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In addition to standalone players and game consoles for watching high definition HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, it's also possible to watch them on your PC using one of the available drives that play those formats. Some people have gone so far as building what are called Home Theater PC's (HTPC) that combine all their media needs into one machine.
If this idea interests you, one of the most important decisions to make is the video card you'll use in your system. Decoding and displaying HD is more difficult for your computer than playing a DVD, and you'll need the right combination of equipment to make the job easy and to get the best results possible. More than likely, you'll need a different video card, and a review has been published by technology site ars technica, comparing popular video cards based on ATI and nVidia chipsets.
The review found that CPU usage can be reduced from 44% to under 17% by using a video card with the right driver. They found that the ATI cards had a slight edge (between 2-8% less CPU usage) over the nVidia cards they tested. The scales shifted, though, when they tested the cards with broadcast 1080i material, so check out the article and see for yourself what they found.
Keep in mind that even with the right video card, it takes some horsepower in your PC to decode high definition material. The system they tested had a fairly recent and well-powered dual core Intel 3GHz E6850 processor, so their CPU numbers were much lower than if they had used a lower-powered processor.
If the topic of home theater PC's interests you, I recommend checking out the AVS Forum. Their "Home Theater Computers" section has quite a bit of information for people looking to build HTPC's using Windows, Mac OS, and even Linux (which is the system in running in a few standalone players). While building a home theater PC won't result in something quite as easy to use as a single-use, standalone player, it can provide you with much more flexibility and power.
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