Today, Adobe released the beta version of Flash Player 10.1, and it provides a huge boost in video quality and frame rates for notebooks and netbooks that offer hardware video decoding. For example, on low-power Atom netbooks equipped with Nvidia’s Ion graphics, Flash Player 10.1 takes some of the work the CPU was doing and offloads it to the GPU. This makes it possible for machines like the HP Mini 311 to stream HD content from Hulu, YouTube, and other sources without choking. You’ll also see better frame rates on standard-def videos, especially when played at full screen.
We first compared Flash Player 10.1 vs. Flash 10 using two HP Mini 311s equipped with Nvidia Ion graphics, one running XP, and the other Windows 7 Premium. And we measured the frame rates of video playback on Hulu and YouTube with the netbooks outputting their video signal to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV. Because Intel’s 4 Series chipsets also supports hardware video decoding, we ran the same tests on an Acer Aspire 1810t, which has GMA4500MHD graphics. To see if your notebook or netbook supports video hardware acceleration in Flash 10.1, click here.
Up until now, streaming Flash video off of sites such as Hulu.com was an iffy proposition on Ion netbooks, as the app used the CPU to do most of the work. But with Flash Player 10.1, that’s no longer an issue. As you’ll see in the video and chart below, what was a slideshow now becomes watchable. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better. Our ULV ultraportable also showed improvment in most tests.
Frame Rates Compared: Flash 10.1 vs. Flash 10 on HP Mini 311
Sadly, there’s not a lot of HD Flash content on Hulu these days. Unless you like watching “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along” and the “Psych” Christmas episode over and over, you’re going to be fairly unsatisfied. Which is why we were pleased to see that, not surprisingly, 480p video streamed just as well. An episode of “Heroes” (“Once Upon a Time in Texas”) streamed with an average framerate of 23 fps. When we played the same clip on a Mini 311 with the older Flash player, we saw just 12 fps.
We also saw marked improvement when we tried Flash 10.1 on the Acer Aspire 1810T, a CULV system with integrated graphics. This 11.6-inch notebook features a 1.3-GHz Intel Pentium SU7300 CPU, and Intel GMA4500MHD graphics, so while it started out at a higher spot than the Mini 311, the two ended up with roughly the same frame rates. Below is a chart showing the 1810T’s framerates before and after installing Flash 10.1.
Frame Rates Compared: Flash 10.1 vs. Flash 10 on Acer 1810t
What remains to be seen is if there will be a proliferation of HD Flash content, now that more people will be able to enjoy it on netbooks and notebooks. We also wonder whether Hulu’s HD selection remains skimpy because the company is trying to figure out how to charge for this content. One thing is for sure: If you’re in the market for a netbook or ultraportable and care about the quality of online video playback, both Ion and CULV systems are a good bet.