Intel's new Capabilities Assessment Tools

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The purpose of the DH-CAT is to evaluate the performance of a digital media system. Although most any modern system is powerful enough to handle simple DVD playback, the recording and playing of HDTV footage is more demanding.

The perceptual science behind DH-CAT isn’t based on market research, per se; it is based on the opinions of many end-users (thousands in some case). Their tool uses a video quality assessment tool developed by Psytechnics, a leading firm in this area. Intel's User-Centered Design group in Oregon was also instrumental in providing video quality assessment tools in other usage scenarios (playback/streaming).

DH-CAT evaluates a system based on which tasks it can perform with adequate performance. Because the tool is designed to test a system's suitability for use as a Media Center / Home Theater PC, it is obvious what tasks it must be capable of: Playing, recording, and streaming various audio and video formats. The exact capabilities that it tests are shown below in a slide from Intel's presentation about the tool.

Different tasks are tested for capability in different ways.

Each of these tasks is tested in a different way. Some are straightforward; either the system can handle the task, or it can't. Others are based on video quality; the system must maintain a certain threshold of video quality to pass the test. Finally, some tasks are based on response time, meaning that the system must complete the task in a certain amount of time.

These core tasks are grouped into three standard levels of capability:

  • Basic (level 1)
  • HD (level 2)
  • Connected (level 3)

Most systems should be able to hand the Basic level, which requires playing, recording, and transcoding standard definition TV and DVD content. The next level is HD capability, which requires the same tasks to be done using HDTV footage. Level three adds the ability to stream media as a DLNA compliant stream — guaranteeing compatibility with other DLNA compliant devices.

Three basic levels of capability are tested.

The way that core tasks are divided into the three levels is complex. Each level of capability contains a number of mandatory and optional "scenarios", which themselves contain one or more core capabilities. The most difficult capability tests involve multitasking: Two, three, four or more core capabilities are tested simultaneously, and if any of them cannot be completed to a satisfactory level of quality, the system is considered incapable of performing that scenario. A system must be able to complete all mandatory scenarios to be considered capable of a given level.

In addition, optional "extra credit" scenarios not considered in the capability levels are used to differentiate between systems that are otherwise equally capable. These scenarios may be mandatory for a higher level, or simply an unusual (or especially system-intensive) pattern of core tasks. Extra credit scenarios contribute to the "Overall Capability Level Score". A more detailed table of how well the system performed each scenario can also be viewed, which makes it possible to tell at a glance exactly which capabilities the system is — and isn't — capable of.

The hierarchy of capabilities: Individual tasks ("usage primitives") are combined into scenarios,
which must all be completed for compliance with a particular level of capability.

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