Apple Needs Video Encoding for HDTV not iPods
Robert X. Cringley seems to think he's made some miraculous discover in his speculation that all new Mac hardware will ship with h.264 video support. He touts this as some special feature that the Cupertino crowd dreamed up ahead of everyone in PC land. Cringley needs to join the party. ATI has been offering hardware acceleration for h.264 and MPEG-2 in their AVIVO powered X1000 line of cards for awhile now. NVIDIA offers something similar with all PureVideo-enabled video cards.
h.264 acceleration has nothing to do with iPods and the QuickTime formats as Cringley seems to think. Sure those small screen h.264 videos require extra horsepower, but that's not the reason we need hardware acceleration. HDTV is the driving force. You need real processing power to render 1280x720 and 1920x1080 video smoothly in real time. Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD potentially use h.264 as their underlying video format (although everything on the market today is Windows Media VC-1). Hardware decoding is the only way you're going to get the kind of performance you can rely on for a smooth cinematic experience.
What Cringley should be fishing for is when Apple will finally add support for HDCP compliant video signals and Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback, so that Mac uses get the same access to HD video that PC users currently have (albeit through a convoluted series of hoops). If the h.264 support is about the iPod, then Apple's sun is about to set.