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Intel ARC GPUs trump AMD and Nvidia with full hardware AV1 codec support as game streaming demo vs HEVC shows

Intel's new ARC GPUs offer hardware AV1 encoding and decoding (image: Intel)
Intel's new ARC GPUs offer hardware AV1 encoding and decoding (image: Intel)
Intel demoed game streaming with hardware-accelerated AV1 video codec that its new ARC graphics chips offer for both encoding and decoding action for the first time on a desktop or laptop GPU. For now, AMD and Nvidia GPUs don't offer native AV1 encoding support, while Intel clearly demonstrates its superiority over the HEVC codec in an Elden Ring game stream demo.

The new Intel ARC graphics chips offer native, hardware-accelerated support for both encoding and decoding in the free AV1 video codec format for the first time on a desktop or laptop GPU, unlike AMD or Nvidia graphics. Nvidia offers AV1 decoding only in its latest GeForce RTX 30 GPU series, for instance, so the hardware AV1 encoding and decoding support of Intel's ARC GPUs comes as a first.

Top-shelf chips that rely on ARM's architecture, like Samsung's new Exynos 2200 in the global Galaxy S22 Ultra phone version, MediaTek chipsets, or Google's Tensor in the Pixel 6 series, also offer native AV1 decoding support. Qualcomm is rumored to include AV1 decoding in its next mobile chipset denoted as SM8550 which could be called Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 given that the current Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 flagship 2022 mobile chipset carries the internal model number SM8450.

To demonstrate the superiority of its ARC GPU's AV1 video codec support on a hardware level, Intel used an Elden Ring game streaming demo over XSplit. In a common streaming scenario with 5Mbps speeds in a 1080p definition, the AV1 codec proved visually superior to the H.264 codec that AMD or Nvidia desktop and laptop GPUs now support. It shows more detail at the same streaming conditions as it is about 30% more efficient than even the popular High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) codec.

One of the reasons behind the slower AV1 codec adoption is that it requires more powerful hardware to encode or decode than HEVC and takes more time. That is why the native AV1 support Intel is including with ARC could become the catalyst for wider AV1 acceptance. Besides its higher efficiency compared to the alternative HEVC video compression methods, the other big advantage of the AV1 codec is that it is royalty-free. 

Google now mandates support for its frugal codec in order to stream YouTube videos in 4K, as does Netflix. Disney+ and HBO Max are exploring their AV1 options, too, so the free codec's native support in Intel ARC on a hardware level comes at an opportune time.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2022 03 > Intel ARC GPUs trump AMD and Nvidia with full hardware AV1 codec support as game streaming demo vs HEVC shows
Daniel Zlatev, 2022-03-31 (Update: 2022-06-22)