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Widescreen Notebooks: More Than Just Expensive DVD Players?

High Definition Video On PC: WMV HD

It is, however, already possible to watch HD video on notebooks. There are a number of DVDs available with content that is in the form of Windows Media Video High Definition files (WMV HDs). WMV HD is a video format developed by Microsoft that is favored over MPEG2 and MPEG4 by certain players within the film industry such as Warner Home Video, because it offers digital rights management (DRM). The DRM functionality of WMV HD permits making video DVDs with content that can be copied once, several times or not at all.

But what is really the raison d'être of high definition video when it comes to viewing purposes? The simple answer is: the excellent precision of detail this type of video offers, thanks to substantially higher resolution, creates much better overall picture quality, making video coded this way truly worth seeing. While most videos from television or DVDs have a vertical resolution of 480 (NTSC)/575 (PAL) lines, "high definition" video has line resolution of either 720 or 1080 lines.

The two WMV HD Demos we used for the test, Coral Reef Adventure and Amazon, had a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p) and 1920 x 1080 (1080p), respectively. To factor in the effect of lower default settings for the core and memory clocks of the graphics processor in the notebooks' graphics card drivers, we made our measurements using different memory and core clock settings.

Ati Powerplay Setting:Max. BatteryBalancedHigh PerformanceHD WMV Demo - Resolution
Acer TM8103WLMi (Pentium M750, MRX700 128 MB)jerking, droping frames
OK
jerking, droping frames
OK
OK
OK
Amazon - 1080p
Coral Reef Adventure - 720p
Dell Inspiron 6000d (Pentium M740, MRX300 128 MB)strong jerking, droping frames
OK
jerking, droping frames
OK
OK
OK
Amazon - 1080p
Coral Reef Adventure - 720p
Gateway M460 XLb (Pentium M750, MRX600 128 MB)OK
OK
OK
OK
OK
OK
Amazon - 1080p
Coral Reef Adventure - 720p
CPU: always maximum performance

In our observations, none of the machines had any problems playing 720p WMV HD video.

Things were different with the even more detailed 1080p WMV-HD video. In playback mode, the Acer and Dell machines got hung up depending on the settings of the graphics card driver. Due to its lower resolution, the Gateway M460XLb did not suffer from this sort of "imaging hiccups". The device's graphics processor has about 75% fewer pixels to manipulate compared to the graphics processors of the other two notebooks we tested. It should be said though that the M460XLb's WXGA display cannot offer the same image detail as the Dell and Acer mobile PCs. In a direct comparison using DVD video coded with standard NTSC or PAL resolution, the "HD experience" offered by the M460XLb also made an impressive showing.

As our tests indicated, decoding HD video content is a graphics- and CPU-intensive affair. Mobile enjoyment of HD video is thus a short-lived pleasure, just as 3D gaming is, when operating on battery power. Viewing HD video on a notebook is best done near an electrical outlet.