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I recently upgraded my Windows 7 MediaCenter HTPC due to a motherboard failure (really old motherboard and cpu, it was on its last legs.) I chose to upgrade to an i5 system with everything built into the motherboard. I did my due diligence, researched, and found some hardware that was within my budget. I ended up with:

  • Core i5 2500K (3.3Ghz)
  • Corsair XMS3 2x2Gb DDR3 (4Gb)
  • ASUS P8H 61-M LE/CSM
  • MicroCenter 64Gb SSD
  • (Previous BluRay player, forget the brand)

The system is pretty awesome, and plays everything I have perfectly. I almost went with an Atom solution, however there have been numerous notes that they do not play NetFlix Instant Watch well...and I am a heavy Netflix IW user. High definition BluRay rips work well, although they usually contain lower audio quality than the BluRay's they were ripped from.

The real problem I am encountering is playing back BluRay video from discs. For some reason, I am encountering rather terrible stuttering problems with both the audio and video. The stuttering is synchronous in both, and occurs at seemingly random intervals. I've used PowerDVD 9, PowerDVD 11 trial, and WinDVD 11 Pro trial. All three have stuttering problems, although PowerDVD 11 seems to have the least. Watching system resource usage, CPU load is never above 20%, and memory usage tends to be a constant 1/3rd the total available system memory. When playback is fine, its superb...the video is crystal clear.

The audio quality is ok, certainly not what I would expect from a BluRay disc. I did some research, and it seems that playing BluRay from a PC causes a downsampling of the audio? I am curious if the audio is my primary problem here, the cause of the stuttering I am encountering? When stuttering occurs, the audio gets REALLY bad, while the video just pauses momentarily every second until for whatever reason everything picks up and runs fine (usually after a few seconds to a couple minutes.) The audio chipset is a Realtek HD ALC887 8-channel, supposedly designed to support BluRay playback. Has anyone encountered any issues like this playing back bluray discs on a PC (namely with PowerDVD...WinDVD was FAR worse, and seemed to have real trouble even reading the discs, and I have no interest in fiddling with it further.) Is there any reason to suspect the video decoding as the problem?(Given how bad the audio gets during a stutter, and how clean the video remains, I am inclined to think the issue boils down to audio.) Is it even remotely possible that the motherboard, cpu, or ram are causing the stuttering (all three are pretty blazing fast...faster than the hardware that I replaced, which seemed to play BluRay fine with PowerDVD 9.)

I've read a bit about the Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 and the Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD home theater hi-fi audio cards. Seems they are the only way to get true full-quality, uncompressed BluRay audio bitstreaming over HDMI on a PC. None of the usual suspects seem to have these cards in stock, however. Are these cards worth getting? Are they even still available, or have they been discontinued (if so, that would indeed be sad...they sound simply fantastic.)

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2 Answers 2

(This is too long to be a comment so I have to post it as an answer.)

Many media players force video/audio syncing, so if video decoding is lagging, audio may become shattered as well.

You didn't mention your graphics card, so I assume you're relying on the one integrated in your CPU? In which case you may experience serious problems if you did not properly setup hardware acceleration. Sometimes players offloads too much of the decoding pipeline to hardware that the GPU or graphics memory gets overwhelmed.

I would suggest you disable hardware acceleration in PowerDVD and see if the situation improves. (Your Core i5 should be capable of decoding Blu-ray video completely in software.) If this worked, you should check why hardware acceleration broke down. Did you install the latest drivers from Intel? Were some incompatible video filters installed by mistake?

My experience is that hardware acceleration using the DXVA API does not work well if your graphics card have less than 256MB of dedicated VRAM. Check your BIOS settings and see how much you have allocated to your graphics card.

(BTW, your audio card is good enough for HD audio. Even though the chip requires the CPU to do most of the decoding, modern processors are so powerful that audio decoding cost is quite negligible.)

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I've tweaked all of the hardware acceleration settings I could find...there does not seem to be any difference between them. I get the same stuttering regardless. I'm trying to find out of I have the latest divers for everything...the system is quite new, at most two months old, and downloaded the latest back when I first built it. –  jrista Nov 25 '11 at 16:51
    
I am still pretty sure the problem is my audio chip. I have the Realtek ALC887 HD, however Realtek doesn't even acknowledge that chip exists. There are 883, 885, 888, and 889 drivers, but the 887 is not listed anywhere on their site. There are a couple third-party pages that have a driver for it, however they are dated older than my motherboard, and I'm pretty sure I have a newer driver already. –  jrista Nov 25 '11 at 17:01
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One way to test is to disable your audio card and see if the video playback is smooth. You may also want to try alternative players like Media Player Classic - Home Cinema with K-Lite codec pack. The new LAV decoders included in the latter are one of the best software decoders currently available. –  billc.cn Nov 25 '11 at 23:39
up vote 0 down vote accepted

I managed to resolve this issue. The problem did turn out to be the audio drivers. The ALC887 chip seems to be a niche or specialty chip, and its not listed anywhere on Realtek's web site. Regardless, the latest driver for their HD audio chips seems to work wonders, and it seems to be rather universal for the 800 series, as well as any other "HD" chips. BluRay works superbly now, with any player.

The necessary drivers can be found here, in case anyone else encounters a similar problem.

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