02 January 2006

Technology Watch

I mentioned a new device from PortalPlayer in a recent post. We don't know what that is yet, but my guess is it would take PortalPlayer into the home market in some way.

In the last few days, there have been mentions of this PR from a company called Mobilygen. There is also a specific mention on the Mobilygen site of iPod compatibility though of course, no mention of Apple as a customer.

Now, I really thought people would pick up on the PortalPlayer announcement, but there hasn't been much. But with this announcement, another piece is fitting in the puzzle. (Basically it's a tiny $10 chip that allows REALTIME encoding/decoding of H.264 material with very low power consumption).

With the ability to not just decode H.264 on the fly (as in the iPod) but to actually encode it, a lot of possibilities open up. Sure, you could distribute H.264 files wirelessly to another device, but if you could encode all sorts of video on the fly and then distribute it, you have even more useful functionality - a distributed and efficient DVR for instance. Or, could we expect a device from Apple to encode video straight to H.264 and sync to an iPod (a tiny camcorder/iSight v.2)?

I have been impressed with H.264 - the quality is truly astonishing for the file size. But the production of H.264 material is painfully slow. The ability to encode and decode on the fly in cheap ($10) chips will be the key to making this THE standard. Current wireless technologies for instance can probably handle H.264 but not other formats in REAL-WORLD use. But if you can't encode it in realtime, much of the usage is gone.

We're not talking HD here - just VHS or S-VHS quality. But for distribution around the home, this may be much more preferable than tapes and dvd's being (man)handled, especially by smaller family members. Another use would be to have tv broadcasts encoded into iPod compatible format at the same time as recording or synchronisation - take last nights tv on the train with you (as opposed to having your computer up half the night doing it).

If we don't see a product announcement next week from Apple that uses either or both products from PortalPlayer or Mobilygen, I'd be VERY surprised.

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