Considering that this latest batch of Radeon cards have HD in their name, it comes as no surprise that they’re well specced when it comes to high definition video processing and output. First up, the HD 2900 XT is equipped with two dual link DVI ports, so you could (funds permitting) attach two 30in monitors to it, each running at 2,560 x 1,600. But the HD 2900 XT also ships with a DVI to HDMI converter, so you can output the signal to a suitably equipped HDTV.
Of course DVI to HDMI converters are nothing new, but what’s really impressive about this particular solution is that the resulting HDMI port will also carry sound. AMD has also ensured that you don’t need a messy cable running from an audio output on your sound chipset to the HD 2900 XT – instead the sound is routed directly from the onboard sound chip, through the motherboard chipset to the graphics card.
Current methods of routing sound to a graphics card with HDMI involve messy cabling.
The Radeon HD2900 XT requires no external cabling to route audio from the sound chip.
In many respects, this method of HDMI implementation is preferable to having a port directly on the card. The fact that you retain two dual link DVI ports is obviously a major advantage, while the added flexibility of multiple digital outputs will be very attractive to anyone that wants to integrate a gaming/media PC into their living room. Add to this the fact that a high definition TV with a 1,920 x 1080p panel offers a native resolution that’s higher than many desktop PC monitors.
Of course both the DVI ports on the HD 2900 XT are HDCP compliant, which means that any HDMI output will consequently also be HDCP compliant. This means that you won’t have to worry if you install a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive in your system, since you’ll have no problem playing back protected content.
It’s worth mentioning that the HDMI port can only output 5.1-channels of audio, which means that any 7.1-channel soundtracks are off the menu. But of more note is that this is an HDMI 1.2 port rather than 1.3, which means that there’s no support for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio. Whether the inability to output the latest batch of lossless surround codecs is a major issue is debatable, since anyone who’s thinking about putting a home cinema system together that supports those codecs is unlikely to be using a PC as their source device.
The lack of HDMI 1.3 also means that you won’t be able to make use of the Deep Colour feature, which should start appearing on movies in the near future. To be fair though, this isn’t really an oversight on AMD’s part because Windows doesn’t actually support colour depths above 32-bit, which means you’ll have a tough time outputting 36-bit colour, even with an HDMI 1.3 port.
The HD 2900 XT definitely takes its video processing duties seriously with a dedicated video decoding unit integrated into the GPU. This allows the card to offload all video decoding to the GPU with almost no CPU utilisation involved. In fact, the on-GPU video decoding is so effective that AMD claims that it can decode a 40mbps high definition video stream with no CPU utilisation.
With full decode support for both AVC-HD and VC1, the HD 2900 XT definitely makes a solid case for itself as part of a living room based Media Center system. And with the ability to decode very high bit rate high definition video streams without incurring a CPU overhead, the HD 2900 XT would partner well with a Blu-ray or HD DVD drive. The full suite of Avivo post processing features are also still on hand to ensure the best possible quality from video playback.