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Can Your Computer Play High Definition (HD) Content?

written by: Tolga BALCI•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 3/8/2010

Are you are wondering if your shiny new LCD monitor can show you High Definition content? If it can, you still need to know if your video card can output High Def and Blu-ray. You will also need a source of HD content, either a Blu Ray drive or something you can download or stream.

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    The Components

    Before trying to answer the question, let’s stop for a while and think about what we have at hand and what we want to do.

    First, let’s see if we have an optical drive that is capable of playing high definition movies. For that, we either need to have an HD-DVD drive (this lost the format war and is now obsolete: if you are an early adopter and placed your bet on HD-DVD. you possibly purchased this drive) or a Blu Ray drive. If you have neither, then it means that you will not be able to play HD discs from your optical drive. You will have to find HD content elswhere, such as online. Second, we have to know if our computer is capable of playing HD media. If you have purchased your computer in the last two years then it is likely able to play HD video. However, if you have an entry-level graphics card, all the HD processing will be done by the CPU and during the playing time much of your computers resources will be dedicated to the media player. Really, the only modern graphics solution that can't handle HD playback is Intel's integrated graphics. Third, we need to know about our video card (graphics adapter). We have just a few options here. We just need to know if our graphics card has NVidia, ATI or Intel chipset.

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    Graphics Card

    HD output is implemented on many products by graphics cards manufacturers. Here is a table to determine if your graphics hardware supports HD video or not.

    List of Graphics Card that Support High Definition Video 

    The table above shows the graphics solutions claimed to support HD by their manufacturers. Intel's graphic products, for instance, are a very poor choice.

    There are also many products that can play HD content well, even if it hasn't been claimed explicitly by the Manufacturer. If you have an older graphics card -say an NVidia GeForce 7200- you may still be able to play HD content. I was playing HD Ready content (720p) without any problems with my NVidia 7200 graphics adapter and an AMD XP 2600 processor. Trial & error is your friend here: you can just download a sample of 1080p content from the Internet - you do not need to go for a whole movie, just select a preview - and check if your computer plays it smoothly. If you have a Pentium IV 3.0 Gigahertz or newer CPU to help out your older graphics card, you might be able to play HD content without any problems. I emphasize newer, because if you have a Core 2 Duo running at 2.4 Gigahertz, which is newer than Pentium IV, but with a slower clock than the 3.0 Gigahertz, that's an improvement, despite the smaller number.

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    Blu-ray Drive & High Definition Copy Protection

    If you are going to play Blu-ray discs on your computer, then you need to have a Blu-ray drive installed. I advise you to be careful with your Blu-ray drive selection and will need HDCP (high definition copy protection) on all of the hardware involved. Please see Choosing the Right Blu-Ray Drive article for details.

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    Main Memory (RAM)

    You may be tempted to think that with a powerful graphics card and processor you will be able to watch whatever you want. This may not be the case if your main memory (RAM) is not sufficient. You may do well with some video files, but for HD content, main memory less than 2 Gigabytes bears a significant risk of playback stalling for a few seconds at a time when you are watching movies.

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    How to Check

    NVidia GeForce 8800 You can check your computer settings (as you see in the screenshot) to see which graphics card you have. You can then check the table under the graphics card section above to see if your graphics card can play High Definition content, according to the manufacturer.