As I’m sure many have noticed, the de facto standard of streaming video websites, YouTube, added a little ‘HD’ button to their standard flash player last month. Clicking on this ‘HD’ button, for videos that support it, gives users the choice between 720P and 1080P high definition resolutions; that is, assuming a recent version of Flash is installed. In fact, with Flash 9 Update 3, any Flash application can support high definition streaming with advanced codecs commonly used in Blu-rays and practically all other HD media.
However, even since Flash began supporting H.264 HD video, users have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the high requirements the software-based rendering of H.264 needed to playback content smoothly. For a lot of users, particularly those having mobile or low-power computers like HTPCs and netbooks, playback of HD content was frustrating or infeasible, as the high rate of frame skipping made videos look more like slideshows than state-of-the-art recordings. But, with the upcoming release of Flash 10.1, Adobe looks to settle the score by adding hardware decoding of that most cherished codec along with a series of performance enhancements aimed at allowing HD for all.
Here, we are taking a look at the pre-released version of Flash 10.1 to see what kind of improvements Adobe has really offered with comparison to Flash 10.0. To test their claims, we’ll take a look at both gaming and video playback performance. For testing, we used an HTPC level Zotac IONITX-A-U Mini-ITX motherboard, with the Intel Atom N330 processor and NVIDIA ION graphics, as well as the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbook. Both systems were running Windows 7 with the same versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome.
Since Adobe Flash Player version 10.1 enables hardware acceleration for H.264 video decoding you will need to download new video card drivers as well. The latest video card drivers from both AMD and NVIDIA are able to harness the GPU’s more powerful parallel processing power instead of the CPU. This is how Flash 10.1 permits smooth, stutter-free playback of full-screen standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) videos on systems that were unable to smoothly play the content.