Test: the GeForce GTX 960 is the best HTPC GPU of this moment

Testing HDMI 2.0 and the built-in H.265 decoder

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Introduction

Last Thursday, Nvidia introduced their GeForce GTX 960, and with it, the world's first graphics card that supports HDMI 2.0 and comes equipped with a hardware-based H.265 (or HEVC) video decoder. As such, this graphics card would be the ideal GPU for a future proof HTPC, at least in theory. We investigated whether it holds up in practice.


Zotac GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition 2GB
The GeForce GTX 960 is the first GPU that features a built-in H.265 decoder. But, does it work properly?

Following in the footsteps of the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970, the GTX 960 is the third graphics card to offer support for HDMI 2.0. This is important to those who are planning to connect their PC to an Ultra HD television, as televisions generally do not have any DisplayPort connectivity, and a good old HDMI 1.4 connection is only capable of transporting 30 frames per second at the 3840x2160 resolution. HDMI 2.0, on the other hand, offers 4K resolution at 60 fps. AMD and Intel do not yet have (integrated) GPUs with HDMI 2.0 support; even the internal GPUs of Intel's latest and greatest Broadwell processors have to make do with HDMI 1.4.

What's completely new is the integrated H.265 video decoder. H.265 is the latest generation video codec, which is capable of offering picture quality that is equal to that of H.264 at approximately half the bitrate. Click here for our article on this video codec. Within the "legal" circuit, Netflix is already experimenting with Ultra HD content using the H.265 codec, and we can also expect a new Ultra HD Blu-ray standard based on H.265 to make an appearance sometime soon. Thanks to the open source x265 encoder, H.265 is also seeing more and more use in the "not-so-legal" circuit.


You can already find plenty of H.265 encoded movies in the not-so-legal corners of the web.

The GTX 960 is the only graphics card to support both HDMI 2.0 and hardware-based H.265, and as such, is the only card that is suitable for those who are looking to build a future proof HTPC. At first glance, the GTX 960 might appear to be overkill for a modest HTPC. You'd rather not have an actively cooled graphics card inside a silent PC under your television, right? Fortunately, the majority of the GTX 960 cards we've seen disable their fans under low loads, ensuring that the cards won't produce any noise whatsoever when you're watching videos. All this sounds great on paper, but does it hold up in practice?


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