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Perfect HD playback on Atom + ION Netbooks

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After playing around with my ASUS 1215n Netbook, I finally managed to get smooth HD 1080p playback of videos on it. Second Generation Intel Atom and  NVidia ION support was meant to be the right mix to get limited gaming experience and full HD playback, but it needed some tweaking and testing in the end. Now I will share what I learned on my way.

The Setup

I installed:
Nvidia Driver 267.76 Drivers
XBMC 10.1
No SP1 for Windows 7
MKV File used from the local HDD (build in 5400)
Power settings were on Super-Performance Mode all the time, I have not checked how low you can set it to still get good playback. -> Checked different settings, doesn't seem to make any difference.
Microsoft Security Essentials

First try and technical facts

First the DXVA Feature to accelerate Video playback on Microsoft systems is only supported on VISTA and Windows 7.

The Netbook was shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium, but I could not manage to achieve playback without stuttering (even 720p was crap).

So, I tested a lot with different Players:
WINdvd (which I needed to test again after my conclusion regarding XBMC)
VLC

XBMC was the only player that looked promising to me and after reading on the Internet that I can ENABLE the DXVA in XBMC my mission seems to be almost completed. But I was wrong. I played around with all the possible settings in XMBC but I always ended in stuttering/choppy video playback.

The point where I made the first step into the right direction, was too enable Windows Aero again o.O. Yes, stupid me believed that I get better performance on my netbook, when I disable the fancy (and what a mess) desktop engine. FAIL, things get even slower when you do this, cause micro-soft messed up the 2D hardware acceleration (WDDM).

I thought this was the last missing puzzle piece, but after turning Windows Aero on again, I still had no success.

The Solution

Remember to restart XMBC after changing the video settings! Enable AERO all the time and you will get smooth playback on internal/external screen in XBMC:

Playback on your internal 12'' screen: Go to System -> Video -> Playback -> Turn on: Adjust display refresh rate and Video Post-Processing

Playback on 1080p Plasma (HDMI connection) -> Go to NVIDIA display settings and fix the refresh rate of the Plasama TV to 24p! Go to System -> Video -> Playback -> Turn off: Adjust display refresh rate, Sync Playback to video and Video Post-Processing  (too much for ION/Atom?)

What still can cause trouble are ION settings like Inverse Telecine or Panasonic's intelligent frame creation. Features that should give you smoother playback, but I experienced more problems when they are turned on (maybe only one side ION/TV should be enabled not both ?).

Closing thoughts on the ASUS Netbook:

Full power (5 % more) of ION will be achieved only over HDMI (Gaming), cause it looks like this is the only way to get a full pass-through to the nvidia graphics card. Sad that Netbooks don't have a dedicated digital audio port, because audio and video over only one cable is not flexible enough for older A/V receiver setups (Exstreamer or Popcorn Hour have more options).
12 inch screen, over 6 hours battery run-time (NVIDIA optimus , AUTO-Power saving, half backlight, some wlan use) make the new generation of netbooks very powerful and will make days harder for the "normal" Notebooks.
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Author:Felix Leven
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