On the verge of H.264

It’s no secret Robert X. Cringely follows the strategic directions of Apple’s laptop/desktop design teams:

Ctrl-Alt-Del Oct. 20, 2008
The Eyes Have It Aug.1, 2008
Let the Chips Fall July 12, 2007
The Great Apple Video Encoder Attack of 2007 Mar 8, 2007

In Robert X. Cringley’s recent posting on PBS.org brings up the topic of Apple’s attempt to incorporate H.264 into their product line. New buyers of the most recently introduced Mac laptops have rushed to measure the CPU load of their machines while playing back HD TV and Movie content downloaded from the iTunes store. CPU’s are now only idling along at 20% capacity versus the old 100%+ experienced in the previous generation of Mac desktops and laptops. Where is the secret sauce?

Cringley expected NTT of Japan to provide a special custom made encoder/decoder chip specifically geared for the H.264 codec. However nowhere in the current tear downs of the the MacBook and MacBook Pro has anyone identified a free standing chip doing the offloading of H.264 decoding. Now he’s speculating the chip might have been licensed as a ‘core’ by nVidia and incorporated into the new fully integrated chipset that drives all the I/O on the motherboard. Somewhere in there maybe even in the 16 cores of the video processor some kind of H.264 decoding acceleration is going on. But it’s not being touted very widely by the Apple marketing machine.

Cringely suspects there’s a reason to soft pedal H.264 acceleration on the new Macintoshes. While iTunes has been in the past nothing more than a means to an end (you want to sell iPods? Well get the content to play on them first!), the burgeoning field of online content distribution may be the next big end. Netflix has shown that even in a snail mail distribution  network, there is potential for a profit to be made. But as I’ve heard coworkers repeat in the past, where’s the profit of letting someone OWN the content. There is a feeling amongst a number of internet bloggers, consultants, and insiders that Hollywood wants to rent, not let you own the creative output of their studios. Whether it be music, TV or film you have to pay in order play. A one time ownership fee is a hard way to make a living. But future payments for each viewing, now that’s a guaranteed revenue stream.

What’s standing in the way of the stream is the series of tubes. The interwebs as they exist in the U.S. today make the Netflix distribution network far more workable and profitable than any attempt to push 5GB of HD versions of SpiderMan 3 into your Apple TV. The network will not allow for this to work on any scale right now. So the first step in the plan is to get H.264 decoding to work effortlessly on Mac products then sit back and wait and hope somehow the network will evolve to the level that Steve Jobs thinks it should.

What would lead Steve Jobs to think the network is going to rush in and save the day? How many articles do you read on Slashdot regularly about how far behind the U.S. is when it comes to Internet infrastructure? Why does anyone at Apple think this is going to work? It’s quite a stretch, and I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. Good Luck Apple.







%d bloggers like this: