Tom's Hardware recently visited nVidia to check out their new hardware decoding solutions for playing HDTV on a computer, and for long-time HTPC (home theater PC) users, the results aren't that shocking -- you need a beefy computer to play back full HDTV, even with a new HD DVD or Blu-ray drive. Sure, the drive can handle reading the data off of the disc, and your new dual-core Intel or AMD chip seems powerful enough, but how will it do in real life?

The problem is, as we've seen before, the real numbers that your computer has to deal with can be deceiving. A 1920x1080-pixel image projected 30 times a second (that would be the magic 1080p we're all trying to see) is over two megapixels per frame, or 62 million pixels per second. Compression and other techniques can help reduce those numbers, but that's still a lot to ask of your average computer, and it's one reason why the specs on most of the WMV HD boxes say you'll need a 3GHz computer to even start playing HD content. Even late model, supposedly fast computers can choke up when trying to play back such a stream of uncompressed data. Of course, nVidia being a graphics chipset manufacturer, they have come up with a solution to offload some of that burden onto the graphics card, which helps the playback quality and keeps you from dropping frames to keep up with the speed the content was recorded at. They have also made sure that at least the specifications of the cards include HDCP copy-protection hardware, even if the card licensees sometimes don't include it on their models. HDCP is the hardware that keeps your computer from breaking the encryption chain when playing protected HD DVD, Blu-ray disc, or other content, so the image can get to the display for you to see.

Competing chipset producer ATI also includes similar hardware in their reference design, which means, like next-gen DVD formats, you have choices when buying video cards for your computer as well as drives. But I think it's interesting to see computer and peripheral manufacturers getting ramped up for HDTV production, and it will certainly spur sales of higher-end video cards, CPUs, and other hardware as consumers go to play their new content on their home theater or gaming computers. Do you think your rig is fast enough and powerful enough to play back the HDTV you crave? Are you looking forward to any new hardware coming on the horizon that you think will make viewing (or recording!) HDTV easier and better? Let us know.

[Via HDTV Blog]