Go ahead, make my video:.
Heavy hardware is brought to bear against the softies.
But the softies strike back.
The Codec Wars.
As we've discussed before, a codec was needed
with old-style analog video to capture and playback video. As we've also
learned in the 10 most important features of DV: The codec sits in the
camcorder or VCR. This is where video is encoded and decoded in real time.
So why duplicate the codec on a board?
Some Firewire developers, notably Adaptec,
asked themselves the same question. They looked into
the matter and decided: Who needs a hardware codec? You can't live
without a hardware codec if you want to encode or decode video in
real time, but with DV, that's already done in the camcorder. So
why get a codec at all for DV? Because you need one to decompress the clips
for editing, as described in Step 7 of the
video editing workflow. For reasons which are beyond the scope of this
article (we'll cover it at great length later), hardware codecs don't shine
in this process. They may encode and decode in real time, but because so
much data has to be sent across the bus to the board, decoded, sent back
across the bus to memory and copied around, they actually can be quite
CPUs on the other hand are getting faster and
faster. Therefore, Adaptec, DPS, miro and Radius decided to implement
the codec in software.
Fast, who uses the Sony DVBK-1 hardware codec,
who uses a chipset from Panasonic, decided to go the hardware route.
Sony's DVBK-1 is expensive (the part alone adds between $1500 to $2000
to the retail price). It basically is a dedicated, embedded DV computer
module. It simplifies the writing of drivers, because it handles most of
the hard work on-board. Software-only codecs are hard to design and
develop, but they cost next to nothing to reproduce. It's also much easier
to add features to software codecs and their associated drivers. Customers
can simply download the next version from the web.
Soon, heated discussions ensued on who has
the right and who has the wrong codec. Some even talked of a "codec war."
When Microsoft announced that they will ship a software DV codec (ironically
developed by Matsushita, makers of the Panasonic hardware codec), and when
Apple Computer announced that they would also ship a software DV codec
with Quicktime 3, the hostilities calmed quite a bit. A representative
of Fast even announced on rec.video.desktop that his company is investigating
at least a partial use of a software codec.