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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  • rnj - Thursday, November 19, 2009 - link

    it is not gamma settings definitely, i noticed this as well.
  • ahar - Friday, November 20, 2009 - link

    I tried 10.1 on my system which has a Pentium E6500 and 9500GT and the latest Nvidia drivers. The CPU utilisation went way down whilst watching a HD stream on the BBC iPlayer but the image quality had also dropped considerably. There were noticeable block artefacts - it looks like the AA which was previously applied was no longer happening. I had a quick play around with the PureVideo settings it the Nvidia control panel but nothing seemed to make a difference.
    I've reverted back to Flash 10 now.
  • magicalz - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Hardware video decoding of H.264 content in Flash Player 10.1 is supported on AMD/ATI products with
    UVD2 with the ATI Catalyst? Software Suite, starting with version 9.11 for the ATI Radeon? family of
    products, and driver release 8.68 for the ATI FirePro? family of products.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Well, that would explain things, though I *swear* it said Catalyst 9.10 earlier today/tonight. I think Adobe fixed a typo, because I even followed a link at one point to download the Mobile 9.10 drivers.
  • Scali - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    You can download the 9.11 RC from AMD, as it is also required for the 2.0 beta4 release of the Stream SDK (with OpenCL support).

    Perhaps you could try and see if it makes a difference? I'd like to see that, especially since I have ordered a Radeon 5770 a few days ago.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    The 9.11 RC you mention through AMD's developer site does not support Flash 10.1 GPU acceleration, I just confirmed. Waiting for a driver that does from AMD, also trying to see when AMD will make it public.

    Take care,
  • Scali - Thursday, November 19, 2009 - link

    Yes, it seems that AMD released the 9.11 drivers at about the same time as I made that comment.
    The final 9.11 release should have the GPU acceleration for Flash... However, it didn't seem like they left the OpenCL support in the final release.
    So the 9.11 RC drivers and the 9.11 final release seem to be very different :)
  • hechacker1 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    1. So I'm assuming flash now takes advantage of DXVA2 EVR rendering, so the GPU is now responsible for decoding quality? I should now be able to adjust my AVIVO settings for flash? I'm not too sure how EVR/dxva and the video card is related.

    2. Too bad linux isn't yet supported. Flash on linux is notoriously bad. Nvidia is pushing their accelerated VDPAU, and many software players now include support for it. ATI and intel though are doing something different, but it seems binding are available to translate. So hopefully in the near future linux gets a modern bitstream accelerated video acceleartion framework.

    3. Does it work with H.264 only? Or does it also work with sorenson and vp6 codecs? So youtube HQ or better is mp4 always?
  • hechacker1 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    And thanks for the article!
  • blyndy - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    HTML5 is the real long-term solution, not flash 10.1.

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