Most netbooks with Intel Atom processors and integrated GMA950 graphics can handle 720p HD video. But try playing a 1080p clip and you’re in for a choppy, sluggish, battery-killing experience. Two companies have solutions for that. NVIDIA’s ION platform bundles the Atom processor with a higher performance GeForce 9400M graphics processor. Not only do you get better HD video performance, but you can also use an ION based system to play 3D video games.
Broadcom, on the other hand, offers a Crystal HD Enhanced Video Accelerator, which works in conjunction with the Atom/GMA950 graphics. The co-processor doesn’t use much energy, and HP offers it as a $30 upgrade to the HP Mini 110 netbook. But it’s not readily available as an option for any other netbook yet.
But the folks at Terracode managed to get their hands on a Broadcom video accelerator and they crammed it in an 8.9 inch Acer Aspire One netbook. The mini-laptop was also upgraded with a high performance solid state disk, which replaces the standard 160GB hard drive.
The Broadcom chip is designed to decode HD video up to 1080p in H.264, WMV9, MPEG-2, and a handful of other formats. It also supports Blu-Ray disc playback, assuming you’ve got a Blu-Ray player plugged into you netbook or nettop.
Terracode has posted detailed instructions for disassembling the Acer Aspire One and placing the Broadcom chip inside. The end result is a low power computer that can handle 1080p video playback with very little strain on the CPU. Right now, you’ll need the version of ArcSoft Total Media Theater that’s been optimized to take advantage of the Broadcom accelerator, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see additional applications add support in the not too distant future. Terracode picked up the video accelerator for about $40 on eBay.