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Testing Flash Player 10.1 for the Mac

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As we reported on April 26, Apple has exposed the programming hooks necessary for Adobe to access hardware acceleration for H.264 playback on selected Macintosh computers, and Adobe promised that an upcoming player would support the API. Adobe wasn't kidding; two days later I got a note from our friendly Adobe PR person that I could download a "preview release" of the new Mac player, codenamed "Gala," at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/gala/ (so can you, by the way). According to the Adobe website, the "preview is based on the latest Flash Player 10.1 release candidate for Mac OS," so it should be pretty close to final, if not actually final. 

I ran some preliminary tests with the new player, and the results are impressive. I'll discuss them below after I talk about some details about the player.

I gleaned most of the details from the kaourantin.net blog, which is written by Adobe Engineer Tinic Uro. You can find that here, but I'll summarize for you.

Supported Hardware
Let's start with the supported graphics cards. According to an Apple Tech Note here, video decode acceleration is "available on Mac OS X 10.6.3 and later with Mac models equipped with the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M or GeForce GT 330M." 

Uro further defines this with actual make and models, providing the following list:

  • MacBooks shipped after January 21st, 2009
  • Mac Minis shipped after March 3rd, 2009
  • MacBook Pros shipped after October 14th, 2008
  • iMacs that shipped after the first quarter of 2009.

He also points out that Mac Pros are not yet supported. Obviously, if you don't have a supported computer, graphics card or OS, you won't see the beneficial results detailed below.

What it Does
Interestingly, in his blog post, Uro sets the QuickTime-based playback in Safari 4 as kind of the gold standard for performance, and details that QuickTime has two basic hardware-accelerated components: decoding of the H.264 stream and scaling and displaying the decoded frames. He explains that the preview Flash Player for the Mac uses the GPU to decode the H.264, but not display or scale the decoded frames, so he states that there is "still room for improvement" performance-wise. He does note that Adobe has a technical plan to scale and display in hardware, but that it was too late to include in the preview release.

He notes a number of minor limitations in the hardware acceleration feature, including that many resolutions are not supported, including 864x480 and resolutions smaller than 480x320 on some cards. He further states:

"In that context it is important to understand that this API targets HD content, not SD or smaller sized video. In fact SD sized content will not be accelerated in most cases. The decision of what content is accelerated and on which machine it is supported is up to Apple."

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