At the Computex show in Taiwan, ATI have been previewing their R520 Radeon card featuring H.264 playback with hardware acceleration. This card is not yet available and is currently only slated for PC release, but it is indicative of the direction of GPU functionality is headed.
The demonstration showed High Definition 25 Mbits/second H.264 decoded on the GPU hardware of the Radeon 520 in a Pentium 4 3.6 GHz system. H.264 is particularly heavy in its decode requirements – Apple specify a 1.8 GHz G5 as the minimum specification for H.264 High Definition playback, although acceptable performance for 720 P H.264 playback can be had with dual 1.25 GHz G4 machines. No single processor G4 or G3 plays HD H.264 material adequately.
H.264 playback is important in the future as both HD DVD and Blu-ray high density optical discs have specified H.264 as one of the supported video formats, along with MPEG-2 and VC-1. Using hardware acceleration for decoding frees the CPU for other processing tasks.
ATI expect to have an H.264 accelerated player available by the end of 2005 and may bring the H.264 acceleration to older GPUs.