Broadwell NUC Review (NUC5i3RYK): HTPC and OpenELEC

If you don’t need huge amounts of storage for your HTPC, the NUC has several good characteristics: it’s small, it’s quiet (the fan is close to being inaudible), it has a well-supported GPU and does have enough grunt to do some tasks with the CPU like HEVC encoding. Today in the last part of this Broadwell NUC review we are going to look at how the Broadwell NUC does as a HTPC.

OpenELEC

One of the first choice you need to make when building a HTPC is the choice of the operating system. Basically you have three options: Windows, Linux or a purpose-built HTPC OS. OpenELEC falls into the last category. It is, of course, an operating system based on the Linux kernel, but it has been tailored for one purpose only: to be a media center. Installation in 10 minutes, automatic updates, excellent hardware compatibility when it comes to display or TV adapters and speed optimizations are just some reasons why I keep coming back.

OpenELEC Screenshot, Hardware Information

The installation of OpenELEC 5.0.5 was a breeze as always. All components seem to be well supported: the WiFi adapter, the Gigabit Ethernet adapter and the graphics adapter are all supported and fully functional.

Video Playback

After configuring the video settings to the usual optimal settings according to this forum post I tried how does it work when playing various 1080p content videos encoded with H.264. Basically it played everything I tried without hiccups. Even the 120 Mbps sample video from jell.yfish.us streamed over the Gigabit Ethernet.

HEVC

The current version of OpenELEC uses ffmpeg for video playback. At the moment, there’s no hardware accelerated HEVC (also known as H.265) decoding in ffmpeg so all HEVC decoding is done using the CPU.

OpenELEC playing back a HEVC encoded 1080p video

My sample 1080p videos were playing back effortlessly. The screenshot above shows CPU usage of around 20% when playing a 1080p HEVC video where the bitrate was varying between 100 kbit/s and 5 Mbit/s. Some clips that I tried had some visible jerkiness, but I think this was because of the decoder as the same jerkiness was seen on my desktop computer when played through OpenELEC and the CPU usage was not even close to 100%.

Deinterlacing and Upscaling

Deinterlacing is important if you watch interlaced content. Typically this means live TV or recordings from live TV broadcasts. Movies are almost never shot in interlaced formats so interlacing is not needed for them.

OpenELEC seems to support hardware deinterlacing method VAAPI Motion Adaptive for Broadwell. Another option is to use Yadif which is handled with the CPU. That will bring up the CPU usage a few percent, but that’s still a walk in the park for the NUC.

OpenELEC Deinterlacing Settings

Deinterlacing results for both SD (including upscaling to 1920×1080 resolution) and HD are good.

IR Receiver Woes

Update April 29, 2015: These issues have been fixed in the recent BIOS update. BIOS versions 0247 and later are fine. Read more.

Those of you who have been around for a bit longer might remember that when the Haswell NUC came out, there was a bug in its BIOS, which lead to the IR receiver being nonfunctional in Linux operating systems. There was a workaround, which I documented also on the blog.

Well, guess what? A similar problem exists also for the Broadwell NUC! Currently the IR receiver is not working under Linux and there’s no similar workaround found yet. Intel is supposedly working on the issue already, so hopefully we will get a fix sooner this time. But for the time being, the IR receiver does not work under any Linux based operating system.

Conclusion

The Broadwell NUC5i3RYK (NUC5i3RYH as well) makes as good a HTPC as the Haswell NUC did last year. Last year the GPU drivers for Haswell were not ready and there were issues with HW assisted interlacing not being available. This year there are no issues with graphics driver that I saw. The IR receiver bug is there again, but I expect that will be sorted out within the next couple of months.

Broadwell also has the promise of having HW-assisted decoding of HEVC added later on, even for 10-bit videos. In that sense it should be more future proof.

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