Selecting a graphics processing unit (GPU) (aka video card) that has exactly the right feature set for your home theater PC (HTPC) can be a time consuming task if you're starting your search from scratch. In the ever-changing landscape of home theater and HTPC, AMD, Intel and NVIDIA respond by implementing new features in their GPUs to keep up with the latest and greatest audio and video innovations. That is why we've got you covered here at MissingRemote with our brand new GPU comparison guide.
We plan to keep the guide updated regularly and add new information as it becomes available. If you've got some ideas for items you would like to see compared in the chart, please feel free to let us know in the comments below. We've tried to sift through all the vendor specifications and parse out the vital information that you need to know. While trade names such as AMD's Unified Video Decoder (UVD), NVIDIA's PureVideo HD and Intel's Clear Video HD are interesting, ultimately, it's all about the feature set and that's what you will see in the video card comparison chart.
We're starting out with what we'll call today's "modern" desktop GPUs though we plan to add some of the older GPUs for comparison sake since many are still running strong.
MVC: Multi-view Video Coding is an addition to H.264 which is used for 3D Blu-ray encodings.
H.264: AKA Advanced Video Coding (AVC). Common video codec used in video delivery in everything from streaming in Flash and Silverlight to Blu-ray.
VC-1: Video codec commonly used in Blu-ray, HD-DVD, WMV, Silverlight and Slingbox.
MPEG-4 Part 2: DivX and Xvid are common implementations of this codec which has been widely used for sharing video over peer-to-peer networks.
MPEG-2: One of the most widely used codecs for video and still used today for ATSC broadcast and cable transmission. Found on some Blu-ray discs, but generally, BD discs now favor H.264 and VC-1.
Flash: Adobe's commonly used web multimedia platform.
3D Blu-ray (Frame-sequential): This refers to the GPU's ability to deliver frame-sequential 3D Blu-ray content over HDMI. Originally specified in HDMI 1.4.
Advanced De-interlacing: Techniques considered "advanced" are AMD's Vector Adaptive de-interlacing, Intel's Pixel Adaptive de-interlacing and NVIDIA's Spatial-Temporal de-interlacing. In some of the lower-end AMD and NVIDIA products, advanced de-interlacing is not achievable with HD video.
LPCM: Linear PCM audio. 8 channel's of PCM audio can be accommodated within HDMI. When using LPCM, audio is decoded on the PC and then sent as uncompressed PCM over HDMI.
HD Audio: Audio codecs such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio are considered HD Audio. HD Audio is sent as the original bitstream over HDMI to a decoding device such as an Audio Video Receiver (AVR).
TDP: Thermal Design Power. Unfortunately, manufacturers deviate with how they define this figure. It should be used to roughly gauge heat that needs to be dissipated from the part. When comparing with the same manufacturer, it can be used to determine whether a part will use more or less power under full load. Part reviews should be used for further guidance regarding real world consumption.