RUMOR: Apple soon to add hardware H.264 video decoding/encoding to all Macs

Apple Store“Maybe you have wondered, as I have, why it takes a pretty robust notebook computer to play DVD videos, while Wal-Mart will sell you a perfectly capable progressive-scan DVD player from Philips for $38? 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. They won’t run a spreadsheet, true, but DVD players are brilliant at doing what they are designed to do over and over again. 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,” Robert X. Cringely writes for PBS.

Cringely writes, “Well they are about to, after a fashion.”

“Now comes the rumor I have heard, that I believe to be a fact, that has simply yet to be confirmed. I have heard that Apple plans to add hardware video decoding [H.264] to ALL of its new computers beginning fairly soon, certainly this year,” Cringely writes.

Much more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Judge Bork” for the heads up.]


  1. I remember buying a PCI video output card that had a hardware MPEG-2 decoder years ago. I believe ATI (and probably NVIDIA) was also doing MPEG2 decoding on their video cards as well. This isn’t exactly new Cringely.

  2. I wouldn’t be so quick to say that the payoff is minimal. After all, if it’s something that people do a lot of, and since Apple is the digital hub, then it really makes sense to offload the duties to a specialized chip. This has the added benefits of reducing software failure and decreasing the demands upon the CPU, which of course frees it up to do other things, or reduces heat in the case. It would fit Apple’s KISS design zeitgeist as well.

  3. Duh! Apple TV, which runs OS-X already has this on board*, so it’s a no brainer to add it to macs too. Can be used to increase performance of consumer and pro video apps too.

    *made that up, obviously ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  4. Um, no. The handheld devices (iPhone, iPod) have such hardware for a reason: Less power for the job.

    All current macs are sufficiently fast for H.264 decoding in software. Future macs will be faster, naturally.
    So why adding extra hardware with no benefit ?

    Remember: Modern graphics cards will gradually take over image/video processing tasks. In order to squeeze
    more speed out of a video codec, why not use the graphics card instead of extra chips ?

  5. As far as the notebook lines are concerned, it might make sense.

    Could a dedicated video decoding chip use LESS power than a Core 2 Duo and allow the CPU to concentrate on other things?

    If notebook battery life for DVD playback could be extended, it would certainly be worthwhile.

  6. Bring it on!

    Battery life, HD support, less heat…

    It will surely be necessary in order to run Blu-ray movies from an internal drive with any kind of system efficiency.

    Ya know, all this waiting is KILLING me! I got money burnin’ a hole in my pocket, already, Steve!

  7. I haven’t noticed any issues watching a DVD on my Mac, or even much issue with video. Now if they could figure out how to ENCODE H.264 faster via hardware THAT would be a benefit I’d pay extra for!

  8. Intel and Microsoft have both long operated on a simple principle: “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    Intel has promoted the use of the CPU to do what would otherwise be done by specialty processors. But for the consumer, this is not an obvious approach. Why would one want to burden a $200 general purpose CPU to do what should be done by a $5-10 custom chip? Remember the “software modems”? One who believes in appropriate technology knows this is a bad idea.

    Microsoft is even worse. One-trick pony that it is (OK, two if you count Office), it complements this approach by doing everything in software – their software, of course. For them, whatever the problem, Windows is the answer. We’ve seen how well that works.

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