Next-Gen Broadcom Hardware Decoder: One Chip, Many Advantages

Broadcom Hardware Decoder

Broadcom BCM970015 Hardware Decoder

The Broadcom BCM970015 Hardware Decoder, the newest revision to the BCM970012 PCIe Mini Card, has arrived at our docks and is now available. There are some slight differences worth noting between the latest PCIe Mini Card and it’s older brother.

The BCM970015 is a half-height PCIe Mini Card, but comes with an adapter for mounting in the same fashion as a full-height card. It’s also a one-chip solution with less than 1-watt energy consumption whereas the BCM970012 is two-chips with a TDP of about 2 watts. Not a huge difference, but these things can add up.

The table below shows the differences between the two cards:

Features BCM970012 BCM970015
Chipset BCM70010: AVC/MPEG-2/VC-1 Video/Audio Decoder
BCM70012: PCIe Controller
BCM70015:  AVC, DivX®, MPEG-2/4, VC-1 Video/Audio Decoder
Form Factor PCI Express Mini Card PCI Express Mini Card Half-Height
DivX® Support No 3.11, 4.1, 5.X, 6.X, XviD
H.264/AVC Support HP @ L4.1 1080p, 40 Mb/sec. HP @ L4.2 1080p, 40 Mb/sec.
Supported Resolution QVGA up to 1920 x 1088 QCIF up to 1920 x 1088
Integrated Memory Controller 2x 16x16MB DDR400 1x 16x32MB DDR2 800
TDP ~2 W ~1 W

We’ve done some initial testing with the BCM970015 and found that it is compatible with many of our hardware solutions. However, all the testing has been on Windows machines. Linux support on our hardware with this device installed has yet to be determined. However, there is active development on the Crystal HD drivers, and you can find information on the Linux source code on the Broadcom Web site.

These cards have been a big surprise for us. Our original intent with bringing these in were to add some oomph to our Intel Atom N270 systems. We wanted a more energy-efficient, fanless alternative to the ION: HD graphics capable systems without the power draw. However, we’ve found that there are a lot of people out there looking to add a little something extra (1080p support to be precise) to their netbooks, Apple TVs, etc., too. You can read the original article written by Scott Davilla detailing the TeamXBMC/Redhat developers and the Broadcom Media PC Group efforts to bring 1080p support to XBMC on OSX, Linux, and Windows.

We also like the Broadcom Decoders because they reduce CPU utilization, making the Intel Atom N270 lower-powered systems perform better overall. Considering that mainboards utilizing the ION will dry up once the Atom 330 processors supply runs out (they’ve already been deemed EOL early this year) and we haven’t seen large adoption from our mainboard manufacturers of the “ION2,” the Broadcom Decoder will continue to be a handy device for those looking for a low-cost, energy-efficient solution for enabling 1080p playback.

About Kristina Bond
Kristina Bond was the Marketing Director for Logic Supply from 2007 to 2012. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia with an M.F.A. in photography and a B.F.A in photography and communication from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. While technology and Logic Supply remain close to her heart, she moved on from the company in June 2012 to do marketing for the restaurant industry. To get in touch with Kristina, please contact kristina@kristinadrobny.com.
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14 Responses to Next-Gen Broadcom Hardware Decoder: One Chip, Many Advantages

  1. qhartman says:

    I read somewhere that these can accelerate flash video scaling as well. Is that true? I’d love to use one of these to run Hulu at 1080p on my htpc. It would be nice if they could do Netflix streaming as well, but I haven’t seen any information on that.

  2. SmurfQ says:

    Supposedly Flash 10.1 (current) supports the Broadcom HD / hardware acceleration.

    I’ve been unable to find any information on exactly what is supported, e.g. different websites use different encoding. I have only seen reviews testing Youtube.com which works and uses H.264 for HD content.

    I bought one anyways and will probably post a review somewhere on which exactly it does work with (I intend to use it for UStream.com, Livestream.com, Youtube.com, Hulu.com for the most part).

    Although… I’ve been in the processing stage for days on my order.

  3. Jimmy says:

    There is some level of Flash support on this platform (i’ve tested with the older 970012 card on Win 7). The driver for the card comes with a tray icon that tells you when the card is active, which makes it easy to tell if its really working.

    Most YouTube videos will play through the card, which is a great improvement if you’re on a Atom platform that otherwise would choke on high-res videos. As for Hulu, I haven’t had much luck with that. I do think I was able to get it going at one point, but I use Chromium and that might be part of why it isn’t consistent. I’m probably going to order the 970015 board too and see how that works.

  4. matthis says:

    Is the bcm970015 compatible with early atom processors such as the N270?

  5. Tony Fiset tony f. says:
    Logic Supply

    The BCM970015 is definitely compatible with Flash 10.1, but as SmurfQ noted, there are more pieces to the puzzle, and getting all the information is a bit difficult. In general, most folks have had no trouble with YouTube or local HD Flash content, but Hulu has been hit or miss. I believe Netflix uses Silverlight, which, as far as I know, does not support the CrystalHD cards. I haven’t tested it though, so it may work.

    Matthis: The card is compatible with any CPU, and is especially effective when paired with the N270.

  6. V. Schneider says:

    I tried this out on my d510mo system under Windows 7 and the Windows experience didn’t notice it. Also, running the peacekeeper benchmark doesn’t show any change. It may work with mplayer.exe on hd wmv videos, but I didn’t test that.

    Video hiccups seem to originate from the web site as breaks in the video stream, not problems with the video chip.

    Under Linux, the broadcom drivers refuse to compile on slackware 13.1, so I installed the latest Ubuntu, which does compile and installs the result as a gstreamer plugin with broadcom in its name. It happens that the opera web browser uses a built-in gstreamer library that can be disabled to force opera to use the system gstreamer library. So, I installed a arecent opera using my powers as Ubuntu administrator and ran the peacekeeper benchmark, again no noticeable difference. Also, no noticeable difference running youtube and other flash.

    I hope someone comes up with a concrete, laboratory-level test in clear English to demonstrate some measurable difference in performance when the broadcom accelerator is used. That would be very helpful.

  7. V. Schneider says:

    I have a logicsupply d510mo board installed in the m350 case with no fan. Using Linux, I can run the mobo as either a d410 or a d510, simply by using the grub2 bootloader to select a single-cpu or an smp-multicpu linux kernel. So, I can test using linux to demonstrate that the 510 has an edge over the 410 (or the n270 or whatever) when it comes to doing smooth flash of different kinds at non hd resolutions which look ok on a desktop or laptop monitor.

    Note that the 510 needs highly threaded code to be superior to the 410, but the business of switching between atom cores seems to take about 5% of the cpu load off of the single-cpu arrangement and (this needs more testing) also unfreezing some of the hesitation in video rendering of flash content by single-core systems.

    The same comments apply to any multi-core system running under very heavy load.

    It should be noted that some web sites excel in sending out flash video that gets composite cpu usage of 60% to 65% from the d510, while others do not.

  8. V. Schneider says:

    Note to the moderator: The latest d510 mobo comes with plastic snaps to lock the broadcom accelerator in place without screws, and, e. g., the Intel DG41MJ Mini ITX Mainboard, which can be installed in a mini-itx case with a single-core celeron as a joke about the n270 and a test of the ratio of execution speeds, has a vertically oriented mini-pcie slot that would make the broadcom board stand up vertically.

  9. Tony Fiset tony f. says:
    Logic Supply

    V. Schneider: The CrystalHD chips are simply hardware video accelerators, not GPUs. They won’t have any effect on overall system performance that would show up in a benchmark or Windows Experience, you will only notice decreased CPU load when playing supported media formats with software that supports hardware acceleration. I like XBMC, or Media Player Classic – Home Cinema for Windows.

    If you are experiencing issues with Flash-based content, please ensure that you are running the latest Flash 10.1 release (you may need to uninstall an older version first) and the latest Broadcom drivers. Hardware Acceleration should be enabled by default in the Flash installation, but you should probably check to make sure. If you still aren’t seeing smooth playback, it is the quality of the stream that is the problem – I haven’t seen any issues at all with local Flash content.

  10. SmurfQ says:

    Since there are still questions on Flash, here’s my breakdown after a month of ownership with the 15 version on a Dell Mini 9. (This is for Flash only)

    1. The decoder ONLY supports the formats listed in its description.

    2. The only format I came across used by Flash and is supported is H.264, this means the flash video/stream you are trying to watch must be using H.264 format.

    The bottom line is Flash 10.1 plus an H.264 encoded flash video/stream will work and others will not.

    Here is what I have found works:

    - Livestream.com, UStream.com, Justin.tv, etc (latest streams require H.264 for Livestream, UStream/etc, older streams may have other encoding formats since they allow a user to choose the encoding format and do not work)
    - Youtube, Vimeo, etc (most HD content I have tried so far is H.264 and works)
    - Hulu.com (most streams use H.264 and work, rarely have I seen one that does not but there are some)

    Performance: 99% of 720p works flawlessly. 50-75% of 1080p works flawlessly while it is choppy on the rest.

  11. Brendan says:

    I can’t seem to get this chip working properly with XBMC on my Intel Johnstown motherboard. It seems to work fine with Media Player Classic, but when I try to play H.264 files in XBMC the video doens’t work- I only get audio and when I try to force the video by bringing up the OSD, XBMC crashes.

    Any ideas what might be going on here? I have the drivers installed and Crystal HD selected in the settings so I’m kind of at a loss.

  12. Tony Fiset Tony says:
    Logic Supply

    Brendan: Since the card is working with MPC this appears to be a software issue with XBMC rather than a hardware issue with the card. Have you searched the XBMC forums to see if anyone else is having similar problems? I’d recommend starting there. If you can’t find anything relevant, post the details of your problem, including OS and XBMC version, and I’m sure someone will be able to help you resolve this quickly – it’s a very active, friendly community.

  13. V. Schneider says:

    The following URL is a link to the most recent Broadcom code developments for Linux: http://git.wilsonet.com/crystalhd.git/. I think the “snapshot” versions are considered the most reliable by the developers, and they definitely do accelerate, e. g., hulu flash streams and Linux silverlight. There are some key streaming videos that involve all kinds of rotating spherical objects or moving aerial shots of large cities, etc., that can be used to tell the difference between “Broadcom decoder” and no hardware, and you can enable or disable the gstreamer-0.10 Broadcom plugin to enable or disable the card. Even running the plugin in a non-gstreamer Linux by putting a single plugin into /usr/lib/gstreamer-0.10 is effective.

    Under Windows 7, acer _appears_ to have an updated driver for its netbook (only works under 32-bit Windows 7 and starter, even though it installs under 62-bit) that actually changes the values of the Windows Performance Measurement, up by one point in graphics 2. Installing the Broadcom card on any Intel atom netbook involves learning how to remove the keyboard and get at the screws that hold the back underside panel on.

    I am guessing that people who have things like the Intel x4500 chip on their notebooks could use the Broadcom chip to add a little HD pizzazz, especially in Linux. Anyone with a laptop having a slot for wwan cards, or sacrificing the wifi card for the Broadcom, can test this.

    Since the kernel driver crystalhd.ko is compilable under most versions of Linux, the trick is to get versions of the /usr/lib and /usr/lib/gstreamer-0.10 gadgets and just use them, instead of recompiling them for every new kernel.

  14. Manjunath says:

    Does BCM970015 comes with USB interface also?. Do you have support for Linux 2.6.37 also?

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