Plug-in H.264 Conversion

Okay, this gets a bit techie so feel free to skip ahead to tomorrow if this is more than you want to know. ADS Tech has announced the release of Instant Video To-Go, a USB 2.0 device that provides hardware conversion for H.264 video. H.264 is also known as MPEG 4 (because it is included as a part of that spec), and is a highly-efficient way to compress digital video. It is possible to put full-length HDTV movies on a standard read laser DVD using H.264 compression. Many portable video devices — including some of the latest mobile phones — rely on H.264 to keep the files small.

The interesting part of this announcement is that it is an add-on hardware device. H.264 compression is available in a number of video editing packages, but these rely on your computer’s CPU to do all the data crunching. As with many tasks, a dedicated processor can do a more efficient job, and that’s what ADS Tech has built. According to their press release, it can take about five hours to use a software encoder to convert a 100 minute movie to H.264. With their new device, this time can be cut to about 20 minutes. That’s an impressive improvement.

I don’t expect this to be a mass market product, but it indicates that companies are willing to invest in the development of hardware accelerators for a variety of video applications. If we are going to be able to move our video data to various portable devices as quickly and as easily as we now do with our music, we’re going to need products like this, either as add-ons or built right into the devices themselves.