IntroductionGraphics cards have evolved over the decades from being "display adapters" to "video cards", to "graphics accelerators", to what it is today, something that forms a key component to the PC, in which the increasing complexity of visuals are what define the evolution of pretty much every other key PC component, be it the graphics processor, the central processor, or memory. While 3D graphics witnessed a steady evolution in terms of complexity and resolution, video didn't evolve as gradually. It is only since the later half of last decade that video evolved from standard-definition formats (that which any color television is capable to display without any resolution loss), to high-definition (HD) formats, with the advent of new media that makes HD video portable. After a brief format-war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, the former emerged as the de-facto medium. Among electronic media, HD video propagated with HDTV, and new PC video formats.
HD video is what gave the PC its last push on its long walk to the living room. Inside PCs, all the magic happens with graphics processors. There is a long standing myth that since analog media (such as tapes) were replaced by digital formats, all lossless video consumed from DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and lossless video files end up being of the same quality once it reaches the screen. Of course one can argue that image quality varies among displays, but another component that contributes to image quality is the graphics card.
Even though the graphics card connects to your display over a digital connection, it is the GPU, which can enhance the fidelity of the images its sending to the display, in addition to the original lossless recording. Lossless aside, with rapid advancements in Internet bandwidth, the Internet is serving as the best medium for content distribution. Videos rented, sold, or exhibited on the web come in lossy formats to reduce bandwidth consumption (and transfer time). This increases the importance of GPU to give out the best image quality of the encoded content, and enhance its quality artificially. With limited bandwith at HD resolution you will see the introduction of compression artifacts, or upscaling artifacts at low resolution content on HD displays.
To serve as a gold standard in the industry for measuring just this (the fidelity a PC (GPU), or a disc player has toward the recording), Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) benchmark 2.0 came to be, early this year. GPU-maker AMD responded to this with new video decoding features in its new release of the Catalyst driver suite, version 10.6 WHQL, which provides software support for ATI Radeon graphics cards and integrated graphics processors. The drivers also pack optimizations for Adobe Flash 10.1, the latest version of Flash, which can make use of GPU-acceleration for videos on the web. Let's evaluate what Catalyst 10.6 has brought new to the scene. We will be testing image quality for videos out of the box, video-enhancement features on, and optimized for each single test.
Test description text on the following pages has been copied from AMD's reviewer's guide and adjusted if necessary.