Lenovo notebooks: H.264 acceleration disabled for months

Lenovo notebooks: H.264 acceleration disabled for months

Lenovo has been distributing BIOS updates for numerous notebooks that limit the range of functions since April 2021. You deactivate the GPU acceleration for decoding and encoding the video codec H.264 used by the video player, browser, rendering and recording programs. Lenovo has never published a notice about this. In the meantime, however, it is foreseeable that new BIOS updates will reactivate the H.264 acceleration.

That The problem has been simmering in the Lenovo forum for months. Primarily members with gaming notebooks from the Legion series that use stand-alone GeForce graphics chips report there. The change is most likely to be noticed: Nvidia’s shadowplay recording function no longer works, and neither does the Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) for live streams. In addition, the Oculus Quest virtual reality glasses cannot be operated via the PC because the proprietary Oculus Link requires H.264 encoding via GPU for image transmission.

Individual reports confirm that IdeaPads with GeForce GPUs are also affected. It is not known how models are ordered that use a Radeon graphics chip or a combination processor from AMD or Intel without an independent GPU. At least notebooks from 2019 have received corresponding BIOS updates.

We were able to simulate the problem with a current Lenovo Legion 7 (16ACHg6) including Ryzen 9 5900HX and GeForce RTX 3080: The rendering program Handbrake explicitly states in the activity log that no H.264-compatible “device” was found, even though Nvidia’s hardware -Encoder NVENC reports full functionality.

If you switch NVENC to the newer H.265, Handbrake does the job without a murmur. The problem: Not every software can handle the H.265 codec alias HEVC. Alternatively, you can run H.264 over the CPU cores, but this works much slower and can cost fps in 3D games.

Handbrake reports on the Legion notebook that no H.264-compatible GPU can be found.

(Image: Denis Fröhlich / c’t)

Despite the BIOS activated hybrid graphics and driver setting that Handbrake should use the Radeon RX Vega 8, we could not persuade the program to use it for encoding. With a Legion complete PC from Lenovo with a GeForce graphics card, however, we had no problems at all, not even with H.264. Shadowplay, for example, ran straight away.

Shadowplay with H.264 acceleration runs smoothly on a complete PC from Lenovo.

(Image: Carsten Spille / c’t)

Lenovo does not comment on this upon request. In industry circles, however, it can be heard that the manufacturer is preparing a BIOS update that will appear in the coming weeks and that will enable the H.264 acceleration again. Accordingly, the problem only occurred in individual countries.

Last year, Nokia sued Lenovo due to a patent dispute, which precisely concerned the H.264 acceleration and led to an interim sales stop in Germany. In April 2021, both companies announced that they had reached an out-of-court settlement. There was no question of deactivating the function.

Background: Nokia contributed technology to the H.264 video codec and holds corresponding patents. The company does not charge license costs to AMD, Nvidia, Intel and other chip manufacturers, but to manufacturers of end devices such as Lenovo.


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