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Apple to buy DVD processors from C-CUBE

Final parts being dropped into digital video strategy jigsaw

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Semiconductor company C-Cube will next week announce a major deal with Apple to supply the Mac maker with DVD processing chips, according to a report by CBS Marketwatch. Dan Scovel, a semiconductor analyst at Needham & Co, told CBS Marketwatch that C-Cube has been dropped hints over the last few months that it's been talking to Apple. The deal appears to centre on chips that will enhance Apple's Power Mac G4 line, which ships will DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM drives as optional extras. Both drives ship with a software DVD decoder. That's fine as it goes, but with the G4 CPU looking (not the same thing as 'being') increasingly underpowered in comparison with x86 processors - the PowerPC maxes out at 500MHz, the x86 at twice that - Apple may be looking to free up CPU cycles by throwing in DVD decoder hardware. C-Cube's chips should also provide accelerated DVD encoding, allowing professional or amateur video makers to produce real DVDs, rather that treat the disks as just another high-capacity storage medium. Certainly that's how Apple is promoting its DVD-RAM option at the moment. Neither company will comment on the claim, but it certainly ties in with Apple's most recent manoeuvres, which have had a distinct DVD feel. Last week, for instance, it said it had bought German company Astarte's DVD production and mastering software, along with the team of engineers that developed it. It's not yet known - Apple has said very little about its acquisition - whether Astarte's DVD editing software will be made available as a standalone application or as an adjunct to Apple's Final Cut digital video editing software, but by bringing the engineers on board, Apple is pretty clearly saying this is a strategic acquisition, and that suggests a merger with Final Cut and iMovie, the cut-down version for the iMac DV. Apple is certainly pushing desktop video hard, but editing movies on your Mac is only part of the process - you also need to store then, ideally in a way that allows others to view the results too. Home movies wouldn't be home movies, if you couldn't torture a captive audience of neighbours with the things. Apple's support for FireWire and offering Final Cut/iMovie only provides the basis for half a modern consumer digital video system. DVD authoring and encoding tools will turn it into a mature product. And not just for consumers, but professionals too. Apple's recently announced partnership with Matrox over the latter's Final Cut-oriented RTMac real-time desktop video input, editing and output card, plus its work with Pinnacle to develop the Targa Cine, a high-end uncompressed video solution, shows the company working hard to get the Mac back into markets that its waning relations with Avid have allowed it to slip out of. The clever part is that Apple can first take advantage of the DVD authoring market then, as broadband Net connections and pipelines become the norm, it's in a position to leverage its digital video tool users into the high quality streaming media world. Finally, while the discussion regarding Apple's deal with C-Cube has focused on beefing up the video capabilities of the Power Mac G4 and possibly the iMac, don't forget that Apple has another DVD platform in the works: its Internet appliance and/or set-top box. How far down the line the device's development has reached isn't known - Apple has certainly told analysts that it's thinking about one - but DVD playback might well be part of the machine's spec, and again that shows the importance of building business relationships with a company like C-Cube. It might also explain the real significance of Apple's now largely forgotten acquisition of 3D graphics chip designer Raycer last year. DVD and 3D are certainly seen as two key components of Net appliances. ® Related Stories Apple mulls info appliance launch Apple's Raycer takeover 'all but done' Apple dashes to buy Raycer

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