One of the new players in the HD market is coming from a small company called Mirillis, who developed a new media player software called Splash HD. The goal was to create a piece of software than not has a beautiful and responsive GUI, but also features a powerful H.264/VC-1 decoder + renderer, bitstreams every type of audio format possible to a compatible AVR, and most importantly, is extremely easy to use.
While initially designed for the desktop/laptop, recent revisions have added MCE remote support for HTPC use.
There are currently 3 versions of the player, with 1 more on the map :
The Lite version only features a GPU decoding codec for H.264 up to 1080p/i, while VC-1 is decoded via de CPU, and has no bitstreaming capabilities nor HD audio decoders.
The Pro version supports all types of containers, MKV/MP4/M2TS/AHVCD etc., has HD audio bistreaming and HD audio decoders, supports resolutions up to 1080p/i and post processing features like Motion2 and Detail/Light Boost.
The Pro Export version comes with all the features above + a H.264 encoder, with CUDA and Intel QuickSync support for offloading the thread to the GPU (and the developers have stated that they will also add Ati Stream support), for encoding videos into various resolutions/bitrates, with a good number of profiles, randging from Youtube normal/HD to Xbox, PS3 and iOS/Android devices.
The upcoming BD version, which will be released at the end of this year, will feature full Blu Ray disk playback support + Blu Ray folder/ISO support + all the features of the Pro version. Pricing on this version is still unknownGUI and Settings
Splash HD Pro comes with a basic set of settings in a very well organized and intuitive /easy to use GUI. As you can see from the screenshots, you have the ability to select the desired screen format, and for each type of screen (4:3,16/10,cinematic) the ability to keep the original AR or to strech it to fill the screen.
Selecting the audio track or subtitle track can be done via the icons on the lower bar, or by right clicking on the player. The SmartSeek feature, when hovering your mouse over a certain point on the time-bar, allows you to see a small preview on of the selected frame.Video Quality and post-processing
This is one for the features that the Splash developers are pushing hard. Basically, similar to to AvySynth script for doubling frame-rate, this double 24p/30p to 60 frames per second, creating a smoothing effect. The result can be seen in this small demo
. This feature is CPU bound, and features multithreaded support, so you need at least a C2D E4400 or upper class CPU or AMD equivalent to have it work properly without shuttering on high bitrate material. Something like a Zacate or worse, an Atom platform will choke up faster that you can say shutter-fest
Personally, after watching 10 minutes of a movie, i found this feature to make the movie look like a video camera recording, odd and gimmcky. But some people may like it, this is something you have to try for yourself to see if you like. Just be careful in regards to the CPU requirements
This post processing feature is basically a sharpening algorithm that produces very good results, comparable or better than the one Media Player Classic Home Cinema deploys (Sharpen Complex 2). It is best left around the value of 5, more than that and you end up with an artifical looking picture and lots of grain.
Splash HD Pro -> Detail Boost set to 5, Color Levels to 0-255 from the Nvidia Control Panel
Media Player Classic - Home Cinema -> LAV Splitters, LAV CUDID decoder for Nvidia GPUs, EVR Custom Preseter, Shader Complex 2 enabled, Color Levels set to 0-255 from the Nvidia Control Panel
Splash HD vs MPC-HC *Important note
: Due to the arhitecture of MPC-HC, the screenshots do not include the post processing effect of the Sharpen Complex 2 shader. That`s why the MPC-HC screens look a little "softer", but in reality the sharpening of the image was equal on both players.Audio Quality
The audio options for Splash HD are kinda sparse. Bitstreaming works fine and out of the box, and was tested on a Denon AVR, for both HD and lossy sound formats, as can be seen in the picture below.
As far as analog sound is concerned, the audio decoders provide a rich audio experience, the only thing lacking seems to be the voices, the tones are a bit lower than expected (tests were done on my desktop, Asus Xonar + Denon AH-D510 headphones), when surrounding effects come into place sometimes the voices cannot be heard clearly. The lack of an proper equalizer means that the only way to fix this is by turning the volume up, which is not ideal if you don`t want the rest of the street listening to your movie
. The ffdshow audio decoder is superior in this regard.Conclusion
Splash HD shows what a good team of software engineers and a good team of graphic designers cand do. A beautiful, easy to use and very fast GUI, , combined with a powerful set of video and audio filters for pristine Video and audio quality. Unfortunatly, if has it`s flaws : the lack of Blu Ray disk/ISO/folder structure support in the Pro version means the TMT5 & PowerDVD 10 are still the only solutions for this task, and the audio decoder still needs some improvements to catch up to ffdshow.
The upcoming BD version will be the one to "get" for the majority of HTPC users looking for a proper replacement for TMT5 or PDVD. Still, for 19$ this can be a good replacement for MPC-HC is you are not satisfied with it`s kinda complicated & outdated GUI.