I suppose I could start this article off with a tirade on how frustrating Adobe Flash is. But, I believe the phrase “preaching to the choir” would apply.

I’ve got a two socket, 16-thread, 3GHz, Nehalem Mac Pro as my main workstation. I have an EVGA GeForce GTX 285 in there. It’s fast.

It’s connected to a 30” monitor, running at its native resolution of 2560 x 1600.

The machine is fast enough to do things I’m not smart or talented enough to know how to do. But the one thing it can’t do is play anything off of Hulu in full screen without dropping frames.

This isn’t just a Mac issue, it’s a problem across all OSes and systems, regardless of hardware configuration. Chalk it up to poor development on Adobe’s part or...some other fault of Adobe’s, but Flash playback is extremely CPU intensive.

Today, that’s about to change. Adobe has just released a preview of Flash 10.1 (the final version is due out next year) for Windows, OS X and Linux. While all three platforms feature performance enhancements, the Windows version gets H.264 decode acceleration for flash video using DXVA (OS X and Linux are out of luck there for now).

The same GPU-based decode engines that are used to offload CPU decoding of Blu-rays can now be used to decode H.264 encoded Flash video. NVIDIA also let us know that GPU acceleration for Flash animation is coming in a future version of Flash.

To get the 10.1 pre-release just go here. NVIDIA recommends that you uninstall any existing versions of flash before installing 10.1 but I’ve found that upgrading works just as well.

What Hardware is Supported?

As I just mentioned, Adobe is using DXVA to accelerate Flash video playback, which means you need a GPU that properly supports DXVA2. From NVIDIA that means anything after G80 (sorry, GeForce 8800 GTX, GTS 640/320MB and Ultra owners are out of luck). In other words anything from the GeForce 8 series, 9 series or GeForce GT/GTX series, as well as their mobile equivalents. The only exceptions being those G80 based parts I just mentioned.

Anything based on NVIDIA’s ION chipset is also supported, which will be the foundation of some of our tests today.

AMD supports the following:

- ATI Radeon™ HD 4000, HD 5700 and HD 5800 series graphics
- ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 4000 series graphics (and higher)
- ATI Radeon™ HD 3000 integrated graphics (and higher)
- ATI FirePro™ V3750, V5700, V7750, V8700 and V8750 graphics accelerators (and later)

It’s a healthy list of supported GPUs from both camps, including integrated graphics. The only other requirement is that you have the latest drivers installed. I used 195.50 from NVIDIA and Catalyst 9.10 from AMD. (Update: The Release Notes now indicate Catalyst 9.11 drivers are required, which would explain our difficulties in testing. ATI just released Catalyst 9.11 but we're having issues getting GPU acceleration to work, waiting on a response from AMD now)

Intel’s G45 should, in theory, work. We tested it on a laptop for this article and since the acceleration is DXVA based, anything that can offload H.264 decode from the CPU using DXVA (like G45) should work just fine. As you’ll see however, our experiences weren’t exactly rosy.

Flash/Hulu on ION: Nearly Perfect
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    Note: Got this working. See update on page 5.
  • duploxxx - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    interesting article although i think it is to soon with those beta drivers and versions.

    Did you guys happen to test also what the influence was on total power consumption, I mean due to utilizing certain gpu more reducing cpu i wonder if power consumption actually went up more by reducing the load on the cpu, since it is known that gpu (well at least the mid-high end) can consume way more then just the cpu.
  • mrbean1500 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    works fine on my 4770 9.11 drivers

    works without a hitch in ff and ie
  • bcronce - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    "I’ve got a two socket, 16-thread, 3GHz, Nehalem Mac Pro as my main workstatio[...]
    But the one thing it can’t do is play anything off of Hulu in full screen without dropping frames."

    My Win7 2.66ghz corei7-920 plays Hulu fullscreen HD trailors/videos at 2% cpu with smooth playback. No, I'm not using that new flash either.
  • cmdrdredd - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    If your CPU is crap you want this.

    If your CPU is newer than 2 years old, you couldn't care less because your CPU can handle full screen HD no problem.

    I ran some HD video off youtube and Hulu and I see no more than 20% usage on my Quad. So this is worthless to me, sure I suppose someone could benefit.

    This assumes you are running Windows.
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Is something wrong with the database?

    I was expecting to read an article on Flash and not about your Mac? Odd.
  • tk11 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Although offloading some video decoding to the GPU sounds nice I'm surprised Adobe would bother with it while there CPU decoder leaves so much room for improvement.

    I just setup a test and encoded a test h264 video (1280x532) in mp4 format and created a test webpage with the video embeded using both windows media player (using core AVC codec) and flash video (JW Mediaplayer). I then played the video in IE 7 on my GF's laptop running a core2 duo underclocked at 1163MHz using each player. IE's CPU usage playing the video using WMP was less than 20%; Embed the same video with flash and CPU usage goes up to 49-50 percent... near max cpu usage as the player is not multithreaded.

    Why doesn't adobe focus on improving their dismal software decoder? A decent CPU decoder would also prevent all the silly GPU and platform requirements.

    Hardware scaling would certainly be nice to prevent performance drops when going full screen but wasting resources developing GPU video decoding while their CPU decoders are in such a sad state is a clear misappropriation of resources.
  • cosmotic - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    How are you so sure that WMP isn't using hardware decoding? I can almost guarantee you that it is.
  • Exodite - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - link

    Playing video through DVXA, GPU-enabled, decoders I average about 2% CPU utilization for 720p and 5% for 1080p content, including other background tasks. This using a C2D E6600 overclocked to 3.0GHz and a Radeon 4870.

    If you're looking at a CPU utilization of 20-50%, even for a CPU clocked just over a third of what mine is, for lower resolution content you're not getting any GPU offloading.
  • tk11 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Core AVC only supports hardware (CUDA) decoding on certian nvidia products that the laptop does not contain.

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