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Re: The Cheese Grater is back

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Joe Marler
Re: The Cheese Grater is back
on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:40:37 pm

[Andrew Kimery] "Until off the shelf computers can achieve 'good enough' results w/o needing to buy special-purpose hardware that requires specific support in order to be utilized.

That was the gist of the desktop video revolution was it not?"

The problem is certain higher-end video tasks have outstripped the capability of general-purpose CPU hardware, at least to the extent Intel is willing to commit. E.g, Xeon does not have hardware-acceleration for Long GOP formats, so Apple had to put that in the T2 chip due to the iMac Pro and (maybe) Mac Pro -- even though the MacBook Pro has Quick Sync and doesn't need it.

A full-custom ASIC (like the T2) is very expensive to design and has long lead time. The cost of a custom ASIC must be amortized over very large production runs, yet many customers might not need that capability. E.g, T2 is a security chip but there was likely no other place to put the transcoding logic so it went there. That probably consumed valuable transistor budget that could have been spent on other things.

By contrast an FPGA implementation is much quicker and cheaper to design, and can be targeted to just the systems that need it. But FPGAs burn more power so are not suitable for a laptop. They can be reprogrammed in the field with new algorithms. If it becomes important to have hardware support for Google's AV1 codec, that could be added to deployed machines.

It appears the main reason for the Afterburner FPGA board was hardware acceleration for demosaicing high-resolution ProRes RAW, but it's plausible it could also be programmed for RED RAW, and it's not limited to that. They can even be used to accelerate Long GOP formats like H264 and HEVC.

Apple is not the first to use FPGAs for specific video processing needs:

However it could give Apple a proprietary hardware performance advantage. Even if they expose the Afterburner capability via an API to other Mac app vendors, this won't work on a PC. A PC vendor would have to fund, design, support and rally software vendors to a similar device. Economies of scale could give Apple an advantage, even for the "niche" 2019 Mac Pro. They might sell more Afterburner cards in 6 months than the total historical sale of RED ROCKET cards. Plus it's a single-vendor hardware/software solution with a single support source. A high-end customer would not have to do three-way conference calls between RED, Microsoft and HP.

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