iPhone 3.5G to support 1080p H.264 High-Profile Dual-Stream Decoding?

Thursday 01st May 2008, 02:44:00 PM, written by Arun

Yesterday, Imagination Technologies announced that Samsung had signed a license to manufacture "certain POWERVR SGX graphics and VXD video IP cores". Apple instantly came to everyone's mind, and AppleInsider is partially confirming it. But they don't realize just how massive the implications are.

First, let's point out that nobody really knows when a iPod or an iPhone based on SGX and VXD will come out. It could be in one month, in one year, or even more. There's simply not enough data to determine that, especially since 'manufacturing' is vague (is this required for tape-out?) and nobody knows when those agreements were actually signed, rather than just announced. Obviously if the chip with those cores barely taped-out, we're not going to see it in this year's iPhone 3G!

It is extremely likely that other phones will come out this year with PowerVR's SGX; so that wouldn't be a huge advantage for Apple. They'd be an early adopter, but nothing incredible. VXD, on the other hand, is much more interesting as it supports 1080p H.264 Main/High Profile decoding, as well as VC-1 and a variety of other standards. From our understanding, no mobile phone manufacturer has anything on their roadmap with such capabilities for the next 2+ years; this implies that such capabilities would likely go unmatched by competitors until late 2010. So even if it's a mid-2009 product, that's still very impressive, and ought to keep Nokia & friends on their toes.

So why would you want 1080p on your mobile phone or personal media player, anyway? The point obviously isn't to run that on your handheld's screen; assuming a high enough bitrate, there's simply no way you'd see the difference on a VGA 4.5 inches screen between 720p and 1080p (however, we'd argue the difference between VGA/D1 and 720p should be fairly obvious; that's also why many QVGA handhelds with much smaller screens, including the original iPod with Video, could play VGA H.264).

No, the point is obviously to use your handheld as your media center (via HDMI) and eventually buy all your HD movies on iTunes. Clearly most people's internet connection may seem to be too slow for high-bitrate 1080p videos; however, 3.5G and 4G mobile networks will likely fix that problem in the 2009-2011 timeframe. Streaming it via WiFi is also possible, and you might even be able to connect your handheld to an external USB HDD.

Obviously not everyone will benefit from 1080p video decoding capabilities and consider it a major selling point. However, the fact remains that every single mobile phone manufacturer is going down that route in a few years, and if these rumours are true it looks like Apple might have a large head start against them. Right now, the iPhone isn't really anything extraordinary from a technical perspective; its major selling point is its user interface. That might all change if/once these rumours come to fruition, though.

As a reminder, PowerVR's VXD core is extremely power efficient; in fact, a handheld's LCD screen is likely to take as much or more power than the decoding hardware on a leading-edge process node! Intel's implementation for the Atom platform on 130nm is said to consume only 120mW for 1080p H.264 High Profile (Single-Stream); clearly that's already viable for a handheld, and it'd be even much lower on 65nm or 45nm.

So will Apple surprise and actually deliver a SGX/VXD-based iPhone next month? We don't think so, but hey - we don't think we're the only ones who'd love to be pleasantly surprised here!

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apple ± iphone, powervr, sgx, vxd

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