Leadtek WinFast PxVC1100 MPEG-2/H.264 Transcoding Card
Tuesday, 09 March 2010 11:37
Model: Leadtek WinFast PxVC1100 MPEG-2/H.264 Transcoding Card
Provided By: Pegasys Inc.
Among computer enthusiasts the name Leadtek is synonymous with performance and quality. Founded in 1986, this Taiwanese company specializes in the design and manufacture of graphics and multimedia solutions. While best known for their mainstream and workstation-class graphics cards, Leadtek offers a variety of other products including TV tuners, video capture devices, GPS modules, videophones and video surveillance cameras.
While MPEG-2 was the de facto video standard for many years, the growing demand for high-def content has resulted in a number of new formats. One of the more promising developments is the H.264 standard. Utilizing the latest video compression technology, H.264 delivers the same quality as MPEG-2 at a third to half the bit rate. This allows you to create much smaller video files which require less network bandwidth and storage space.
There is one down-side to the H.264 standard: it's very resource intensive. Even with a high-end computer, it can take a considerable amount of time to encode HD video with even a moderate bit rate. To speed things up, Leadtek developed the WinFast PxVC1100 MPEG-2/H.264 transcoding card. This low profile PCI Express card features Toshiba’s SpursEngine SE1000 processor, which is designed to encode video at high speeds and improve the quality of video playback.
The test system used in this review was an Dell Optiplex 960 with 64-bit Windows Vista installed on it. The computer came equipped with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz CPU, 8GB of DDR2 800MHz memory, Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250310AS 250GB SATA hard drive and ATI Radeon HD 3470 PCIe graphics card.
To test the performance of the Leadtek PxVC1100, I first encoded a two hour 1920x1080 .m2ts video file using the MPEG-4 and SpursEngine templates in TMPEnc 4.0 XPress. Where the MPEG-4 template uses the system's CPU to encode video, SpursEngine takes full advantage of the PxVC1100's processing power. To make this more of an apples to apples comparison, I created two custom templates with a resolution of 1920x1080, frame rate of 23.97 fps and constant bit rate of 15Mb/s. In both cases, I used embedded AAC audio with a 48kHz sample rate and 128 kpbs bit rate.
I also encoded a 720x480 MPEG-2 video file that was 37:36 in length. I created custom MPEG-4 and SpursEngine templates with a resolution of 720x480, frame rate of 29.97 fps and constant bit rate of 3Mb/s. Here too, I used embedded AAC audio with a 48kHz sample rate and 128 kpbs bit rate.
The graph above pretty much speaks for itself. Where it took more than six hours to encode a two hour 1920x1080 video using the CPU alone, the PxVC1100 was able to do it in about one hour and thirteen minutes. The card also reduced the amount of time it took to encode our 720x480 test video from 15:14 down to a about five and a half minutes.
To see how the PxVC1100 performs when upconverting video, the 720x480 MPEG-2 video file from the previous test was encoded using custom MPEG-4 and SpursEngine templates with a resolution of 1920x1080 and constant bit rate of 9.8Mb/s. The SpursEngine tests were first run with Super-Resolution disabled and then again with it enabled.
With a higher resolution and bit rate, it took a lot longer to upconvert our test video to 1080p. Using the CPU alone, it took nearly an hour and a half to complete the test. The PxVC1100 was able to do this in a third of the time. However, with Super-Resolution enabled, it still took nearly an hour.
While it's hard to tell by looking at a few screenshots, the video produced by the SpursEngine was noticeably better than what TMPGEnc was able to do using the CPU alone. The Super-Resolution algorithm didn't have nearly as big of an impact. However, the video appeared to be a bit sharper when it was enabled. That being said, the video was far from being Blu-ray quality. Even with Super-Resolution enabled, there was still some motion blur and jaggies during some scenes.
One thing I really wanted to do in this review was put the Leadtek PxVC1100 head to head with the Matrox CompressHD. This was easier said than done, though, as the CompressHD is not supported by TMPGenc and the PxVC1100 cannot be used with Adobe's Media Encoder without a special plug-in. After firing off a few emails to Leadtek, I finally found someone who was willing and able to send me the CRI Dual-CS Coder plug-in.
To test the performance of the Leadtek PxVC1100 and Matrox CompressHD, I first encoded a two hour 1920x1080 .m2ts video file using the H.264, Matrox MP4 and CRI Dual-CS Coder formats in Adobe Media Encoder. I created three custom configurations with a resolution of 1920x1080, frame rate of 23.97 fps and constant bit rate of 15MB/s. In all three cases, I used embedded AAC audio with a 48kHz sample rate and 128 kpbs bit rate.
I also encoded a 720x480 MPEG-2 video file that was 37:36 in length. I created three custom configurations for the H.264, Matrox MP4 formats and CRI Dual-CS Coder formats with a resolution of 720x480, frame rate of 29.97 fps and constant bit rate of 3MB/s. Here too, I used embedded AAC audio with a 48kHz sample rate and 128 kpbs bit rate.
Right off the bat, I ran into some problems with the CRI Dual-CS Coder plug-in. For whatever reason, it took the PxVC1100 much longer than expected to encode the .m2ts video file. I ended up having to demux the file, resulting in an MPEG-2 file with a single AC3 audio track. The PxVC1100 had no problems encoding this file with the CRI Dual-CS Coder plug-in, taking less than an hour and a half to complete.
Encoding the 720x480 MPEG-2 video went off without a hitch. While not as fast as the Matrox CompressHD, the PxVC1100 took less than 20 minutes to encode the entire video clip.
Despite the latest advances in CPU design, dedicated transcoding cards are quickly becoming a necessity for those that encode a lot of HD video. For a sub-$300 card, the Leadtek PxVC1100 performed surprisingly well in our tests. Thanks to Toshiba's SpursEngine processor, it was able to encode HD video in less than real time. More importantly, the video produced by the PxVC1100 was on par with that from TMPGEnc's software encoder and the much more expensive Matrox CompressHD.
Bundled software is often an afterthought for many companies. In this case, though, Leadtek has included some of the best video encoding software available. TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress is able to take virtually any video file and encode it at resolutions ranging from iPod to HD and at bit rates as high as 50Mb/s. The PxVC1100 also comes with a plug-in for TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress that allows you to harness the SpursEngine's full processing power when encoding MPEG-2 and H.264 files.
That being said, software support is still a concern. Aside from Pegasys, Corel and CRI Middleware, there aren't very many companies developing software for Toshiba's SpursEngine. With Leadtek making an SDK freely available to the public, this will hopefully change.
The Leadtek PxVC1100 is available now and can be purchased from online vendors like Newegg.com. The card is available with Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5.0 for about $190 or TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress for $290.
Features Toshiba's SpursEngine processor
Faster than real time MPEG-2 and H.264 encoding
Improves upconverted video
Supports variable and constant bit rates up to 50Mb/s
Low profile, half-length PCIe x1 card
Includes TMPGEnc 4.0 XPress and SpursEngine plugin
Limited software support
Does not support 2-pass VBR
Bundled TMPGEnc does not support multichannel audio