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Flash Player 10.2: More Efficient than WebM

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Adobe released Flash Player 10.2 on February 8; here's a bullet list of the new features:

  • Stage Video, a "hardware accelerated video pipeline" for more efficient video playback. The key thing to note here is that websites need to update their SWF player file to harvest the benefit, but NOT their video library, so re-encoding is NOT required. (Clarification added 2/21/11: The results below don't reflect the potential performance benefit from Stage Video since it was not generally available when we performed these tests. We'll evaluate the performance of Stage Video once it's generally available in YouTube, Vimeo, or similar site). p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica}
  • Multiple display full screen support, so you can watch a video in full screen on one display on a multiple monitor workstation.
  • Added support for custom native mouse cursors.
  • Sub-pixel text rendering enhancements that should enhance text readability, especially for complex character-based languages.
  • Support for GPU rendering in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 browser.

You can read all about the new announcement here; my tests focused on the video acceleration aspect of the announcement.

Specifically, I tested extensively on a MacBook Pro and my Hewlett Packard 8710w notebook, and you can find the notebook specs and procedures here. As an overview, I played back a 720p video from YouTube in a variety of browsers, first with Flash Player 10.1, then 10.2. Then, just for fun, I tested the CPU requirements for playback via whichever HTML5 codec each browser supported.

The Cliff's Notes version is this: In all browsers but Google Chrome, Flash Player 10.2 does substantially reduce the CPU required to display the video, which should mean improved video playback on all platforms that support Flash GPU acceleration.

Flash Player 10.2 is more efficient that any implementation of HTML5-based WebM, though it's close on several platforms. Regarding HTML5-based H.264 playback, on the Mac, Safari playing HTML5-based H.264 is slightly more efficient than Flash Player 10.2, as is Internet Explorer 9 in Windows.

Mac Results
I know that you can read tables at least as well as I can, so I'll just point out the highlights.

In the Firefox Beta I tested, Flash Player 10.2 reduced CPU requirements by ten percentage points, a reduction of 26%. With Flash Player 10.2 (but not 10.1), Flash playback is more efficient than WebM, but it's close.

Firefox Beta 4.0b11

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

HTML5/ WebM

38%

28%

-26%

32%

With Safari, the drop of 2 percentage points amounts to 12%, which is nice, but Flash Player 10.2 still trails HTML5-based H.264 playback on that platform. To put that in perspective, however, Flash Player 10.0 required 37% CPU, and now it's down to 15%, so Adobe has pretty much leveled the playing field in two dot releases.

Safari 5.0.3 (6533.19.3)

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

H.264/ HTML5

17%

15%

-12%

14%

Every party has a pooper, and that's why we invited Chrome to this review. On both platforms, Flash Player 10.2 required more CPU to play back video version 10.1, including an increase of 29% on the Mac. Even with this boost, however, Flash Player 10.2 is substantially more efficient than HTML5-based WebM.

Chrome 9.0.597.94 beta

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

HTML5/ WebM

17%

22%

29%

38%

Windows Results
Flash Player 10.2 was 53% more efficient than its older sibling on Firefox in Windows, and dramatically more efficient than WebM on the same platform.

Firefox Beta 4.0b11

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

HTML5/ WebM

17%

8%

-53%

29%

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer 9 is shaping up to be an exceptionally efficient browser with media, whether Flash or H.264.

Internet Explorer 9.0.8080.16413

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

H.264/ HTML5

7%

5%

-29%

3%

Apple's HTML5-based H.264 playback was the absolute worst that I saw in my tests. If you're playing YouTube videos in Safari on Windows, you're definitely not going to want to opt for the HTML5 option.

Safari 5.0.3 (7533.19.4)

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

H.264/ HTML5

8%

5%

-38%

48%

Here's Chrome again, spoiling the party for Flash Player 10.2. Even so, Flash is still much more efficient then Google's own codec playing back via HTML5. Why do we need WebM again?

Chrome 9.0.597.98

Flash Player 10.1

Flash Player 10.2

Difference

HTML5/ WebM

6%

9%

50%

25%

That's it. While the performance boost that users realize will depend upon their computer and browser, it's a big step forward that any user with a supported GPU will appreciate. 

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