What type of system do I need?
The best place to start is talking about the type of PC you'll need to properly experience 1080p HD content on your system.
Most companies and people recommend the same type of system requirements for playback of such content. For the best experience and from what we have tried, you'll need a system running Windows XP or higher (with all the latest drivers installed), a 3.0GHz processor or equivalent (all Intel Core 2 Duo processors regardless of clock speed will work perfectly fine), 1GB of RAM but 2GB is going to be better, at least a 128MB graphics card and display which is capable of a resolution of 1920 x 1200 or higher - a big and expensive widescreen LCD monitor is recommend, Dell's 24" UltraSharp 2407WFP does the trick quite nicely. On the sound side, you'll want a sound card which is capable of reproducing 5.1 sound and a 5.1 or higher speaker system would be ideal for the full surround sound experience.
Since 1080p content is very demanding on the system, you really do need to pay close attention to the system specifications. If your system is too slow, you might physically be able to play 1080p content but it won't be smooth and it will skip and generally make you frustrated about the whole ordeal.
Your only saving grace might be your graphics card - both nVidia (PureVideo HD) and AMD ATI (AVIVO) graphics cards have features built into their most recent GeForce and Radeon cards which off-load encoding of 1080p content (and others) using WMV-HD, H.264 and VC-1 codecs from the CPU to the GPU. This means that if you have a slower processor, such as an Intel Celeron or AMD Duron, you might be able to playback HD content since the GPU is able to take care of this for you. It will also help improve image quality and clarity as well by using a range of different algorisms but that's an entirely different subject on its own. You can find more information about nVidia's PureVideo HD and ATI's AVIVO by clicking these links but we'll be looking more into this in future articles, so stay tuned.
Keep in mind that 1080p content uses bit rates usually 8Mbps or higher and that translates to around one mega byte per second. Hence, if you're downloading a HD movie trailer which runs for two minutes, that's going to be roughly 120MB. If you want to stream the HD content off the Internet, which some sites allow you to do (such as Apple), you're going to need a fast Internet connection (such as ADSL2) that is able to download at 8Mbps or higher. Of course, you can use a slower connection but it just means you'll need to wait for the content to download first. If you're unlucky enough to be cursed with an Internet connection that has download limits imposed on it (such as a great majority in Australia), just be careful you watch how much you download because you could blow your limit in short time watching such high resolution video.
Now that we've covered the type of computer system and Internet connection you'll need to playback 1080p HD content on your PC, let's check out some of the amazing and free content available to you for sampling.