Perfect HD playback on Atom + ION Netbooks

Felix Leven Senior Systems Engineer Microsoft & Citrix.
All things Microsoft Admin, for 20 years plus, focusing on automation, infrastructure as code, devops, monitoring and reporting lately.
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)

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.
Felix Leven Senior Systems Engineer Microsoft & Citrix.
All things Microsoft Admin, for 20 years plus, focusing on automation, infrastructure as code, devops, monitoring and reporting lately.

Comments (2)

You having problems because of several things (I'm sticking this here to help others that have come across this page like me and are trying to get 1080p playback).

1: Do not use drivers from Nvidia website. You must use drivers from Asus which will be an older set of Nvidia (267.54)/Intel Drivers yet they will work together well as this laptop has two GPUs.

2: The hi power ion GPU will only switch on when needed (perhaps why you had better performance with aero on).  usually whether ION gpu is activated depends on the program run and a list of these is updated daily.  This is why a new game will work and old will not.
You can add programs manually.  XBMC is not included in the automated list so by default you will be using the INTEL gpu which can still handle all 720p and some 1080s.
Goto control panel->NVidia control panel->Manage 3D settings
First panel shows programs in automated list.  cyberlink dvd however uses intel by default which is wrong!  You will lose out on Truevideo.

Click on second tab "program settings", add program, browse to xbmc, select high-performance nvidia processor rather than intergrated graphics.
Same applies to any game excuatable you wish to play.

3: In xbmc Select adjust vid rate as you suggest, also sync video to audio clock, post processing for SD content only, select dxva, also most importantly deselect use fullscreen window so you get true fullscreen.  You will not be able to change your refresh correctly I believe unless you do also I got distortion and tearing using it.
If using hdmi out make sure you select (blank other displays option) so the gpu is not over worked.  With this you will get flawless 1080p playback on the screen and hdmi in windows.

Linux is not an option yet for xbmc as the switch portion is only just get written called bumblebee I believe (check progress in 6 months or so).

4: Other players that take advantage of ION.  Certainly if you want to view video in window by click on explorer. MPC (media player classic) is the way to go.  google CCCP and install.  You will need to select the correct DXVA filters to get it working but the are plenty of guides out there for that just google "DXVA MPC".

I hope this helps other fellow googlers
I should mention MPC is now known as MPC Home Cinema.

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