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I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
Status: [CLOSED]

Wow...hardware video encoding on ALL Mac models. Sounds like a great next step in making the iTunes Store video capabilities even better.

Steven Sokulski | Mar 08, 2007 | 8:32PM

This just in ... Microsoft to implement Vista in hardware and will embed the Vista chip in every Microsoft mouse.

Dave | Mar 08, 2007 | 8:38PM

Um. Actually DVD or MPEG2 decoder hardware chips were included in PCs a long time ago.

Apple's PowerBook G3s and Blue & White G3 towers circa 1998 decoded MPEG2 using hardware chips (on a PC Card in the PowerBooks). That was discontinued when they realized faster G3 and G4 and up processors were more than adequate for decoding MPEG2. And could easily save the $7 without any repercussions.

Scott | Mar 08, 2007 | 9:16PM

Sadly, the Microsoft Vista Mouse edition requires an Ethernet connection (for hourly WGA verification), and a separate power code. Moving the mouse rapidly isn't recommended.

James | Mar 08, 2007 | 9:20PM

My recollection of the situation is that mpeg2 decoder chips were relatively common in the days when PCs could "just barely" decode mpeg2. Maybe your graphics card came with one, maybe your dvd-rom would come with a card to enable it. However, as often happens, the coprocessor of sorts became unnecessary once the general purpose machine became fast enough.

MMX, 3dNow, etc. all basically took the place of the task specific dvd decoder chip.

Apple may be putting a co/dec chip in some of their systems, but I think you're making a "cringely" leap. You're taking one point and inferring too much from it. I dont think it would go in the whole product line, just the appletvs (they need it) and the high end towers (to make a high end video station)

The rest of the product line, well, adding $50 to the cost just doesnt make sense.

Matt from Urban Pug | Mar 08, 2007 | 9:22PM

Unfortunately I have to agree with you that NetTunes will likely be sued into oblivion.

Fair use notwithstanding, the record companies have an excellent track record of convincing judges that purely incidental copies of digital music are nonetheless subject to copyright.

Frank | Mar 08, 2007 | 9:29PM

Actually even if you add $50 to the cost it does make sense, because a computer is not just a computer anymore. Computers are media processors.

Chris Nystrom | Mar 08, 2007 | 10:26PM

so after all these years, Apple may finally catch up with Archos. Yay.

css | Mar 08, 2007 | 10:43PM

Archos? Don't they make washing machines for the Bolivian market?

mort blort | Mar 08, 2007 | 11:02PM

About the hardware decoding. Hopefully it would be some dsp processor that can support multiple codecs, not just h.264

Also, I don't know much about it but what about the royalty fees with h.264?

It will be interesting to see how the video compression technologies pan out.

On2 codec in newest flash players seems to be the best quality at any bitrates. Seems much better and royalty free. If you layer on a DRM on top of it, why wouldn't Apple and other companies move away from royalty burdened h.264 and to better codec that takes less space and bandwidth?

scandx | Mar 08, 2007 | 11:04PM

H.264 encoding in a Mac Mini? Never happen. Apple doesn't want you to encode video off the air TIVO style, they want to sell you the TV shows at $2/each. Now hardware encoding in the Mac Pro, which is likely to be used for production work, is possible.

talmy | Mar 08, 2007 | 11:15PM

In response to above comments:

There won't be any H.264 royalties for Apple. They invented it. They can do whatever they want with it.

The idea that Apple doesn't want users to be able to encode video off the air or cable assumes (as stated above) that the primary reason Apple sells video is to make money by selling video. It could be much more easily argued (and more importantly, it has been historically true) that Apple cares more about selling hardware than about selling software. Any software they produce, however awesome and groundbreaking it is, and even when it is the reason people buy their products, is developed exclusively to sell machines. Apple sells video so that people will buy iPods, and now, Apple TVs.

glassblowerscat | Mar 08, 2007 | 11:41PM

MPEG2 decoder chip built into the video card were fairly common back when video conferencing was supposed to be the next killer application for the PC (If you could afford a dedicated ISDN line, too bad internet bandwidth wasn't there yet). The PC's of the time were running at best a 200 MHz pentium or Pentium Pro processor, definititly under powered for full frame rate MPEG2. So many of the Video cards of the time could include built in MPEG2 decoding. The problem was you had to load the MPEG2 codec-driver that came with your card. The MPEG2 Royalty paid by the Video card manufacture prevented the hardware driver for this built in decoder to be freely offered from their websites (even though you had to have the royalty paid hardware to use the driver). Many of my 4 and 8 meg video cards are supposed to have mpeg2 decoders built in. When DVD video came along, the 6 - 10 megabit avareage bit rate many titles required for playback, required the use of what was called a Hollywood card (specific brand name, Others were probably available but this is the most well known card). The most noteable feature the card offered was multi-master DMA between the disk controller and the video card.

All of these hardware solutions were fine if you wanted to takeover the whole screen for playback. Later cards allowed video overlays, but it wasn't until the CPU hardware became more capable, that the codecs were implemneted in software.

Exo

Exothermic Reaction | Mar 08, 2007 | 11:48PM

h.264 decoding on $50 silicon sounds doable but don't nvidia and ati include this in their recent product lines? on the other hand, ENCODING on $50 silicon doesn't sound feasible at all right now. the general rule of thumb for any codec is that encoding needs 10x more processing power than decoding, whether in hardware or software. And h.264 is VERY demanding even at 720x480.

bob | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:12AM

Great article, Bob! The video encoding/decoding chip would probably finally sell me on at least a mac mini. (Though I'd still love to see a Mac OS run WinXP API natively too.)

Love the music/video license sharing idea as well! About time we turned the tables on anal-retentive licensing. (Not at all opposed to licensing, but there's way too much legalistic application - DRM et al. - that merely punishes law-abiding consumers.) Could this technology be applied to software applications as well? While you couldn't necessarily lock/unlock a product like Microsoft Word automatically over the web, could you possibly "sign out" a copy for an hour at a time?

Steve | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:23AM

A pretty robust notebook??? Like my SIX YEAR OLD, 500 MHz G3 Powerbook? WTF you smoking, Cringely?

George Smiley | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:44AM

If this turns out to be true, it would be a very good thing for my company, which is developing multi-channel H.264 encoders for the Mac currently. Once people are used to a Mac being able to do real-time encoding, and H.264 becomes the standard for nearly all video on the Mac, we'll be the first company offering four-, eight-, and sixteen-channel capture and encoding cards. This would also put a lot of pressure on Dell and HP to offer up a hardware codec in some form

Nevertheless, I don't see it happening this year, because Apple generally avoids adding a costly component to their machines unless nearly everyone's going to need it. A fifty dollar chip is getting close to what they pay for the optical drive in the quantities they buy. What I could see happening is Apple offering an encoder module (either a PCIe card or daughtercard of some kind) for the Mac Pros at some point.

-jcr

John C. Randolph | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:47AM

Glassblower,

Apple didn't invent H.264, it was a collaboration of many parties, but they do hold several of the patents in the H.264 patent pool. Apple pays the royalties like anyone else, although they get a fair chunk of them back.

Also, the H.264 patent holders have set the royalty price to strongly encourage adoption. My company will be paying something under a dollar per encoder channel for our products; I'd have to go and look up the actual amount, but it has a negligible impact on our financial planning.

-jcr

John C. Randolph | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:53AM

Most modern video cards, even the el-cheapos, incorporate some form of hardware acceleration for MPEG-2 or better video.

Of course, up until now Apple has used mostly garbage video except for the PowerMacPros (and even then, the baseline video card for those is garbage).

http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/01/09/avivo-vs-purevideo/

Otis Wildflower | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:01AM

Bob, Bob , Bob, side 2 has When the Levee Breaks which surely makes it the money side. Stairway to Heaven - not for me thanks

kakman | Mar 09, 2007 | 4:49AM

Well, it's a great idea, and truly a smart one.
Certainly better than "Inventing" the PocketPC Phone...i.e., the thing I've been carrying in my pocket for several years now.

Eric J. White | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:02AM

Maybe this explains the Apple relationship with Google/YouTube. Video iPods - AppleTV - video chips in Macs - YouTube - Slingbox type access -and the video iPhone. This is everything and everywhere you want your video.

Apple got music right because they provided the complete solution. They had a great mp3 player and provided the software to use it and the store to buy songs.

This time it looks like Apple may have the foundation for video. They have covered the home PC devices, TV, portables devices including mobile phones, internet access(iTunes/YouTube/.mac?), software, and delivery of product.

E Olson | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:14AM

Wikipedia seems to refer more to H.264 as MPEG-4. MPEG-4 is apparently the coming standard. DivX and a number of other new very highly compressed video standards use this. MPEG-4 is based on the QuickTime file format. Because of this, Apple has a strong reason to use this hardware codec. A technical support person at Hauppauge (the video encoder company) told me 6 months ago that an MPEG-4 video encoder chip is not out yet and is needed in decoding as well as encoding for the industry in general.

David Jensen | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:48AM

Why it takes a decent computer to decode a DVD movie?

Few things:
1) Crappy software decoders
2) Crappy operating systems
3) The fact that your computer is doing way too many things at once (things a standalone DVD is not doing and doesn't need to).
4) A computer is a magnitude better at decoding because you can add mix and match any number of codecs (note, there is life outside windows and apple, check VLC)

Sanders | Mar 09, 2007 | 9:07AM

OH the humanity of it all!!!! :-)

Sorry, but I think its a great toy but a lost cause. For a buck I can buy and own any tune. MINE. anytime I want it. Any CD is MINE. When I want to drop them on an mp3 player and listen to them on the road, fine. By the way, would one "pay" for this Nettunes thingie? Would it be free? If I pay, then its subscription... sort of?

While I can understand this approach (I think) and it sounds legal, sort of, It seems to allow free music if you are willing to put up with all the quarks that the system can generate. I want my tunes when I want them.

PS, Whats to stop me from buying a CD, loading a copy on line and then loading another copy on iTunes for my own use, thus violating the law by sharing and keeping at the same time????

Hmmmm, sorry, I think I will stick with iTunes for now. But it was a neat idea . . . in a geeky sort of way. :-)

EN

Elder Norm | Mar 09, 2007 | 9:11AM

The PowerBook G3 (Lombard) models from 1999 offered optional an DVD drive with hardware decoding. I believe there was a special version of the Mac OS 9 DVD player which used the hardware decoder as opposed to software decoding. When Mac OS X shipped the OS X DVD Player only used software decoding, however those 400MHz PowerBook models had no problem with the software and the MPEG-2 decoding hardware went unused. There was a class action lawsuit related to older Macs which supported DVD playing in OS 9 but not OS X. I think those Macs were the older PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet) models which had hardware encoding but Apple didn't support that hardware in OS X and the G3 processor was too slow to decode DVDs. Apple eventually offered $129 vouchers to those users as part of the settlement. My 400MHz Pismo model had no problem (and never shipped with a hardware decoder).



So you're telling us that after all that trouble Apple went through with the original DVD decoding hardware, they're going to back to it? This after they are putting pretty powerful GPUs in some machines and Intel's integrated offerings in others, which actually plays back H.264 HD video remarkably well? Apple prides itself on supporting both the hardware and the software. One of the reasons the driver support for OS X is so good (and backwards compatible) is because Apple only ships a limit set of hardware devices in any Mac. I doubt Apple will attempt to complicate this by shipping additional types of encoder chips that will change over time and require different drivers.



All computers Apple makes are dual core, which are well suited for multitasking and video encoding and decoding. I don't see how an integrated encoder chip will be all that helpful.

Dan Semaya | Mar 09, 2007 | 9:18AM

Regarding NetTunes: I had the idea back in 2000 for a service that would keep track of CD ownerships, and give you a pristine digital copy whenever you wanted one. No more scratched or unreadable disks. And no need for DRM -- you legally bought the CD. The business would not have to even keep the CDs: just buy one and then pay some entity for the right to the contents of a CD.

Brad Howes | Mar 09, 2007 | 9:36AM

Actually, the US Code does say in Title 17 Chapter 1 Section 109.b.1.A

...unless authorized by the owners of copyright in the sound recording or the owner of copyright in a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), and in the case of a sound recording in the musical works embodied therein, neither the owner of a particular phonorecord nor any person in possession of a particular copy of a computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program), may, for the purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage, dispose of, or authorize the disposal of, the possession of that phonorecord or computer program (including any tape, disk, or other medium embodying such program) by rental, lease, or lending, or by any other act or practice in the nature of rental, lease, or lending.

There is an exception for nonprofit libraries:

Nothing in the preceding sentence shall apply to the rental, lease, or lending of a phonorecord for nonprofit purposes by a nonprofit library or nonprofit educational institution....

NetTunes may be able to get around this law by claiming there is no direct or indirect profit, or that it's not a disposal. The safest thing is probably to position it as a "nonprofit digital library". That's what I was going to do with my similar idea.

Andy Jennings | Mar 09, 2007 | 10:19AM

A couple other comments on NetTunes:

- I put my version of a "nonprofit digital library" on hold until Palladium comes out. A very determined hacker (e.g. DVD Jon) can break any DRM that is done in software. Palladium, at least in theory, is not breakable without serious hardware hacking. I was hoping that using Palladium would give some extra legal insulation.

- Here's another idea that's way out there: Charge some money, either a low monthly fee or 2 cents per song use or 15 cents for unlimited use of a song. (I was going to charge money anyways to buy new CDs, instead of having users contribute.) Find some way to send commission back to the song artist, totally bypassing the record company middleman. I hoped this would prove that we didn't want to steal from the artists, just that we can't stand the huge cut the record companies are taking. (Hopefully this arrangement generates some positive PR with congress, the public, and the judicial system.)

Problems:
- Have to be careful charging money and keeping the nonprofit status.
- Finding the "artist" for a given song to send a commission check to.

Andy Jennings | Mar 09, 2007 | 10:44AM

Windows Vista has some very extensive DRM built in to prevent us from doing "evil things" with our HD video disks. There must have been many thousands of programmer hours involved.
Microsoft is a software company, and Apple is a hardware company.
Could it be that Apple is saving all that effort and bad PR (Jobs did say that DRM is evil) by letting the hardware do it?

Hypatial Annex | Mar 09, 2007 | 10:55AM

Hi Andy -

Let the "artists" find you ... that is, post all the songs with the option to "claim" them ... should be easy for the real artists to prove they are the legitimate owners, no?

Great idea, can't wait to be a beta tester for you!

William

William Halverson | Mar 09, 2007 | 11:26AM

I don't think that will sway the high end user from buying the fastest machine.
We've still got to do 3D rendering, etc.

There will always be a need for horsepower.
I can only hope the encoder - decoder will be available on the new Mac Pros coming out in ... well ... whenever they come out.

With or without the encoder - decoder I'm still buying a loaded dual quad mac once it's available.

FWIW, It really is amazing what hardware encoders can do for efficiency. My Hauppauge PVR150 encodes video on the fly with hardly any cpu power at all on my AMD Athlon 900 running MythTV in Linux FC6.

Richard Brackin | Mar 09, 2007 | 11:29AM

"...or you just register the albums and songs you own and link to them through NetTunes in much the same way that you did in the pirate heyday of Napster."

I believe Michael Robertson's my.mp3.com was the one you registered your CD's with, not Napster. You didn't "register" with Napster, you just shared.

Mark Smith | Mar 09, 2007 | 11:42AM

Actually, there was a similar idea a few years back, the Woodstock Personal Digital Server (http://www.send2press.com/PRnetwire/pr_03_0210-woodstock.shtml).

Basically, it's no longer available, I believe because it violated copyright law, as Andy suggested above.

Phil

Phillip Smelt | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:31PM

What do you mean there is no hardware decryption for PCs? I'll leave it for someone who works for a graphic chip vendor to correct me, but DVD decryption has been standard for many years. Watch your CPU utilization while watching a movie. The graphic chip also "upscales" the video to the resolution of your monitor. All while your CPU is twiddling their thumbs.


But that doesn't mean H.264, and if iPhone is included in your "entire product line," that would mean that portable video phones could talk to iMac via WiFi. Pretty cool...

Dave Doucette | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:36PM

"In general, the dedicated DVD player is not only a lot cheaper, it works better, too, and the simple reason is because it decodes the DVD's MPEG-2 video stream in hardware, rather than in software"

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Cheap hardware DVD players do a very poor job of deinterlacing - NVIDIA's PureVideo and ATI's AVIVO both score as well as the highest-end ($1000+) DVD players on various quality tests.

Now, of course, if you're outputting to an interlaced TV (traditional TV), then there isn't any deinterlacing at all and a hardware DVD player would work quite well. But all modern computer monitors (CRT and LCD), all laptop displays, and most newer TVs (LCD, Plasma, DLP, some CRT) are inherently progressive - deinterlacing is a must.

"Up until now it took a multi-core machine with a lot of memory to support real 1080p (HDTV) decoding"

This is simply not true. My not-very-fancy Athlon 64 3400+ / 1GB system has no problem decoding H.264 at 1920x1080p using CoreAVC.

Apple only says that you need a multi-core box because:

1: They are a hardware company and want to sell you a higher-end box
2: QuickTime's H.264 decoder is garbage

QuickTime's H.264 decoder is about 50-60% slower than CoreAVC, it implements less of the standard, and its output isn't any better. Even libavcodec's free H.264 implementation is both faster and more compliant than QuickTime.

Add to that the fact that PCs already have H.264 decode acceleration through DXVA, and you begin to see how little this will matter in the long run. Hardware MPEG2 decoders were popular at one time for PCs, but before DVDs really became popular, PC hardware got fast enough that it just didn't matter anymore.

The XBOX 360 doesn't have any problems with software decoding for HD-DVD. Neither do PCs.

Brian | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:54PM

HD on my Mac. Of course i want the 24inch iMac to watch it on.
I wonder how EyeTv will feel about this.

Scott | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:58PM

In your post you mentioned "And if the expedient here is a $7 MPEG-2 decoder chip, it's a wonder why such chips didn't appear long ago in PCs."

But in a sense, you're wrong. They did appear long ago in PCs. I have several such cards here.
At one point in time, PC's weren't powerful enough to do MPEG1 or MPEG2 decoding, so they relied on hardware cards, such as the Sigma Hollywood Plus DVD decoder card to do the decoding; and they did it great, with low cpu usage and excellent quality. But then desktop cpu power became powerful enough to do MPEG1 decoding, so MPEG1 decoder boards fell out of style. Then after passing 500mhz, cpu's became powerful enough to do MPEG2 decoding, so DVD decoder boards fell out of style. The quality was maybe a little lower, but for OEMs, saving those extra $7 over thousands of machines adds up. It's simply a matter of technology fading out and returning over again. The CPU coprocessor was once an optional component, left out to save money. Then as manufacturing costs decreased, it was integrated into the CPU. Now the idea of the coprocessor is returning with programmable video card GPU's.

alcuin | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:58PM

HD on my Mac. Of course i want the 24inch iMac to watch it on.
I wonder how EyeTv will feel about this.

Scott | Mar 09, 2007 | 12:59PM

NetTunes is doomed because of section 106 (3), http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000106----000-.html

DVD rental is legal, but not CD rental.

Zhong | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:23PM

Apple might need hardware assist to get good video, but nobody else has for years. Yes, a Pentium 200 had problems playing a DVD, a Pentium-MMX 200 didn't. And almost any CPU produced in the last year should not have much problem with MPEG2 video at HD resolution and bitrates so long as the video card is able to pitch in with a good XvMC implementation. h264 queers the deal a little because few video cards currently add anything more than colorspace conversion and scaling. However with the calculation power in a modern video card the capabity is there waiting for the software and patent licensing to catch up.

Now consider the incentives side. Adding a seperate hardware decoder will either annoy the video card maker or the cpu vendor by essentially telling customers Intel/ATI/Nvidia's stuff ain't up to snuff. If it provided a benefit to the customer it would be worth it and somebody would do it anyway though.

And as for the encoder, pretty useless without a tuner for PVR work and transcoding usually implies some video editing. (except just copying a dvd and who wants to ADVERTISE that feature?) Video editing implies a well endowed machine that can transcode pretty fast anyway.

John Morris | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:31PM

I never understood the big need for everyone to "encode" video anyway. Transcode from one format to another, maybe. But all the video we get today, either HD over-the-air, HD from cable or satellite, or SD from cable or satellite, is already horribly over-compressed digital garbage, which just looks worse when you compress it again. Pulling the feed directly and just writing it do disk, difficult as that can be with DRM / CableCard crap, is where it's at. Almost everything is still broadcast in MPEG2. DirecTV is starting to switch all their feeds to MPEG4, but I'm quite sure they'll just cram more shopping channels down our throats and won't increase the picture quality at all.

Digital Video stinks for consumers because we keep compressing and recompressing the signals over and over again. What would be really great is if we had a video compression standard that had a quick, painless degradation path, preferably one where you just drop some bits and the quality goes down linearly. This would get rid of the need for complex, CPU-intensive transcoding or re-encoding. Anyone know if this is even possible?

jason | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:34PM

Oh, also -- there's already a software product called NetTunes, made by the very excellent Shirt-Pocket software that makes SuperDuper, a great backup program for Mac.

http://www.shirt-pocket.com/netTunes/

jason | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:36PM

Mr Cringely, where did you get these ideas?


If Apple is using an MPEG2 software decoder to play DVDs on, say, Macbook Pros, then why do they sell it separately?


http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore.woa/wa/RSLID?mco=6C04E099&nplm=D2187Z%2FA


And how can you suggest hardware video decompression is a new idea, when Apple has been doing it for a very, very long time?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PowerBook_G3


It took me 90 seconds to research these things. A professional journalist should find the time to fit the "research" step into their day.


Paul


Paul | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:47PM

I had this same type of Snapster idea a few years ago as well using the concept of loaning or donating the CD into a cp-op type pool. I spoke to a good lawyer in this field and got scared off myself. [In fact one that was used by apple when creating itunes.]

Here's the rub - "and makes one more copy". This will give the music labels enough to kill it as copyright law does not specifically allow copying for other people to listen to your music.

You can loan the physical CD in essence but not the virtual copy of the CD. This is why I use LaLa.com (which falls within the law).

I wish NetTunes luck myself but they have a tough row to hoe for sure. Of course there is always BitTorrent. :-)

Todd | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:55PM

Paul,

The quicktime mpeg extension is for mpeg clips, not DVDs(I know they are encoded in mpeg format but they are read differently by quicktime). Quicktime plays DVDs using hardware decoding as you pointed out, but even with the mpeg component decoding of clips is done in software.

Gmas.

Gmas | Mar 09, 2007 | 1:59PM

Love the Mac predictions, we've passed this one over to our members for review!

http://macpredict.com/events/Hardware-H-264-Chips-in-Macs-in-2007

MP | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:06PM

Paul - I have a powerbook G3 with 1GB ram from 1999 and it still does everything beautifully EXCEPT play video. Any hi def video downloaded from itunes is unwatchable.

It is this reason we will be forced to upgrade to a video capable computer.

CVOS | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:13PM

Hello, in fact pcs have been able to accelerate mpeg2 since quite time ago, iirc since about 3 years ago any decent video card added hardware motion compensation and other mpeg2 cpu costing in the vga silicon.

H.264 is a different league though,although a P3-700 was able to software-decode a dvd, a very powerful cpu is needed to decode a 1080p stream, hardware aid is welcome.

david mh | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:23PM

"Maybe you have wondered, as I have, why it takes a pretty robust notebook computer to play DVD videos"


Hmm. My old K62-300 played DVD's just fine. And my "robust" laptop is a 700Mhz with 128MB RAM. Define "robust".

"it's a wonder why such chips didn't appear long ago in PCs."

Every nVidia and ATI card for a while has had hardware MPEG-2 decoding. I use Linux, so the X extension is XvMC. It works (at least with nVidia, ATI doesn't make it available to X/Linux). The GeForce 6150 (included on a $90 Abit mobo) even does HD resolution up to 1080i. Used it. It's there and it works.

"By being able to encode in real time, the new Macs will have that American Idol clip up and running faster than could be done on almost any other machine"

Yeah, BUT ... It'll probably look like crap. Real-time hardware encoders (consumer ones, anyway) almost always look crappy. I have one in my DVD-Recorder. The USB tuners like Hauppauge's, have them. Maybe hardware has finally caught up, but I'll believe a real-time encoding chip can touch the quality of a multi-pass software encoder when I see it. THAT'S why hardware encoders aren't common, but decoders are.

Barry Roberts | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:27PM

Wow, seems like many posters cannot grasp the difference between software and hardware encoding/decoding. Is it really that difficult???

Do you think that anybody would bother to write a weekly blog about it if your G3 was already capable of it?

Regards

Marek

MarekS | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:30PM

I have asked members of the Core Video team at Apple in the past about hardware assist on MPEG-2 decompression. I knew that the NVidia chipset in my then PowerBook could do it, but Apple would not make the API to make that work public. My impression from their response was that they did not like punching holes in their elegant Core Video chain; they liked starting from a file, decoding it, running the decoded stream through filters, maybe adding a text overlay, etc. Not that they wouldn't do it if told. I'm just saying they wouldn't like it.



Hardware assist encoding sounds very cool. I occasionally transcode some content my MythTV recorded and it is a lot slower than I would like.



On a side note it makes a big difference in terms of memory bandwidth needs where the decompression happens. If the decompression is handled on the video card, you don't have to drive uncompressed 1080p (1920 pixels x 1080 pixels x 4 bytes per pixel x 60fps) content over your CPU to PCI bus. But if the decompression is handled on the video card or by an enocer chip between the PCI bus and the video card, then things like adding filters, text layovers, etc., have to also be done by the GPU, which would probably be the case anyway with how Apple handles graphics.

Glenn Howes | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:32PM

Marek - that's the point - there has been hardware decoding on graphics cards for years. I think Cringely may have heard something coming down the line and misinterpretted it.

GPU hardware acceleration of decoding has been around for years - MPEG-2, WM9, and I believe H.264 as well.

Now, if Apple is going to make sure that the onboard decoding is good enough for full res HD content across the entire product line, AND going to make sure the drivers are all in line and that QuickTime calls on it to use that instead of CPU, THAT is news. But onboard hardware decoding isn't.

And as the other poster said, hardware acceleration of encoding at the consumer level is poor quality. Realtime, yes, and that's signficant, but poor quality.

-mike

Mike Curtis | Mar 09, 2007 | 2:39PM

Will this let you play a DVD movie without turning on the Mac OS like the sideshow (spl) in Vista.

chromepet | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:06PM

Will this let you play a DVD movie without turning on the Mac OS like the sideshow (spl) in Vista.

chromepet | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:06PM

You did not mention another Apple application that makes use of H.264 - iChat AV. Currently all Apple laptops and iMacs have built-in iSight cameras. It is rumored that the imminent next-generation Apple displays will also contain embedded iSight cameras. I believe Apple wants to make a heavy push into video teleconferencing. Currently, iChat AV allows multi-way video conferences with up to 4 participants, but one of the participants [the initiator] must be using high-end hardware. That makes some video conferences awkward to initiate - somewhat like calling your friend on the phone and asking him to call you back from his phone because he has a better long distance plan.

With built-in hardware based H.264 encoding/decoding, even the lowest-end Apple computers (like this one?) should be able to participate in video conferences. I would also expect that the number of participants in n-way conferences would go up to 10-16, with 8 being the optimal number of participants.

Brett Johnson | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:08PM

Current Apple products all feature general processing units (CPUs) from intel, specifically the core duo, and the core 2 duo series. It is safe to say that with sufficient ram and disk space, all macs are able to process media encoding/decoding at fairly high speeds. (safe to say that it will at least process 720p videos)

Therefore, the current macs are certainly capable to encode and decode media files, just not the higher resolution ones. As you may or may not know, most of the current graphics cards available have hardware based encoding, and the only apple products that doesn't allow a user to upgrade its graphics department is the mac mini, and the macbook. These products may be the only products that will (possibly the AppleTV (which has a graphics card) mac pro too) have significant benefits from adding a hardware accelerator.

I don't believe that apple will add a hardware accelerator to its computers (becasue it's too expensive, and the benefits are minimal to its customer base), but if I had to pick a product from apple that can benefit from this, it'd be the AppleTV. Because AppleTV currently has a Nvidia graphics card (7400Go) which is most likely more expensive (probably runs hotter too) than a media accelerator chip right on the the mobo.

Steve Gates | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:20PM

If you have an Apple with a GPU the DVDPlayer application will use it for most of the MPEG 2 decode. ATI and nVidia have both been talking about adding H.264 hardware to their chips and when they do so I'm sure Apple will use it.

scotty1024 | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:38PM

I am curious... is it possible to externally attach this chip as a peripheral thru USB or Firewire? I mean for a reasonable price I would go for it to speed up my H.264 decoding and encoding. Is there even such an attachment existing from a third party? or will I have to wait until apple releases it as a shiny little box or something for 300 bucks?

kevin | Mar 09, 2007 | 3:48PM

@steve gates: i have a core 2 duo laptop t6300 with 1 gig of ram. it has trouble decoding 720p h.264. plays smooth on low motion scenes, but noticeably lags during scrolling or complex motions. personally i would welcome hardware h.264 decoding.

ryan | Mar 09, 2007 | 4:01PM

Bob,

Your comment about NetTunes, "I hope it succeeds, frankly, because I think of NetTunes as my baby, even if I didn't have either the brains or the guts to make it happen, myself."

I have been reading your column/blog for years. You are more than smart enough, you just didn't have the guts (or maybe the capital).

Scott Lewis | Mar 09, 2007 | 4:30PM

Chip, no. Software, yes (add-on)
... I'm not saying Apple's video-decoder chip won't also decode MPEG-2 (it may or may not -- I simply don't know) ...

QuickTime MPEG-2 Playback Component:

http://www.apple.com/quicktime/mpeg2/

hylas

hylas | Mar 09, 2007 | 5:31PM

Boy, this is great news. Now we'll see true video acceleration on Mac OS X with real time effects...
--------------
http://www.mostofmymac.com

TheMacThinker | Mar 09, 2007 | 5:38PM

BALONEY! As long as Apple is tied to intel, they will never offload CPU cycles to a co-processor. In case you didn't know Cringely, intel is in the business of selling CPU cycles. Anything that uses more CPU capacity is good, all else is bad. That is why intel wants FireWire dead (USB routes all data through the CPU), and that is why they will never stand for the H.264 scheme you concocted.

alfonse | Mar 09, 2007 | 6:05PM

Thanks. Great article. Great news.

Richard Rollo | Mar 09, 2007 | 6:26PM

I agree with most of your H.264 points. I seriously doubt a ASIC will cost as much as $50 in the quantities Apple will be buying - IF this ends up even in Mini's and ApPle TV's too. Also don't forget HD and DirecTivos are going MPEG 4 these days, so Macs aren't going to be quite as far ahead as you imply. This is inevitable though - if you look at the latest PC graphics cards, hardware H.264 is already there, for decode only admittedly.

Simon | Mar 09, 2007 | 6:42PM

This would be great, anything that makes playing videos less processor intensive is a good thing. Less processor means less heat, and less fan noise (unless the H.264 chip is hot)

It's a shame H.264 is so processor intensive. On my G4 PowerBook, VLC plays full screen DivX files with much less processor than H.264 files in Quicktime. The quality is slightly lower but not by much.

http://bla.st/mac/

Tim | Mar 09, 2007 | 7:46PM

"Macs will become superb DVR machines with TiVo-like functionality yet smaller file sizes than any TiVo box could ever produce."

How would this chip aid recording of digital TV? Digital TV is already compress, sidestepping the need for any encoding. My Mac Mini can already handle recording of 2+ high def streams at once while playing back another. I doubt most users would even notice such a chip is in their Mac.

Marc Edwards | Mar 09, 2007 | 7:47PM

The original PowerMac G3 required a hardware decoder for DVD playback. It was simply unnecessary in subsequent hardware releases. I think it would be a great thing to have an ASIC for encoding H.264. I think it is unlikely to happen, but hey, you never know.

Ted | Mar 09, 2007 | 7:51PM

No mention of AppleTV - but could that be how that box is so cheap and intends to have WOW quality video on a HD-TV? Also, the AppleTV could make use of that power all the time when connected to the TV and cable tuner.

jesse | Mar 09, 2007 | 7:59PM

Mr. Cringley,

The Intel G965 chip does h.264 decoding/encoding (as well as mpeg-2). MacMini's and MacBook's currently use the 950. The 965 is it's replacement. Most likely the 965 will be in the next release of mini's and macboks. ATI and NVIDIA also have GPU's which do H.264 encoding, etc. So, yeah, I'm sure all Mac's released from here on out will do hardware h.264. The fact that the 965 chip does this is not a rumor from a secretive source, it's just a fact. You, sir, are an idiot. Every time I see your dumb head on PBS at 3AM a little piece of me dies.

Here, I'll clear it up for the morons | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:10PM

You "heard" it huh?

http://digg.com/apple/Create_Your_Own_Apple_Rumor_2

I've heard from someone at Apple that they have reverse engineered life. You'll be able to purchase a sex slave, accountant, hitman, you name it. Any genetic pattern can be matched on their forthcoming 80-core intel powered system to debut at a special Apple press event sometime in the current century.

Oh wow, I'm getting lots of hits now!

:P

I'm sick of Apple rumors, get a life.

Ardoreal | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:10PM

Offer a two-way feature to a low-end market?
I double Brett Johnson's assumption: not that many people produce video, and look at YouTube: it tends to be chat-like. Making it default is to leverage network effects, and offer a VisioPhone: users are ready, technology is ripe; as Mac users tend to know each other, this could be a decisive feature for non-tech savvy users.

Bertil | Mar 09, 2007 | 8:36PM

Hmmm, well, let me see. My Dell P3/500 system with an on-board ATI Rage Pro will play a dvd quality movie re-encoded with XviD or x264(which are MPEG-4 compliant codecs for the uninformed) just fine(no hardware decoding other than the P3's SSE). And my Athlon 1100Mhz system with a GeForce 2 MX400 will play an XviD HD 1280x720 movie just fine. Oh yeah, I'm using MPlayer under Linux. Maybe that's why. I re-encoded a trailer from a Quicktime file at 300MB that would barely play on a 2Ghz machine to an 80MB XviD at the same quaility that plays just fine on an 1100Mhz machine........Oh well, whatever.

Larry | Mar 10, 2007 | 1:21AM

Hardware encoding/decoding for H.264 might result in slightly reduced upsales for Apple, but it might also result in more home users switching to MacBooks and Mac Minis from Dells and HPs. It's possibly not as much of a gamble for Apple as it might seem at first.

Q. Random | Mar 10, 2007 | 3:37AM

They might have a decoder chip for the apple TV, but I don't see them adding this to their entire hardware line. Doesn't make much sense when they could push something like that off to the second core.

ernest leitch | Mar 10, 2007 | 4:38AM

That's great news! Apple has always had tricky stuff up their sleeves to smartly support leading edge products with hardware upgrades that seemed "to cost too much" at the time - Apple simply pushed the envelope to create new standards (remember SCSI, USB, and Firewire?) and everyone else had to follow.

I think they're doing it again in an effort to replace set top boxes that currently have other company's logos on them with boxes that have an Apple logo instead. It's not a big leap to go from AppleTV to AppleDVR.

walto | Mar 10, 2007 | 6:19AM

I hope Apple 'does' include the hardware in all their Mac's - particularly the notebooks. If nothing else, think about the extended battery life (and possibly the number of movies - 2 complete maybe?) one could watch during overseas flights?

stonefingers | Mar 10, 2007 | 7:56AM

Cringely,

You see the future clearer than most.

Would I buy an Apple computer just to get an affordable next generation video codec?

Probably not as it won't take long before the "Me Too" effect kicks in and other PCs have it.

Peter

Pluscomm | Mar 10, 2007 | 7:58AM

Song sharing was done via MP3.com years ago... it was a great service, and of course, it was shut down quickly.

Flabby Boohoo | Mar 10, 2007 | 8:40AM

Mr. Cringely is either getting the wrong information or doesn't understand how much H.264 decoding/encoding actually costs. Since I managed a product with integral H.264 decoding/endocding for all profiles up to level 4.1 (that's 40Mbit/s maximum), I can tell you that the H.264 decoder is about 7 square millimeters at 65nm. You're looking at about 15-25 cents per square millimeter, depending on what size of chip you've got. That's $1.75 tops for an integrated core. Say you want this as a stand-alone chip and add a memory controller and some other control logic for another 3 square millimeters. Add in your packaging and test costs, and you're looking at no more than $5 tops for cost. Most chip manufacturers are getting about 40% gross margin for high-volume consumer applications at the most, and so what you end up with is no more than $10. That's still a lot of cost, but nowhere near the $50 that Mr. Cringely asserts. And that's the worst case.

Don't forget that many manufacturers of graphics chips are adding dedicated hardware (not "pixel shader" accelerated) in this year's crop of graphics chips, so all of that dedicated extra cost boils down to collecting 40% gross margin on top of the marginal cost of the core. That's why I'm calling this no more than around $2 for this feature in reality - no add-in chips or anything. That's a good investment for Apple. And to top it off, these cores will also do VC-1, MPEG-2 and almost any other CODEC with additional entropy coding engines. Also bear in mind that most of the encoding function is actually covered by the decode function, so the marginal additional hardware cost is minimal.

X | Mar 10, 2007 | 9:04AM

Macs are overpriced. Why to buy a Mac if you can buy a better computer for a half of that price?

Profesor Mark Jackson, Ph. D. | Mar 10, 2007 | 11:51AM

"Macs are overpriced. Why to buy a Mac if you can buy a better computer for a half of that price?"

Not sure where you get your comparison there, but about four or five years ago (right around when the G5 model was getting going) there was a comparison made between it and a Dell with nearly identical specs and the price was close enough to not care about. And Apple's support is better overall. Macs are progressively getting more affordable with each passing product cycle.

Steven Sokulski | Mar 10, 2007 | 12:07PM

The good professor obviously is not producing for his institution because he has time to make simple unsupported statements such as the one above.

Nor is he very open-minded because such subjective statements don't embrace the notion that anyone else has a different viewpoint or reason for buying a Mac, save for price (value to life is why people buy things, Professor).

Nor does he know how to spell his own title.

I will give him points for posing a question, suggesting he still has a little curiousness in life: a requirement for posing as an educator.

The anwser to your question is simple, if still lost to you:

Mac are the easiest way to get things done, computer tool-wise. They have a highly consistent user interface which embraces every app which runs on them (including that of the blossoming shareware and freeware community). They make computing life simple, even, yes, fun. Find a PC user (disqualifying geeks) who considers his/her computing experience "fun.' I dare ya.

Mac are just as powerful computationally, have better displays resolution-wise and color-wise (always have), are better integrated, with a bomb-proof OS, have more connection capability right out of the box, and are better made than any box on the market. And they're fun to use.

With close to thirty million users worldwide, and switchers from the PC hitting all-time highs, I again challenge you to find a switcher who has returned to the PC (again, disqualify the geeks - sorry guys, you're special) after owning a Mac.

And while Macs used to command quite a price for all this, they're actually a lot more affordable now (half the price of a Mac doesn't get you much at all, Professor).

So all these people having fun on a Mac may seem to be dumb for doing so (having spent some of that cash they were planning to lay down for the new Lexus). But they've changed their complex life for the better and bought a Mac. And that makes them very smart.

John Date | Mar 10, 2007 | 12:38PM

Profesor [sic] Jackson can't spell his own title. 'Nuf said.

Steve | Mar 10, 2007 | 2:02PM

"THE POLICY WILL COST APPLE MONEY" I disagree and believe the integration of hardware-based decoding will expand marketshare and not at the expense of incremental sales. Apple has done a far superior marketing job than PC providers to offer a clearly delineated product mix: Mini, iMac, MacPro and of course the two notebook lines. I expect there are very few users who would update from a Mini or iMac to a MacPro.

Rather, the revision to add H.264 revision acrros the entire product line will probably trigger upgrade sales and may further increase marketshare by offering a intuitively easy media-centric pc for homeowners. Add to this conquest sales from existing Windows users and you probably have a "rake-in-the-money" opportunity for Apple.

Think about it:
1. A h.264 enable Mini to your home entertainment system. Add a Bluetooth mouse/keyboard and you can surf the Web from your sofa on you HDTV. Actually, this is exactly what I am looking for and my checkbook will be waiting.

2. Video iTunes service. This one is so very obvious. How it would be differentiated from existing video downloads I would not hypothesize.

3. DVR replacement. I love my Tivo and hate the Motorola replacement offered by my cable operator. The UI is horrendous and unintuitive. I ready to remove the Motorola DVR service and return to Tivo, but an Apple equivalent would be very compelling.

pr43 | Mar 10, 2007 | 4:17PM

I think you're right about the significance of this: hardware video encoding makes a great deal of sense particularly as I believe that for compact formats like H.264 encoding takes much more computation that decoding. One supplier is already touting a modestly priced USB based hardware H.264 encoder for PCs, and I'd expect that integrated into the graphics chipset it would cost much less and perform considerably faster.

Current digital PVRs simply cache the signal as it was trasmitted, so no encoding stage is required, and a PC/Mac based product could take this route. The assertion that Apple are looking at having hardware encoding implies something else.

Maybe they expect users to have hours and hours of their own uncompressed material they want to store/share in H.264, or, more likely, that they'll be coding/transcoding broadcast material into H.264.

Edward French | Mar 10, 2007 | 4:42PM

How about an Apple-branded video cam using a hardware H.264 encoder and flash memory? Or, maybe a cam using an use an iPod for storage.

Chuck Eggers | Mar 10, 2007 | 5:57PM

They're already doing this.

The newer video chips from ATI/AMD and NVidia have some fairly high grade H.264 acceleration. The real question for me is whether or not they'll open the language for using the acceleration will be opened up for open-source players like mplayer and videolan and even the codec plug-in ffdshow.

If you want to look into this a bit, search for purevideo and avivo.

bmfrosty | Mar 10, 2007 | 8:12PM

Bob,
The rationale for not incuding hardware assist has been that by freezing the codec into silicon, yo were only gauranteeing that the machine would be obsolete in two months when someone improved the codec and the chip wouldn't work anymore. The conventional wisdom was that the CPU approach was both updatable and and cheaper and the CPU's were fast enough – which they were till we hit high def.

However, we are now at a point where both computer powers have decided it is good to have standards - hence Microsoft's morphing of Windows Media 9 into the "VC1" SMPTE standard, and Apple going for H.264. With standards-based CODECs at the fore, maybe it's finally time to put things in sillicon.

And Apple really needs to. Some form of VC1 can be recorded full-frame full motion on even relatively modest PCs while it takes a Mac Pro to record H.264 live - and not full frame SD at that. Both CODECS are excellent, but H.264's complexity is a huge disadvantage for Apple. Apple wants to create a home entertainment beast whose lifeblood is H.264. I don't think it will fly until the average Mac user can play back Hi-Def H.264, but more importantly, until they can encode it live and transcode to it in real-time or better. I'll stick my neck out a little more: I think they need to create a board (and/or) a USB dongle that enables QuickTime (read iTunes) to be accelerated on Windows PCs TOO!

It should work on either platform as just part of QuickTime - if yu use H.264 in any way on either platform, you get a hardware boost automatically (your encode specs handled by the existing QT tools like the QT player pro. If it's integrated into the Quicktime architecture, then any app that uses the QT API should get accelerator board functionality seamlessly. AND if the board also supported VC-1 encode and decode on the Mac then Mac users would cease being second class media citizens (the flip4mac plugins could tie into the board.)

The board plus QT could be marketed as "QT Extreme" and could be available for Windows and for any Macs with an available slot that don't have the chips built-in. In all the time I've been creating QT material (since '92) Apple has always had a curious "last mile" blind spot. The "last mile" being a state of the art end user CODEC. Apple has relied on third parties like Sorenson, or Intel (Indeo), or Radius (CinePak). It's only with H.264 that they are closing in on the needed digiital video follow-thru. But the Achilles heel is the very unforgiving complexity.

Without a usably live encodable CODEC Apple has been shut out of the streaming and live webcasting market as well. You need to encode live and onsite to make that work. (Also, Apple's approach providing multiple bandwidth versions is not workable. Both Real and Windows Media can record multiple bandwidth versions into a single - self adjusting stream. Apple expects yo to create multiple files, a scheme that is impractical from the view of both effort and storage)

Again, we are at a good point for Apple. We may be at the place where we can produce only for broadband without paying too steep a price in lost viewers. QT Broadcaster needs work too if it'sgoing to meet the needs of webcasters (it's got to push, not pull - an important technicallity.

Well, Ok, not a lot of yuks in here, just an additional 2 cents.

Dan Kinoy

Dan Kinoy | Mar 11, 2007 | 12:56AM

Brilliant assessment and I think will likely be true. I just hope that Apple does a flexible DSP to do the H.264 encoding and decoding. Making this thing more programmable so that it can scale with software towards the future.

Hence, this H.264 chip will nt be like a standard decoder ASIC of previous generation. eg TMS DM6441. Go Apple, we are all waiting patiently for it. You can see that Video card makers are just recently adding drivers to make hardware-assisted H.264 decoding in the Video hardware components. That apparently has not gone as far as we need. So a specialized decoder is needed.

Frankie Teo | Mar 11, 2007 | 3:50AM

So what "chip" is this going to be? Frankle mentions a programmable interface for the decoder, so what about the rumors of Cell chips making their way onto high-end Mac Pros with Final Cut Extreme? Is that not just about the most gnarly, scalable, programmable DSP processor in existence? Derivatives of the Cell are now making their into PS3s and I'm sure IBM has mor interested parties I have not been watching, the argument here being that mass-production has begun or is imminent. What about a limited core (say only 3) "cells" for a budget/low-power version?

I doubt a Cell based decoder chip is in the works across the whole of Apple's line, but I could see a migration to it within a year or two.

Jerrod | Mar 11, 2007 | 7:02PM

The one flaw with the idea of every mac being a dvr is that it is unclear how apple would make more money doing this.

Their revenue model is predicated on apple being the source for media (ITMS) and every opportunity that a user has to get their media somewhere else besides apple is a lost dollar for them.

So if you can easily transfer "lost" or "Battlestar" to your mac from your cablebox or dvds then why would you buy that media from apples ITMS?


I can see maybe maybe there being a .264 playback function, but really I think apple sees people playing media on ipods and on a big screen tv through appletv, so even the mac .264 playback capability is pretty useless as far as apple revenue is concerned. There are much better ways for them to spend $50 on a mac (as far as their bottom line is concerned).



You could have every mac have a built in GPS, or mesh networking, or a hi rez Insight camera or decent sound or more battery life or a better video card. Any of those would have more bang for the buck and not undermine their revenue model.

Michael | Mar 11, 2007 | 9:40PM

Is Apple TV going to be the GoogleBox Bob talked about way back when? Hmmmmm...

Chad | Mar 11, 2007 | 10:56PM

....maenwhile, how is season two of NerdTV coming along?

kevin kunreuther | Mar 12, 2007 | 7:21AM

Apple's core advantage is in making complicated things seem very simple for anyone. The encoder chip will allow better video conferencing with iChat among other things. If you haven't done this, you should. It works best with kids. I've also used it to play table-top games with friends who couldn't physically join.

Sharing your time and life is made easier with a Mac. I think Apple is working hard to make these features even better.

Noraa Haras | Mar 12, 2007 | 10:14AM

Many, many years ago I saw some demo somewhere, I believe from Apple, of what they imagined a future computer would be like. It was something like a tablet, and in one corner was a human face that talked out the computer's responses to what the operator was doing, in full-motion video. Maybe they still have that demo in their collective head.

I can't believe that no one out there is working frantically on something like a video phone on a laptop. That is such an obvious idea, and would be so cool. It seems like so many parts exist; the Macbook with the microphone and camera, the high-speed internet. Maybe hardware encoding/decoding of video is the last piece.

Steven White | Mar 12, 2007 | 11:27AM

Please Bob, enough with the day in day out Apple worship.

Can you talk about firm that owns more than 2% of the computing market sometime?

Brian | Mar 12, 2007 | 1:46PM

Adding hardware encoding/decoding isn't new. Back in the 80s, you used to be able to buy DSP co-processors. Why this idea hasn't been renewed, I don't know.

But then why is this news?

The Alti-Vec engine has, for years now, been accelerating Macs since the G4 chip. Does anyone recall the benefit of it for MP3 encoding, Photoshop, or SETI@home? I sure do, because it halved MP3 encoding, it allowed Apple to make the first hardware-accelerated software DVD encoder to encode at a ratio of 0.98 : 1 compared to real time. That was a HUGE benefit. Anyone remember the "25x" figure used by Jobs in the keynote for this new encoder?

So why do we need a $50 DSP to do something that Macs should have been doing for years?

Now... I won't complain, the additional acceleration will be welcome, but redundant hardware is hardly necessary.

Graham Fair | Mar 12, 2007 | 2:44PM

Bob said: "Apple's new policy, if true, will turn on its head the whole notion of forcing users upmarket if they want better video support. THE POLICY WILL COST APPLE MONEY, not just for the video chip, but also for the lost sales of higher performance machines."

This might not be completely true since Apple is aiming to expand its user base rather than focusing on the renewal of the installed machines.
In this perspective I believe it makes perfect sense to add features in order to make products more appealing to customers.

Alessio Di Domizio | Mar 12, 2007 | 3:07PM

Brian, there's no problem there, as Apple topped 6% of the market in February, and with the projected sales curve increasing at a rocket-like angle.

Christian | Mar 12, 2007 | 3:25PM

Apple owns 100% of the Macintosh market, which is a different beast. The myth of market share ought to be clear by now even to the dim -- ie, if Apple can make this much money out of such a small share of the "computer market" (whatever that is) then "market share" (whatever that is) matters little.


>>>
Please Bob, enough with the day in day out Apple worship.

Can you talk about firm that owns more than 2% of the computing market sometime?

Brian | Mar 12, 2007 | 1:46PM

eddie ever | Mar 13, 2007 | 1:33AM

Apple owns 100% of the Macintosh market, which is a different beast. The myth of market share ought to be clear by now even to the dim -- ie, if Apple can make this much money out of such a small share of the "computer market" (whatever that is) then "market share" (whatever that is) matters little.


>>>
Please Bob, enough with the day in day out Apple worship.

Can you talk about firm that owns more than 2% of the computing market sometime?

Brian | Mar 12, 2007 | 1:46PM

eddie ever | Mar 13, 2007 | 1:33AM

Both major video card manufacturers and Intel have had MPEG-2 or greater acceleration in their GPU hardware for years.

This is not news.

Otis Wildflower | Mar 13, 2007 | 8:05AM

>Apple topped 6% of the market in February, and with the projected sales curve increasing at a rocket-like angle.

"Rocket-like angle"

Mac weenies crack me up.

Brian | Mar 13, 2007 | 10:27AM

>Mac weenies crack me up.

Yeah, guys like you tend to crack up when faced with facts. Keep on ignoring the non-Apple industry studies. Try breathing deeply while you're at it. That tends to help with delusion.

Christian | Mar 13, 2007 | 11:42AM

Otis,

There's a difference between MPEG-2 acceleration and MPEG-2 decoding. Acceleration simply provides _some_ hardware assistance but still relies on the CPU for a lot of the work while decoding provides _all_ of the horsepower needed to convert from MPEG-2 to an uncompressed feed that just needs to be moved and displayed.

Brian | Mar 13, 2007 | 12:38PM

ME = PC owner - game rig, HTPC, and kids computer.

MAC = Working computer. Much better than PC in many respects. Probably (especially if this story is true) will make a killer HTPC. Simple, one click interface.

you can knock a mac, but you can't knock em down. Why hasn't mac already died? Answer - LOYAL USERS, Mac is committed to the users.

Never count out the MAC/IPOD combo. I think they will have a darn good thing going if they move swiftly and decisively toward HTPC applications. Doubly true if they do it well (good track record of late) and make sure to get HDTV in the game as well.

foston | Mar 13, 2007 | 3:10PM

"Mac is committed to the users" - Then why can't I run my Classic apps (some only a couple of years old) on an Intel Mac? Apple's not committed to users, they're committed to making a profit any way they can.

Rick Rodman | Mar 13, 2007 | 5:12PM

What about parts of a song? Is it legal for two people to play different parts of the same song at the same time? In this case, as long as two people did not start playing the song at the same time, you could share one song across multiple listeners.
What about the same song but off of different albums (the original and the greatest hits for instance)? What if the two versions are slightly different?

Just some things I though about as I read along.
James

James | Mar 13, 2007 | 10:55PM

Hmm, that's interesting, but probably impossibly to enforce; what if the song is 'sliced' into 1-second microparts, and nobody is playing that part at any one time; as long as people don't start playing at the exact same time, people can borrow the first micropart, which is released for the next user once played. I know, nutty concept, but the point is in the digital age you don't have to have a rental for 3 days or a week or the like; once played, it can be automatically 'returned', or released from loan. If you are talking about an always-on internet connection, a feature to check a song in and out automatically on demand could be feasible.
Spanner in the works for microparts: I don't know about US legistlation, but here in Australia you are only allowed to make one backup copy, excluding any temporary file created in the process (such as caching) which is immediately destroyed once copied. So technically you would only be allowed to download/borrow it once the previous renter has checked in and the software has destroyed their copy. So unless a micropart was destroyed as it was played, including the file on disk, it wouldn't be legal, unless you could argue the file on disk is a temporary file used in the copying process. Otherwise, this model is perfectly legal here, according to the legislation just introduced this year to comply with the US trade agreement.

msandersen | Mar 14, 2007 | 3:30AM

One way to implement sharing microparts is to simply stream the music; as long as the streaming server only starts one stream at a time suitably spaced. But of course I doubt the copyright license allows for slicing the songs up. Or maybe it's a convenient loophole.

msandersen | Mar 14, 2007 | 3:56AM

For Rick - the first comment made, try using Sheep Shaver.

http://uneasysilence.com/archive/2006/08/7352/

This helps run programs on Intel Macs, that would normally only work with Power Pc.

Read the article it should explain in full.

Bob

Bob | Mar 14, 2007 | 4:02AM

Apple won't use a codec like On2 because on On2's own website they said that they were keeping their better codecs for themselves and only making the mediocre codecs, of which On2 is, open source.

Clay Garland | Mar 14, 2007 | 5:20AM


To Enter into the argument of the Windows vs OS 10 debate....

I think both platforms are pretty good, i just recently started using an apple mac for work
and found it to be an excellent platform.

My experience with Mac is that it is a very solid computer / OS , it seems to offer far greater stability than Windows and you spend a lot less time tinkering under the hood, with Firewalls, Virus Detectors and Spyware Programs and there are far less "Critical Updates" than Windows.

OS 10 has a lot a great features which have been standard for years, well before vista even hit the block, leaving Microsoft well behind in terms of innovation.

But in saying all these great things about the Mac, it will unfortunately never reach the same level of popularity as Windows or even Linux simply because it will always miss the lower end
of the market from people not being able afford the computer and not being able to steal people away from windows because of it's OS being linked to apple only hardware.

Windows will always do better, because developers make software for the largest market share and familiarity with the product.

Windows does offer a very easy to use interface and it also has the majority gaming titles developed for it, along with peripherals.

I think i would prefer to use OS 10 all the time, if it was easier to switch platforms with existing hardware and compatibility was addressed....

So the winner is....no one!

Until apple open up their OS !
:D


Bob | Mar 14, 2007 | 8:53AM

Your article hints at a hypothetical solution for a quote I am working on currently. A customer is looking for the cheapest way to get an SD "backhaul" (television remote production-standard def, let's not push it to HD just yet!) of their telethon from a remote location to the master control of their city government channel. How cool would it be to roll up w/a MacBook Pro (future version) and jack in to either a temp fiber drop or VSAT w/low end broadcast bit rate capability (5-6Mbps@MPEG2 or lower w/MPEG4) & instead of using Tandberg/NDS or an equivalently capable (and equally high priced) outboard MPEG2 (or 4) video encoder & decoder, have another Mac on the receive side decoding & outputing video w/stereo audio??

I don't know if I'd want to commit to a broadcast or cable channel backhaul using this configuration right away, but if it works, it works! It is in effect what we are doing now, just with more expensive (and redundant) equipment and more bandwidth on the satellite. We have provided similar services with outboard encoders/decoders for defense contractors this year-plus added in phone lines, data comm channels & internet access to remote locations. I could tell you more but then...well, you know...

Ted | Mar 14, 2007 | 4:44PM

Ambarella?

Wayne | Mar 15, 2007 | 9:56AM

Hey, why not share software the same way as music? Mind if I borrow your copy of Photoshop wheile you're not using it? Software developers don't need money any more than songwriters and recording artists do.

Seriously folks, fair use is not fair to the people who create music. The right to make a personal copy was proposed at a time when the copy was a cassette. It was tedious to create, inferior to the master and not so easily transported. So it seemed a reasonable concession to the previous idea that copyright holders be paid for each recording made. (By the way, this royalty is only 8 or 9 cents to the songwriter, not t ton of money.) Of course, now its possible to make a perfect copy in seconds and send it to everyone you know.

Which may be fine, if the creator doesn't mind.

Yeah, sure the major record companies suck and deserve to die. So let's eliminate the middle men. But unless the revenues are redirected to artists and songwriters who make the music, the opportunities for musicians to earn a decent living become fewer and fewer. Free distribution of music is not a victimless phenomenon.

Bruce Kaplan | Mar 15, 2007 | 11:24AM

Heh, I love folks like Bruce Kaplan going to bat for the poor artists.

As a musician, let me tell you, very few artists make anything off their records. Having the record deal allows you to make more at your live shows.

The only people who get paid usually do so to sign once they've already made a name for themselves... They're still not living off of royalties.

The only time you do get any type of useful royalties are when someone covers your song on a popular album.

Anything that increases exposure for the artist is a boon, and if they can get more exposure without being under the thumb of a big name record company, you are doing them a favor.

Please, copy my CD and give it to complete strangers. Tell them I'm playing Fridays at 8:00 while you're at it. I can even arrange a show in your home.

What I will say is that when you illegally download an album, it doesn't count as a soundscan sale, so my chances of having a #1 hit goes down if people download the song. Of course that's going from 999,999:1 to a Million to one odds. And of course the people who do have #1 hits... Well, I'm not too upset if you download the newest Brittney track and take .08 cents out of her pocket. (And poor Louie Armstrong...)

What about the writers of books? One must assume that Ben Franklin and his "Library" portal must have killed the publishing industry... Or that Libraries don't lend out CD's and Movies.

And much like the libraries open up knowledge to people of all classes, why should music be the domain of those who can "afford" to hear it? Who says it's right for the fat cats to hoard it all?

Musicians make music to make music. If they're only doing it to make money, they're in the wrong business.

LostInDaJungle | Mar 15, 2007 | 12:21PM

Led Zeppelin IV: Side one (The "Money Side")

1. "Black Dog" (Page/Plant/Jones) – 4:55
2. "Rock and Roll" (Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham) – 3:40
3. "The Battle of Evermore" (Page/Plant) – 5:38
4. "Stairway to Heaven" (Page/Plant) – 7:55

Matt Weatherford | Mar 15, 2007 | 2:16PM

You guys are getting the terms encoding and decoding confused.

Most likely the future Apple products will come with h.264 DECODING chips...not encoding chips. H.264 encoders cost several thousand $$...the decoders cost much less (anywhere from $20 to $40 depending on the chip vendor you buy from).

And I believe the h.264 decoder vendors out there have solutions that support both MPEG-2 and MPEG4, H.264 decode in HW...MPEG-2 is a freebie in that kind of processor.

jayzee54 | Mar 16, 2007 | 7:30PM

RTFA, Mr. Cringely is himself discussing _DE_-coders in his article.

otis wildflower | Mar 18, 2007 | 10:29AM

Um, I know that I'm late to the party here, but MP3.com used to have such a service, that allowed you to use their software to register your music with them, and then you could play it from the road through your account. As I recall, they did not withstand copyright scrutiny, and were shut down.

Nick | Mar 19, 2007 | 5:03PM

Yo, Otis. _YOU_ might want to RTFA.

"So what's in it for Apple? Potentially a lot, because the chip Apple has chosen doesn't cost $7, it costs more like $50, and it doesn't just do hardware H.264 decoding, it does hardware H.264 ENCODING, too."

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