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How to improve 4K video playback on your old computer

26 mayo, 2021

4K video is nothing new. The first televisions with this resolution began to reach the public between 2012 and 2013, so it is now possible to speak of established technology. Similar to what happened with high definition (720p and 1080p) about a decade ago, beyond the physical format, which requires new players, the problem for most computer users of some time ago is power and compatibility. And fixing it is not as easy as you might expect.

Until Kaby Lake, the seventh generation of Intel processors, which arrived last year, there were no desktop or laptop processors capable of decoding and encoding 10-bit video hardware under the HEVC codec or Google’s VP9. This is a problem, because beyond videos that are downloaded over the internet, almost all the content that smartphones produce from now on will come under HEVC / H.265 for reasons of space optimization, and many computers have trouble reproducing them. With 4K video files under the H.264 codec, problems can also arise, particularly when we are dealing with files with a lot of bitrate.

With the solutions that we are going to provide, the playback of video jumps in 4K can be partially or totally solved. Without them, in some cases, the applications used could not even reproduce the first frames of the files.


PotPlayer, the player that best does it in Windows

Potplayer 4k

After trying a wide variety of player applications, I found several mentions in forums of PotPlayer, a free player that is essentially KMPlayer, and that has a wide variety of built-in codecs, so it can play almost any content you find on the Internet. In its settings, it allows a great configuration and customization in the use of the general experience and throttle engines, very convenient option before the variety of equipment with different hardware that exists.

How to watch Netflix in 4K from Windows 10

Windows 10 incorporates its own codec pack, but PotPlayer allows to overwrite them. Thus, after trying to play 4K video files from a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone on a first-generation quad core i7 processor laptop and failing with many players, trying PotPlayer was one of the last options left, and worked much better than the rest on a first try. If the played video had an H.264 codec, the playback was smooth. Instead, video in H.265 / HEVC format had more problems. Diving into the settings that we will see next, the playback can be improved.

Potplayer configuration

After entering the preferences (F5), in Filters -> Decode video -> Configure codec / DXVA -> Configure Hardware acceleration (DXVA), you must check the option “DXVA” and “Use D3D11 DXVA first”. In this way, it is achieved that the reproduction hardly has any jumps. Not bad, considering that we are talking about a team from eight years ago.

Testing from the laptop from which this is written, which has a fourth generation dual-core i5 processor, playback is fully fluent in H.264 with any player that supports software acceleration (such as “Movies & TV”), but with H.265 the problem is that the fans turn up their speed to the maximum, and even Windows ends up showing messages to force close in most applications. The built-in player doesn’t even open the file, so we’ll discuss it below. With PotPlayer, checking hardware acceleration with the settings mentioned above, Playback is completely smooth in 4K 60fps videos shot with an iPhone X.

Enable HEVC support in Windows 10

Hevc

In the Fall Creators Update version, Microsoft removed the HEVC codec from Windows 10. For users starting with the Microsoft system on new computers from that version, one of the most popular so far, videos recorded with current high-end devices in HEVC could not be played. On the contrary, those who have been using Windows 10 for a longer time (before Fall Creators Update) can reproduce without problems.

How to solve it? From the Microsoft Store. The Redmond company offers for free (or 0.99 cents) the possibility of installing the HEVC codec. In this way, not only can content be viewed locally in the applications integrated into the system, but also to be able to play 4K Netflix video on computers that support it (Requires Kaby Lake processors, due to 10-bit video hardware acceleration and DRM).

From High Sierra, in macOS there is support for HEVC at the system level

Macos High Sierra

Although I have thoroughly tested with many players and settings, in macOS Mojave I have not been able to play high bitrate content in HEVC / H.265 with third-party players. However, with the fourth generation dual core processor and the hardware acceleration of the HEVC codec available from macOS High Sierra, the support in “Quickview” and QuickTime is complete in the supported formats. Playback, although not accelerated by hardware but by software, is very fluid on computers with a few years. The problem is, more than anything, in the compatibility of formats.

The best seems to be convert content to a container that the system and QuickTime understand, because with VLC and other options (even paid, which promise more fluidity) the playback goes by leaps and bounds by not accelerating even by software.