Picture quality: Windows vs Linux - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 26 Old 12-21-2013, 10:05 PM - Thread Starter
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I read everywhere that madVR is the pinnacle of picture quality coming out of a Windows HTPC. But for the life of me, I can't find any discussion about the differences between madVR and the top quality Linux video renderer, which by the way I also can't find which it is.

Maybe it's everywhere and I'm not using the right search words (English is not my native language). I just can't find anything about it.

Is no one interested in the PQ differences between a Windows and a Linux HTPC? Or am I just being dumb?

Can anyone help me?

TIA
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post #2 of 26 Old 12-22-2013, 10:33 AM
 
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post #3 of 26 Old 12-22-2013, 11:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you for your contribution.

I do hope however that some people here are beyond the OS wars and are willing to take a purely technical view at it. I'm hoping that Linux is capable of objectively producing the same PQ than Windows. I just want to hear the experience from people who have tried both and compared them extensively. I'd love to hear from them.
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post #4 of 26 Old 12-22-2013, 08:00 PM
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I've ran windows, linux, osx , etc on my 110" screen and I've found that a clean noise free video card and power supply pretty much is the best picture you can get. I've played with madVR and other preprocessors but I only noticed improvement when going from dvd to a large screen. With blu-ray and other hd sources I don't understand what you could *adjust* to make a better image. Also, at this bitrate you would need some really serious horsepower to manipulate a HD video stream in real time. I have used the same filters in the past with avisynth and redoing the lord of the rings from dvd to a hd quality took 36 hours to regenerate the movie. Was it better? Yes, but it was quite painful looking at sample after sample to get the sharpness and quality I wanted not to mention having your cpu running 100% on all cores for that long - thankfully it was winter and was heating our house. cool.gif
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post #5 of 26 Old 12-23-2013, 03:37 AM
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Doesn't matter if you use decent components...I don't think I've ever had a single person complain the picture on my screen being driven by a Linux HTPC. I think there are times when people's OCD kick in and become too obsessed with the video rather than letting themselves just enjoy the movie.
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post #6 of 26 Old 12-23-2013, 11:40 AM
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I've never heard of a top-quality linux video renderer

Understanding the entire playback chain of video will take a lot of time to fully understand. It then takes even more time to understand how it applies directly to your specific display, and what practical differences you'll see by toggling certain settings.

Example, one of the differences always discussed in blu ray playback on an HD display (FHD source on FHD display) is chroma upscaling. Yet long into a discussion thread of some not seeing any difference and those noticing a difference, it was revealed that most plasma sets and displays that process chroma 4:2:0 wouldn't notice the benefit from chroma upscaling.

From the theoretical point of view madvr is a superior video renderer
Quote:
- high quality chroma upsampling
- high quality scaling (bicubic, mitchell, lanczos, spline etc)
- high quality YCbCr -> RGB conversion
- gamut & gamma correction for display calibration
- full 16bit processing queue
- final 16bit processing result is dithered down to RGB output bitdepth
- bypasses graphics card's video (damage) algorithms


Also a good quote from the developer, madshi, regarding his intent with madvr
Quote:
madVR performs slower because it does things differently. EVR (and probably XBMC, but I don't know that for sure) are making use of GPU hardware circuits where they can, e.g. color conversion etc. And they often default to low bitdepth buffers. On the other hand, madVR does everything itself, in high bitdepth, with dithering as the last step, in order to be able to guarantee that quality is impeccable. GPU circuits might also be able to produce good quality, but that depends on the GPU manufacturer, model, OS, driver version, driver settings and the constellation of the planets. Try switching MPC-HC's EVR renderer to "Full floating point processing" and you'll see that EVR suddenly isn't so fast, anymore. By default many EVR implementations work in 8bit, dropping BTB/WTW, introducing banding etc etc. But it's fast that way, of course. I could program madVR that way, too. But we don't need another low quality renderer alternative. I've always said that madVR's primary focus is quality and that I'm not taking shortcuts on the way. But that doesn't mean that madVR would be "terribly unoptimized". It isn't. Just my priority is different. Quality over speed. Still at the same time my algorithms are reasonably well optimized. For example, I've even written separate shader routines for upscaling with an exact scaling factor of 2x or 3x to improve performance on slower GPUs. I don't think any other renderer has invested that much optimization work.

A newer feature of madvr is FRC, which is kind of similar to SVP (smooth motion video project). SVP set out to perform frame interpolation via CPU and output 60fps to a 60Hz display.

A lot of 60Hz displays (and most 120Hz displays which are really 60Hz sets with inverted frames injected between source frames - marketing schpeel) will not directly handle blu ray source 1080p/23.976. Instead they take use a frame duplication algorithm (3:2 pull down) to output 60Hz. In fast action scenes and panning scenes these can appear to contain judder. If you are watching a blu ray from source then you should be pretty convinced that this is a result of your display algorithm as opposed to some video file conversion quality loss (which you may see if watching downloaded or handbraked videos). SVP creates frames for 60fps output, but AFAIK madvr makes use of existing frames. Madvr's target was frame-blending rather than frame interpolation. Some people truly prefer frame interpolation (like you'll find on new flat panel displays with terms like motionflow, etc). SVP gives you a way to apply your own frame interpolation and keep your old 60Hz display. I don't think it's really been compared to applying OEM frame interpolation to blu ray source (we were just talking about this in the above forum). MadVRs FRC is aimed at eliminating the judder you'd see rather than providing a frame interpolation effect. Shouldn't notice it much if your display already outputs 24p without the 3:2 duplication algorithm (might not even notice it then)

Here is a good link to hardware requirements for various madvr levels

Also, here are some screenshots showing madvr's superior chroma upscaling First Second

If you look at those two and can't really see much difference you aren't alone, but here is a more concrete example (to me) of the practical image superiority when viewing gradation. without madvr with madvr

The gradation looks pretty obvious to me for a static image. If I load both those images as fullscreen windows and rapidly switch between them then I lose site of which is which.

Finally, what most seem to say is the largest benefit of madvrs quality-focused processing can be seen in upscaling
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post #7 of 26 Old 12-23-2013, 11:59 AM
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In the end, this could be discussed until Armageddon but it wouldn't really matter since the theoretical vs practical application of varying pre/post processing algorithms and renderers can only be measured by the individual

The current setbacks of madvr are as follows
  • Forget running your htpc from a g1610 w/ 2GB of DDR3 (or ARM) (~may change in the future)
  • Windows license per box
  • Player lock-in, and if front-end/player integration is important then locked to Jriver, MB3, or Meedios (all fine choices if you do prefer madvr)
  • Higher energy consumption during playback (probably not enough to really notice given current energy prices)

Depending on how much difference you can see (assuming you have the hardware to try it) those setbacks may be of little consequence. While my personal experience shouldn't influence you to never try it out, my own findings were that the non-upscaling features were not obvious enough for me to permanently modify my frontend setup (xbmc). While great upscaling would be very nice, I usually just buy better source content (blu-ray even if I already own the DVD) for movies I thoroughly enjoy.
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post #8 of 26 Old 12-23-2013, 07:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by comomolo View Post

Is no one interested in the PQ differences between a Windows and a Linux HTPC? Or am I just being dumb?
There's a lot of different use cases and depending on what you need the hardware and software requirements vary.

My use is mostly unprocessed output from 1080@23.976 sources and for that Linux + Haswell is wonderful. I get accurate 23.976 output out-of-the-box without any custom configuration and verified the colorspace conversion math myself. With Linux and Intel you have the added benefit of having access to the driver source, so you can verify that everything is the way you want and fix it if necessary (and if you can't, you can still benefit from the work of others who can).

For my own use, I modified the driver to signal 16-235 range to my monitor while outputting 0-255 unmodified. This way I can get the original luma range (unclipped and without banding) without having to force the screen to a particular setting and messing with my other sources.

I don't think I could easily get the same with Windows. If I needed high quality scaling, deinterlacing, YCbCr output (not possible with any PC OS at the moment without going to RGB first?) or maybe output to a fixed 60Hz PC monitor, I might look at something else.
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post #9 of 26 Old 12-24-2013, 12:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for the posts and especially Dark_Slayer for the pictures. I agree the differences are subtle. Taking into account we're staring at still pictures, I can imagine it will be negligible in moving pictures.

Frame interpolation/motion smoothing is not interesting to me at all. I count on using proper displays capable of playing the most used video frequencies adequately.

I do, however, easily see lots of banding in blurays and HDTV and I do need the best possible upscaling for DVDs and SD TV sources. I don't consider rare file formats important at all. Anything legit coming in MP4, MKV, MOV, etc., in addition to the mentioned BD, DVD, HDTV and SDTV is what I want to play (and record, in the case of TV).

So far I'm trusting NVIDIA graphics cards to do a good job with video (VP4 and VP5 capable hardware). Any comparison of banding/scaling from those GPUs to the madVR renderer out there? Those would be useful.

I want to use Linux and I want to use the lowest possible power consumption CPU for my projects (that means Intel. I'll be trying an Ivy Bridge Celeron coupled with an Nvidia GT430 in the coming days).

However, some customers of mine will be videophiles who might ask for the highest possible quality, no matter what the price or power consumption. I'll be happy to put a very powerful CPU inside their machines, but for many reasons I do not want Windows on the systems I'll build and sell. It's totally out of the question, and that's why I'm on the quest for the best possible picture quality you can get from Linux and how it compares to madVR.

In other words: I need to make sure my customers don't tell me "Use Windows with madVR. That's what they recommend everywhere on the internet". I need to show them there are not enough visible differences and convince them madVR is more of an academic proof of concept than a true visible difference wen confronted to the best Linux renderer.

Which leads me to ask again: what would be that best Linux video renderer? Is ffmpeg (original and fork) the best we have on the Linux side? Is that what XBMC is using? Or should I look into gstreamer better?

Of course I will eventually try a Core i7, put Windows and Linux inside the same box and check all the differences myself, but I'm still on a tight budget for testing and I want to start with some advice from knowledgeable people.

Just for the record, I've been working in professional video for the best part of my life. However home video is a whole different story and PC based video recording and playback has an entire set of practical issues. That's why I'm asking all this here.

Thanks again.
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post #10 of 26 Old 12-24-2013, 10:42 AM
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To answer one of your questions, XBMC uses ffmpeg as do all open source apps.

It is the defacto standard, and I know of no alternative.

Post-processing is handled by the player (mplayer, XBMC, MythTV, etc.), so this is where you would look for something comparable to madVR (or implement it).
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post #11 of 26 Old 12-24-2013, 07:09 PM - Thread Starter
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@quantumstate: If you have nothing helpful to say, I kindly ask you to stop replying to this thread. I don't mind silly comments once in a while, but insisting in such an attitude is only adding noise. You're not helping and aren't being funny either. I'm pretty sure you have more interesting things to do than annoying people in a forum.

@sysadmin: Thank you very much for your reply. I didn't know the different roles of ffmpeg and the players. If I understand correctly, ffmpeg does the decoding and the players do the rendering? Or is ffmpeg doing a plain render as well and the players add postprocessing filters to the result? Is there any of those players making better than average upscaling and chroma upsampling at all? That's what I would want to compare to madVR I guess. Maybe I should open a new thread about video upscaling and chroma upsampling in Linux?

Yesterday I learned that mpv is yet another fork of mplayer/mplayer2 and their reasons for "re-forking" sound solid to me (and by reintroducing encoding they're helping me greatly).

Where would gstreamer be in this landscape and how does it compare with its "competitors"? I would think it's an alternative to ffmpeg, but since there's an ffmpeg plugin for gstreamer, I'm getting a bit confused there.

As you guys can see, I'm slowly getting in my mind the map of video playback and recording in Linux. Please feel free to point me to any resources to read about it before I keep asking basic questions. My goal is to find the Linux video flow that most closely resembles madVR quality, since that seems to be the current reference for PQ in PC video playback.

Thanks again for the helpful replies.
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post #12 of 26 Old 12-24-2013, 09:20 PM
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@QS

You just broke rule #1, lol ...

@comolo

ffmpeg decodes the file then the player is responsible for rendering it. Typically, though, it hands this off to the HW-accelerated driver, VDPAU, for example (nvidia cards).

So the driver itself is where you would want to address any chroma upscaling (which they may already do, I haven't checked) OR you would have to rewrite the entire video-rendering process to use the processing power in the GPU, which is what I believe that madVR does.

Seems to me that madVR was developed for XP before HW-accelerated drivers were available for video. Now that they are here, though, even in linux, the driver developers are the ones that should be hounded about adding chroma-upscaling features (if they don't already exist).
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post #13 of 26 Old 12-24-2013, 10:07 PM
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P.S. The nvidia linux forum would be the best place to ask about chroma upscaling. The users there are way more videophiles than myself and most of us here, plus NVIDIA actually listens to and responds to user feedback there. They are simply awesome.

http://www.nvnews.net/vbulletin/forumdisplay.php?forumid=14
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post #14 of 26 Old 12-25-2013, 12:12 AM - Thread Starter
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OK, I'll ask at the nvidia forums. But basically what you're saying is that what madVR does is nowadays being done by the graphics driver itself, right? I wonder why it isn't deprecated and still recommended everywhere as the reference renderer? Obviously, the quality isn't comparable when it comes to upscaling/upsampling. I also must understand no "software" renderer (read: not-in-the-driver; I know madVR uses openGL in the graphics card, though that's obviously a different thing from PureVideo, for instance), akin to madVR or EVR is actually being developed on the Linux side? On Linux we trust the graphics driver to do the job, and that's it, right?

I still have not a clear idea of the video pipeline in Linux. If I search for video decoding in the XBMC wiki, I'll see plenty of things that are supposed to be on the renderer side.. I reckon it's a different pipeline from Windows, but still there must be one? Any resources about this on the web or these very forums?
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post #15 of 26 Old 12-25-2013, 05:54 AM
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Thread cleaned up.
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post #16 of 26 Old 12-25-2013, 07:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sysadmin View Post

So the driver itself is where you would want to address any chroma upscaling (which they may already do, I haven't checked) OR you would have to rewrite the entire video-rendering process to use the processing power in the GPU, which is what I believe that madVR does.

Seems to me that madVR was developed for XP before HW-accelerated drivers were available for video. Now that they are here, though, even in linux, the driver developers are the ones that should be hounded about adding chroma-upscaling features (if they don't already exist).

Your first portion is correct, but what "seems to you" about madVR is incorrect. It bypasses graphics options set by video card drivers on purpose, not because it was developed for XP. The list I quoted above including the 16 bit processing queue should clarify anything that seems like something it's not
Quote:
Originally Posted by comomolo View Post

OK, I'll ask at the nvidia forums. But basically what you're saying is that what madVR does is nowadays being done by the graphics driver itself, right? I wonder why it isn't deprecated and still recommended everywhere as the reference renderer?

That might have been said, but it is mistaken. MadVR has not been deprecated by a graphics driver. The developer is a user in these forums, and some other extremely knowledgeable users typically post in the above forum. It might be best to question there with a reference to madvr and whether anyone's heard of comparable enhanced rendering in Linux. The users you might try to PM or hope will respond in your post will be madshi (madvr dev), renethx, and chronoptomist. There are plenty more, but those are who I'd think of off hand

Decoding vs rendering isn't necessarily understood by everyone, specifically in the XBMC wiki. Also, a note I'm sure you already know, HW accelerated or software decoding make no difference in PQ. Though HW decoding on intel graphics (specifically celeron and pentiums) will often give you a stuttery playback in VLC or XBMC in windows, mac, or linux. Turning off hw accelerated decoding smooths everything out and even celerons can handle software decoding. Recent thread in this forum had that problem, and it's often mistakenly diagnosed as "needing" a dGPU when a few settings toggles will do the trick
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post #17 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 08:09 AM - Thread Starter
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What do you mean by "the above forum"? Nvidia's?

I've contacted the mpv developers. They basically told me to RTFM and showed zero interest/knowledge about what madVR is capable of frown.gif (I'm simply astounded by the indolence on the Linux world when it comes to getting the best PQ out of an HTPC). mpv, mplayer, mplayer2, VLC and probably every Linux player out there -except XBMC- won't switch the display's refresh rate acording to the material's frame rate. It seems most development on Linux is devoted to computer monitors and laptops (which sounds pretty bizarre to me; do people actually watch movies on a desk??? Don't Linux users use their plasmas or LCDs for movie watching???)

I'll be trying the Nvidia forums tonight, but I'll also take a look at JRiver and the other two MCs you suggested above. I didn't know JRiver was capable of recording TV (which is an absolute requirement for me). XBMC on Windows is astonishingly full of bugs (WMC too, by the way). It definitely can't be trusted as a set top box for the living room. I'll try it on Linux, but I don't expect it to behave better. If JRiver can be used to watch and record TV regularly, I'll have to consider Windows. I hate that, but it seems I'll have to develop a solution for Linux myself (I mean, hire developers to do it), if I want to get madVR comparable quality. There's simply too much SD material out there to ignore upscaling issues. I myself watch a lot of SD material and I'm pretty sure my customers will as well.
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post #18 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 08:20 AM
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I meant the home theater computers forum. This is a sub of that, which is why I referred to it as "above"

I use both in xbmc and wmc in windows and I'm curious about what the astonishing bugs are. . .

As to getting devs involved, vlc seems like a great target. Maybe try to pm madshi and see if he knows of anyone working on a Linux player. He spent some time working it into a fork of xbmc, but it didn't meet the multi platform compatibility reqs or allow the xbmc GUI to stay intact
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post #19 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 08:21 AM
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Outputting all xbmc video to an external player is trivial, but no Linux players support it either to my knowledge
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post #20 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 09:53 AM
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I've been following this thread because I hadn't heard of the term "video renderer" since I gave up Windows almost a decade ago. I am interested in what you find out, but felt that I couldn't offer much help with it.

Earlier, you mentioned nVidia's PureVideo as an example of a video renderer. It is my understanding that VDPAU is the Unix/Linux implementation of PureVideo. If true, this may be the path you should look into.

Some references:

http://http.download.nvidia.com/XFree86/vdpau/doxygen/html/

http://www.freedesktop.org/wiki/Software/VDPAU/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VDPAU

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PureVideo_HD#PureVideo_HD
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post #21 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 11:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dark_Slayer View Post

I'm curious about what the astonishing bugs are. . .

- Crashes are frequent enough to consider it "unstable". Maybe it's twice a week, maybe twice a day. (I'm using Windows 7 32 bit). My build must work like a set top box. XBMC on Windows isn't up to that task. I have yet to check it on Linux though.
- Pausing and un-pausing doesn't work properly. I always get a few seconds of accelerated video after un-pausing.
- Getting the list of videos or music updated is random. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
- Youtube is completely hit and miss (I haven't tried other streaming sites).
- Bolted on PVR is a mess and it doesn't seem there are plans to make it more integrated. I simply haven't been able to record anything. Probably some deep digging into it would help, but that's not how it should be. OpenElec couldn't make the PVR part working either. I still haven't tried XBMCbuntu.
- I find a handful of other minor annoyances which I would consider bugs, but that's up to personal opinion.
- There's a "non-bug" that worries me too: XBMC can handle only a single video stream, so PIP is not possible. Asked about it, the developers have stated that won't change.

Anyway, I don't intend to discuss the pros and cons of XBMC as a media center. From just a pure playback quality, it's just okay. It doesn't seem to do a great job with upscaling and that's my biggest concern.
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post #22 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 11:13 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by waterhead View Post

I've been following this thread because I hadn't heard of the term "video renderer" since I gave up Windows almost a decade ago. I am interested in what you find out, but felt that I couldn't offer much help with it.

Earlier, you mentioned nVidia's PureVideo as an example of a video renderer. It is my understanding that VDPAU is the Unix/Linux implementation of PureVideo. If true, this may be the path you should look into.

Some references:

http://http.download.nvidia.com/XFree86/vdpau/doxygen/html/

http://www.freedesktop.org/wiki/Software/VDPAU/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VDPAU

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PureVideo_HD#PureVideo_HD

I also think VDPAU is the implementation of PureVideo on Linux. Thank you for these links. I knew about the Wikipedia ones, but that from Nvidia seems like the one to read carefully.
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post #23 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 11:26 AM
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I was't implying that software rendering isn't necessary, I was saying that the first place to look for these post-processing features is the HW-accelerated drivers. Even if they don't exist you can find out if they are even on the table.

From there you can figure out how to do it in software on linux, if you have to. I don't know of a current project that is doing this, and it would be difficult to port madVR because it uses D3D if I'm not mistaken (someone will be quick to correct me if I am, lol :-P).
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post #24 of 26 Old 12-26-2013, 10:26 PM
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I might be reading between the lines here, but if you're looking to play hi10p content in linux then you may be in luck:

http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTQ5NjU
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post #25 of 26 Old 12-27-2013, 07:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by comomolo View Post

What do you mean by "the above forum"? Nvidia's?

I've contacted the mpv developers. They basically told me to RTFM and showed zero interest/knowledge about what madVR is capable of frown.gif (I'm simply astounded by the indolence on the Linux world when it comes to getting the best PQ out of an HTPC). mpv, mplayer, mplayer2, VLC and probably every Linux player out there -except XBMC- won't switch the display's refresh rate acording to the material's frame rate. It seems most development on Linux is devoted to computer monitors and laptops (which sounds pretty bizarre to me; do people actually watch movies on a desk??? Don't Linux users use their plasmas or LCDs for movie watching???) . . . . ..

Since you stated you are building htpcs for clients, I'm assuming you are charging your clients.

That being the case, you should probably expect to pay some consulting fees for getting what you want answered from the developers, rather than getting it for free.
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post #26 of 26 Old 04-22-2014, 12:23 AM
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I've always found ffmpeg looked great (depending on the screen and file being used), but if you don't agree you can always remove those packages (using Synaptic Package Manager or terminal commands or Ubuntu Software Center) and install the Fluendo Complete Playback Pack ( package name gstreamer0.10-fluendo-plugins 12.0.0 ) , it's not free but that will indeed give you a different picture quality , I have no idea if it's better or worse or even noticeably different to the naked eye.

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