Minimum PC specs for playing HD video files?
March 26, 2009 8:08 AM   Subscribe

What are the minimum specs for a PC to play HD video files smoothly?

I need to replace my ancient P4 2.8 GHz (w/onboard video) for several reasons, including that it chokes on some 720p videos during high action/movement scenes. Would your basic ~$480 Dell handle smooth playback of high def video files (.mkv, .avi) on VLC media player? Could I run other apps in the background (browser, IM, etc.) without input or video stutters and lag?

For example something like this:

Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 (3MB L2, 2.8GHz, 1066FSB)
Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1
2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz- 2DIMMs
500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache
Integrated IntelĀ® GMA X4500HD Graphics

Or do I need more power?
posted by wastelands to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Basically, it all depends on your decoder.

I posted a question about this to AskMe about a year ago. Basically, I had an Athlon X2 3800+ with 2GB of RAM and I was doing fine standard definition video.. but 720p and 1080p video was choppy and awful and really pissing me off.

So, it turns out I needed a better software-based decoder.

I went out and bought CoreAVC - at the recommendation of someone in my thread, I think - and my God, best money I've ever spent. I downloaded it, installed it, rebooted and all my HD content played back flawlessly - and continues to play back flawlessly.

This means I've abandoned VLC Player for Windows Media Player, but I'm not sure VLC Player works with CoreAVC, but you definitely just need to make sure you have a decent software decoder.
posted by kbanas at 8:20 AM on March 26, 2009

I've got a three-year-old Intel Mac mini (Core Duo 1.66 GHz). It plays 720p fine in QuickTime, Front Row, or Boxee. I would imagine that any current computer would not have a problem, since you basically cannot buy a machine that slow anymore.
posted by kindall at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Or do I need more power?

Get a better graphics card so you can hand off some degree of decoding - from IDCT to bitstream to bitstream plus FGT - to it away from the CPU. Newer NVIDIA cards - of which I've owned and used two - work well with Direct X Video Acceleration (DXVA)-enabled decoders such as those offered by Cyberlink, included in Media Player Classic Home Cinema, and even Microsoft's own MPEG-2 codec. Additionally, CoreAVC now uses Nvidia's CUDA to substantially boost decoding performance on newer Nvidia chips even without using DXVA.

And ditch VLC. Directshow players like MPC, MPC-HC, etc. perform better on Windows and don't suffer from corruption on (for instance) interlaced VC-1 streams. VLC also can't hand off as much decoding to your GPU as native directshow codecs can.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2009

Seconding the Mac mini. Plays HD without trouble and previous generations can be found new for much less than $480.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:03 AM on March 26, 2009

I would recommend getting a better video card in that machine. You can always buy it seperately at newegg if yo uwant to save money.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2009

It depends on the codec as well as the decoder.

Do NOT use VLC for HD content, it is horribly unoptimized.

Something like CoreAVC on the PC for H.264 and MKV works wonders, my 1.83ghz C2D will play 1080p content without a hitch.

You should have no issues with your spec.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2009

From my own testing, a 2.4GHz Core 2 (the older generation) using ffdshow (pure software decoding) to playback x264 videos was fast enough to play back any 720p streams without maxing out the CPU, but 1080p would often be too much, and peg both cores at 100% with stuttering. A 2.4Ghz quad core was needed to playback 1080p streams reliably.

VLC's x264 decoding is even worse than ffdshow, but you should be able to playback 720p purely in software on a 2.8Ghz core 2 fine, though possibly you well may still see heavy loads doing it.

I'd definitely recommend either an improved software decoder and alternative player, such as CoreAVC + windows media player - which has a well deserved good reputation - or a partially hardware accelerated DXVA with a better nvidia graphics card as suggested. You should see loads drop to the 30% range or lower, which will definitely improve your ability to play videos while doing other things on the same box.

With an appropriate upgrade to either, you could probably even playback 720p video well enough on your old P4, though as you say, you still want to replace it for other reasons.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:02 PM on March 26, 2009

Picking up a decent video card should solve most of these issues, as they can offload a lot of the video processing. Poke around in the $50-100 range and read the customer reviews, search for 1080 and see what people say.

I have a 1GB 9800 GT, and drive 2 30" monitors rotated 90 degrees and have no problem playing any 1080i content with vlc.
posted by zentrification at 3:17 PM on March 26, 2009

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