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Apple to use dedicated movie chips?

updated 10:15 am EDT, Mon August 11, 2008

Mac QuickTime Chip Rumor

Apple's widely discussed mystery product transition will involve dedicated movie processing hardware, according to a claimed tip on the subject sent to Silicon Alley Insider. The rumor would have at least some of Apple's products carry a chipset that would accelerate both decoding and encoding video, offloading much of the work from the main system processor. The source doesn't name which products would receive the update, which if true would appear before the end of September.

The feature isn't believed likely to be used in a traditional sense for Macs, which as a rule are now capable of playing back up to 1080p video at full speed without additional help. However, the reporters speculate that the hardware could be useful for HD video editing by reducing video creation times or else for processing live HD video from the webcams present on iMacs and MacBooks, which are capable of HD-level resolutions already but have to scale down to lower resolutions to accommodate most existing hardware.

Apple has notably limited its 720p iTunes video rentals so far to the Apple TV media hub, which uses a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 7300 chipset to offload most decoding work to the processor. Such minimum performance isn't guaranteed with Intel-based Macs, which in the case of the MacBook and Mac mini still uses slower Intel integrated video.

While potentially cutting into the margins in a way described by Apple during its latest quartely results call, the alleged tip also mirrors a recent rumor spread by PBS' Robert Cringely, who has claimed without citing sources that Apple will use an NTT DoCoMo-derived H.264 video processor that could compress HD video quickly enough to make HD video chat or certain iTunes operations much more efficient. In the claim, the part is said to have been relatively expensive at $50 but would potentially be an Apple-exclusive feature that gives the company an edge in video performance.

Dell has previously attempted a similar strategy for playback alone by using a specialized Broadcom chipset that allowed it to sell an $879 Blu-ray notebook and skip on more expensive dedicated graphics hardware.

By Electronista Staff


  1. calverson

    Mac Elite

    Joined: Jul 2007


    Snow Leopard

    I would expect this to be released with Snow Leopard, with some sort of OS intergration.

  1. Feathers

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: Oct 1999


    overdue but...

    ... graphics cards have long supported MPEG 2 playback in hardware, the only problem with similar support for H.264 is that it is far from ubiquitous by comparison. Also, hardware enabled encoding might also provide for hardware prevention of encoding by extension. It is reasonable to assume that such support will be for Apple's regulation version of MPEG4 in the form of H.264 and not for all the balkanised versions, DivX, 3ivx and so forth. Whatever Apple gives with one hand, it will take away with the other.

  1. divergent

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Sep 2006


    could be a big deal...

    Cringely's been talking about this for a while, but it definitely is making more and more sense for this to happen soon. The camcorder market is rapidly shifting away from tape-based formats like DV and HDV and into AVC/AVCHD, which is currently an absolute mess to edit with due to it's decoding requirements - especially for HD material on lower-end systems. The current solution is to transcode to an easier format for editing but that results in much larger files, some loss in quality, and often time spent waiting for the encode - which pretty much negates the advantage of tapeless capture. And then once you get through all of that re-encoding back to h.264 at HD res takes forever.

    If apple can standardize on some sort of hardware accelerator across their line that can both decode multiple streams of h.264 (specifically avchd) simultaneously as well as encode in realtime or faster it would really solidify their position in the video production market for both professionals and consumers and make upgrading to a new mac the best choice for anyone buying a new camera.

  1. ViktorCode

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2006



    Either this dedicated hardware is a graphics board or this is an empty rumor.

  1. resuna

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2005


    Upgrade the GPU

    If the GMA junk isn't adequate... instead of adding a dedicated video chip, just upgrade the GPU. Both nVidia and ATI have GPUs... both integrated and with separate VRAM... that are more than adequate.

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