The latest version of popular open-source media player VLC has been released, and it brings with it hardware acceleration features for Windows and Linux users - a distinct boon for those with under-powered machines.

VLC 1.1.0 - released yesterday, according to CrunchGear- now features hardware decoding of H.264 video under Windows Vista and Windows 7 on Nvidia hardware and under Linux on ATI or Nvidia hardware. Sadly, users of Windows versions prior to Vista - such as the still-popular Windows XP - are left out in the cold on this one, as are those using Apple systems.

However, those of you lucky enough to be running a supported operating system with a supported graphics card can enjoy greatly reduced CPU load at the same time as massively enhanced playback performance thanks to an offload engine that makes the GPU pick up the grunt work.

For those wondering why Windows users are limited to Nvidia hardware - after all, both ATI and Nvidia support GPGPU and GPU-offload technologies - it's apparently a driver issue. In the release notes for version 1.1.0, the VLC team claims that "VideoLAN is quite sad to be forced to recommend Nvidia [GPUs], until ATI fixes their drivers on Windows."

Sadly, the platforms most likely to benefit from GPU offloading of H.264 decoding are not invited to the party either: as the majority of netbooks feature weedy Atom processors and business-oriented Intel graphics, VLC won't do much good for HD playback there.

Still, if your system supports the feature it's certainly worth giving the - completely free - VLC Player a go by downloading it from the official site.

Are you pleased to see open-source packages adding in GPU acceleration features, or are you confused as to why the VLC team has been unable to make H.264 hardware decoding work on ATI cards under Windows? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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