ok, finally got everything to boot and did some tests. I used knotix, a knoppix/debian6 distro that can easily load the nvidia/ati drivers (from 4 months ago, but for my board i think that's fine). all tests done on 1280×720 60hz.
- test #1, OSS drivers, VGA out
it plays fine. I tested a 720p 30fps trailer and also tried to play the new bond movie trailer via firefox mplayer(?) plug-in from youtube
everything played nicely, but color was not the best, blacks were not as deep as the TV is capable.... nothing that i couldn't 'get close' with some adjustments on the TV. it's probably the TV fault to begin with as the color signal should be the same, right?
- test #2, OSS drivers, HDMI out
i can see the dammed scan lines on all action scenes playing the video on 420p, on 720p there are video hickups as well. i can't explain why. cpu usage is LOWER than test #1. color is fine. deep blacks.
- test #3, Nvidia drivers, VGA out
same as test #1, less cpu usage before getting to full screen video, same when full screen video.
- test #4, Nvidia drivers, HDMI out
same as test #2, just slightly better, even less cpu usage, but same crappy video out.
- test #5, nvidia drivers, vdpau
hehe, i tried. but of course, my card is too old/unsupported for this. mplayer tried to valiantly play even without a video out device. reminded of strong bad's Li'l Brudder http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail109.html
So, my conclusion is that decoding and all is fine... I've just been getting s***** video out because probably the hardware on that ASUS video card is bogus.
Same output on the VGA port is like butter. switch to the DVI or HDMI port and i get all short of issues.... i've been using this board on my main computer since what... 2005? even though i used it mostly via the VGA out on my 24" sgi crt... i mostly used the DVI out on my flat panels thinking it would be better... what a sucker I am.
Now, you guys taught me a lot here, even with me reading this all half-awake most of the time, and i will try to absorb all that and make more educated questions (or hopefully progress reports) soon. For now i think that brute-force-decoding on software with the poor P4 will be OK for 720p, and hopefully i can get the hauppage cards to already give the channels in 720p instead of 1080i... as i will probably wait to buy more gear after intel at least anounces the integrated GPU plans for Haswell ... but that's a problem for another time. Thanks again guys!