intel provide in terms of performance increases for simulations and computation in a super-computer cluster? Seeing how hybrid super computers using nVidia Tesla GPU co-processors mixed with Intel CPUs have slowly marched up the list of the Top 500 Supercomputers makes me think Intel could leverage QuickSync further,. . . Much further. Unfortunately this performance boost is solely dependent on a few vendors of proprietary transcoding software. The open software developers do not have an opening into the QuickSync tech in order to write a library that will re-direct a video stream into the QuickSync acceleration pipeline. When somebody does accomplish this feat, it may be shortly after when you see some Linux compute clusters attempt to use QuickSync as an embedded algorithm accelerator too.
Quick Sync made real-time H.264 encoding practical on even low-power devices, and made GPU encoding redundant at the time. AMD of course isn’t one to sit idle, and they have been hard at work at their own implementation of that technology: the Video Codec Engine VCE.
Intel’s QuickSync helped speed up the realtime encoding of H.264 video. AMD is striking back and has Hybrid Mode VCE operations that will speed things up EVEN MORE! The key to having this hit the market and get widely adopted of course is the compatibility of the software with a wide range of video cards from AMD. The original CUDA software environment from nVidia took a while to disperse into the mainstream as it had a limited number of graphics cards it could support when it rolled out. Now it’s part of the infrastructure and more or less provided gratis whenever you buy ANY nVidia graphics card today. AMD has to follow this semi-forced adoption of this technology as fast as possible to deliver the benefit quickly. At the same time the User Interface to this VCE software had better be a great design and easy to use. Any type of configuration file dependencies and tweaking through preference files should be eliminated to the point where you merely move a slider up and down a scale (Slower->Faster). And that should be it.
And if need be AMD should commission an encoder App or a plug-in to an open source project like HandBrake to utilize the VCE capability upon detection of the graphics chip on the computer. Make it ‘just happen’ without the tempting early adopter approach of making a tool available and forcing people to ‘build’ a version of an open source encoder to utilize the hardware properly. Hands-off approaches that favor early adopters is going to consign this technology to the margins for a number of years if AMD doesn’t take a more activist role. QuickSync on Intel hasn’t been widely touted either so maybe it’s a moot point to urge anyone to treat their technology as an insanely great offering. But I think there’s definitely brand loyalty that could be brought into play if the performance gains to be had with a discreet graphics card far outpace the integrated graphics solution of QuickSync provided by Intel. If you can achieve a 10x order of magnitude boost, you should be pushing that to all the the potential computer purchasers from this announcement forward.
The newest generation of Intel chips was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some of the technology fanboi websites got early samples of chips and motherboards that use the new chips and chipsets. Aside from having the memory controller on the CPU, another benefit is the integrated graphics chip can be re-purposed to accelerate video transcoding. Intel calls it QuickSync, and I call it effing magic.
Quick Sync is just awesome. Its simply the best way to get videos onto your smartphone or tablet. Not only do you get most if not all of the quality of a software based transcode, you get performance thats better than what high-end discrete GPUs are able to offer. If you do a lot of video transcoding onto portable devices, Sandy Bridge will be worth the upgrade for Quick Sync alone.
For everyone else, Sandy Bridge is easily a no brainer. Unless you already have a high-end Core i7, this is what youll want to upgrade to.
Previously in this blog I have recounted stories from Tom’s Hardware and Anandtech.com surrounding the wicked cool idea of tapping the vast resources contained within your GPU while you’re not playing video games. Producers of GPUs like nVidia and AMD both wanted to market their products to people who not only gamed but occasionally ripped video from DVDs and played them back on ipods or other mobile devices. The amount of time sunk into doing these kinds of conversions were made somewhat less of a pain due to the ability to run the process on a dual core Wintel computer, browsing web pages while re-encoding the video in the background. But to get better speeds one almost always needs to monopolize all the cores on the machine and free software like HandBrake and others will take advantage of those extra cores, thus slowing your machine, but effectively speeding up the transcoding process. There was hope that GPUs could accelerate the transcoding process beyond what was achievable with a multi-core cpu from Intel. An example is also Apple’s widespread adoption of OpenCL as a pipeline to the GPU to send rendering requests for any video frames or video processing that may need to be done in iTunes, QuickTime or the iLife applications. And where I work, we get asked to do a lot of transcoding of video to different formats for customers. Usually someone wants a rip from a DVD that they can put on a flash drive and take with them into a classroom.
However, now it appears there is a revolution in speed in the works where Intel is giving you faster transcodes for free. I’m talking about Intel’s new Quick Sync technology using the integrated graphics core as a video transcode accelerator. The speeds of transcoding are amazingly fast and given the speed, trivial to do for anyone including the casual user. In the past everyone seemed to complain about how slow their computer was especially for ripping DVDs or transcoding the rips to smaller more portable formats. Now, it takes a few minutes to get an hour of video into the right format. No more blue Monday. Follow the link to the story and analysis from Anandtech.com as they ran head to head comparisons of all the available techniques of re-encoding/transcoding a Blue-ray video release into a smaller .mp4 file encoded in as h.264. They did comparisons of Intel four-core cpus (which took the longest and got pretty good quality) versus GPU accelerated transcodes, versus the new Intel QuickSync technology coming out soon on the Sandy Bridge gen Intel i7 cpus. It is wicked cool how fast these transcodes are and it will make the process of transcoding trivial compared to how long it takes to actually ‘watch’ the video you spent all that time converting.
Blu-ray is still a small bit of total movie sales. And online downloads of movies are still in MPEG-2 format with some HD versions available (in 720p). I know there’s a market for higher resolution and higher frame rates and surround sound. But we’re still not there yet. Until Blu-Ray becomes more widespread, it’s probably a good idea to become familiar with the encoding and transcoding tools that create Blu-Ray compliant video clips
For many years it has been possible to make your own DVDs with free software tools. Over the course of the past decade, DVD creation evolved from the exclusive domain of the media publishing companies to something basically anyone could do on their home computer.
The move towards Blu-ray encoding is very encouraging. In reading the article I don’t see a mention of CUDA or OpenCL acceleration of the encoding process. As was the case for MPEG-2 a glaring need for acceleration of the process was painfully obvious once people started converting long form videos. I know x264 encoding can be accelerated by splitting threads across CPUs on a multi-core processor. But why not unleash the floodgates and get some extra horsepower from the ATI or nVidia graphics card too. We’re talking large frames and large frame rates and the only way to guarantee adoption of the new format is to make the encoding process fast, fast, fast.