My last piece for Zeropaid looked at the recently announced iPad specifically as a video device. Does Apple’s latest gadget have the potential to be a game changer in the video arena, as it may have in the mobile and publishing fields? I have some serious doubts based on what we know about the iPad’s hardware and software, which is ironic because 2010 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for mobile and low-cost video hardware outside of the iPad. For users looking to watch high quality HD video on inexpensive and mobile devices the options are really beginning to open up significantly.
Intel’s big mainstream chip product in early 2010 are the 1156 socket i3′s and i5′s also known as Clarkdale chips. One of their most interesting features of the Clarkdales is the existence of an integrated graphics processor on the chips themselves. Instead of requiring a separate graphics card, or even a separate graphics processor on the motherboard, the Clarkdales have a 45nm IGP built right onto the chip (which is confusedly actually an 32nm chip) that can handle mainstream video tasks, including the decoding of high definition h.264 streams. You would not want to try and play graphics-intense video games without a separate GPU, but for the purpose of watching high quality video, relatively low cost PC’s and laptops built around Clarkdale i3′s and i5′s will likely offer great video performance at good prices.
One of the major complaints users have about netbooks built on the Intel Atom chip is the difficulty that chip has for playing back video in a decent fashion at all, much less HD h.264 video. A possible solution was the nVidia ION, a chipset platform that married Atom chips to relatively powerful GPU’s, to create netbooks with the graphics horsepower necessary for high definition video. Unfortunately, it seems that Intel and nVidia never really got on the same boat with ION, and the number of netbook devices available with ION has remained frustratingly low, and at somewhat less than ideal price points compared to other netbooks. Recognizing the need for some kind of video solution for Atom powered netbooks moving forward, Intel partnered with Broadcom to create a decoding chip add-on that will allow their new Pine-Trail based netbooks with real HD video playback capabilities, but these Broadcom chips can actually be installed in many older Atom based netbooks, making them legitimate video devices for the first time. And the price of add-on is surprisingly inexpensive, available now for around $60, so it will not raise the price of equipped netbooks significantly either.
Finally, it should be noted, that unlike the iPad, laptops with Clarkdale chips, and netbooks with the Broadcom video decoder, will be able to not only play back Flash video content, but they will also be able to hardware accelerate that decoding, making them excellent models for Hulu and other streaming service sites. Consumers in 2010 are going to be offered a wider range of less expensive computing devices than ever before, regardless of what Apple does.